California Chief Justice on Bumble Bees as Fish (and Statutory Interpretation Extra Broadly)

Wednesday, the California Supreme Court docket denied evaluation on this case (for extra on the decrease court docket case, see this publish by Jonathan Adler and this one by Ilya Somin); Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, joined by Justices Carol Corrigan and Joshua Groban:

Our denial of a petition for evaluation doesn’t talk any explicit view concerning the deserves of the problems introduced within the petition. Thus, all ought to perceive that our choice to disclaim evaluation on this case isn’t an endorsement (neither is it a rejection) of the statutory evaluation undertaken by the Court docket of Attraction, which decided that bumble bees, a nonaquatic invertebrate, are prone to being listed as endangered underneath the California Endangered Species Act (Fish & G. Code, § 2050 et seq.; CESA) as a result of that statute applies to fish (Fish & G. Code, §§ 2062, 2067 & 2068), and “invertebrates” are included inside what the Court docket of Attraction deemed to be the relevant definition of “fish” (id., § 45) [“Fish” means a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals -EV]. (Almond Alliance of California v. Fish & Recreation Com. (2022) 79 Cal.App.fifth 337, 341.)

But if expertise is any information, our choice to not order evaluation will likely be misconstrued by some as an affirmative willpower by this court docket that underneath the regulation, bumble bees are fish. A greater-informed observer may ask: How can the court docket move up this chance to evaluation the Court docket of Attraction’s interpretation of the Fish and Recreation Code, which appears so opposite to frequent data that bumble bees are usually not a sort of fish? Does not this clear disconnect essentially quantity to “an necessary query of regulation” (Cal. Guidelines of Court docket, rule 8.500(b)(1)) warranting this court docket’s intervention, as a result of the Legislature couldn’t probably have meant such a end result?

Had been issues all the time that straightforward. Cautious evaluation of a statute to divine legislative intent can generally yield outcomes which may appear shocking at first blush. Courts engaged on this activity have interpreted “much less” as “extra” (Amalgamated Trans. Loc. 1309 v. Laidlaw Tran. Ser. (ninth Cir. 2006) 435 F.3d 1140, 1146) and “illegal” as “lawful” (Scurto v. LeBlanc (La. 1938) 184 So. 567, 574). Way back, the USA Supreme Court docket concluded that the “seas” referenced in a single statute required no water in any respect (Murray’s Lessee v. Baker (1818) 16 U.S. 541, 545); fairly not too long ago, it decided {that a} fish isn’t a “tangible object” (United States v. Yates (2015) 574 U.S. 528, 536).

These sorts of seemingly illogical outcomes can in actual fact greatest seize the enacting legislature’s intent in a wide range of circumstances. A statute could also be construed in a fashion that goes past the literal that means of its textual content to keep away from an absurd end result the legislature couldn’t probably have contemplated. Generally courts understand a scrivener’s error or typo that have to be corrected to vindicate the intent behind a measure. Or the context surrounding using a phrase or phrase inside a statute can convey that it carries an uncommon that means, peculiar to that regulation. The Court docket of Attraction beneath concluded that the interpretive query earlier than it fell into the final of those classes, with the consequence that bumble bees ought to certainly be thought to be “fish” underneath the CESA.

Even when the Court docket of Attraction arrived at what may superficially seem to be a counterintuitive end result, that alone doesn’t set up that it erred. Furthermore, our choice to not order evaluation right here doesn’t forestall us from contemplating the CESA’s attain in some future case, at which period we could agree or disagree with the Court docket of Attraction’s evaluation. Within the interim, the Legislature is able to make no matter statutory amendments it could regard as mandatory or helpful. For though it will not be distinctive for a court docket to find out {that a} explicit phrase or phrase inside a statute carries a that means that deviates from frequent parlance or understanding, such choices can also present discover to legislators that some clarification could also be so as.

Justice Patricia Guerrero would have granted evaluation. Because of Stephen Newman at Stroock for the pointer.

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