Ambiguity in a Michigan Statute

A reader told me about this article on Bloomberg BNA. It’s about a recent opinion of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that deals with syntactic ambiguity in a Michigan statutes:

The [Michigan Medical Marihuana Act] prohibits “disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau” against a “qualifying patient.” But the Sixth Circuit opted not to read the term “business” independently, as Casias urged, and instead saw it as modifying “licensing board or bureau.”

Although this dispute involves statutory language, the same sort of issue could crop up in a contract. The dispute would likely have been avoided had the statute referred to “a business, occupational, or professional licensing board or bureau.”

But what’s a business licensing bureau? I’d have rewritten the statute. There’s nothing like reading statutes to make one feel better about contract language.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

1 thought on “Ambiguity in a Michigan Statute”

  1. There are lots of businesses that require licensing: transportation, day care, etc. If you read “bureau” broadly, it could encompass the department of public utilities, the insurance commission, and others. One hopes the statute, if it applies to, say, taxi licensing, wouldn’t be interpreted to prohibit penalizing a driver who was DUI!


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