The Delaware Supreme Court Tackles Industrial-Strength Syntactic Ambiguity

Regular readers will recall that syntactic ambiguity arises from uncertainty over what part of a sentence a given phrase modifies, or what part of a phrase a given word modifies. (If you want a bellyfull of syntactic ambiguity, search for “syntactic” using this blog’s search function.) It can sometimes seem as if syntactic ambiguity is a curiosity rather than something … Read More

Another Helping of Syntactic Ambiguity

Bryan Keenan,  director of the Wilming­ton, Delaware, law firm of Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella, let me know about an instance of syntactic ambiguity addressed by the Delaware Court of Chancery in the recent case In re Mobilactive Media, LLC (here). (Syntactic ambiguity involves uncertainty over which part of a sentence a given phrase modifies or which part of a phrase a given … Read More

With Syntactic Ambiguity, Avoiding the Accident Spares You the Autopsy

Neal Goldfarb has unleashed on the world this post comparing how the judicial principles of interpretation that have a bearing on syntactic ambiguity compare with how English is actually understood. It looks rigorous as heck, but I haven’t read it yet. Why not? Well, it is quite long, but the main reason is that Neal’s a litigator and I’m a … Read More

Syntactic Ambiguity in NYC's Firefighter Eligibility Requirements?

Syntactic ambiguity is ambiguity that arises due to uncertainty regarding which part of a phrase a given word modifies, or which part of a sentence a given phrase modifies. Syntactic ambiguity can arise in any kind of writing, and examples occurring outside of contracts can be instructive for contract drafters. Reader Sean Gajewski, a third-year student at Hofstra University School … Read More

A Little Syntactic Ambiguity, A Lot of Time and Money Wasted

The opinion just issued by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Anderson v. Hess Corporation (go here for a PDF copy) primarily concerns the phrase “drilling or reworking operations”. It occurs several times in the five mineral leases at issue. Does “drilling” constitute a noun, or is it an adjective modifying “operations”? In other words, the question posed was, … Read More

More Syntactic Ambiguity: The Serial Comma

This item at The Volokh Conspiracy noted that the “serial comma” has been appearing less and less frequently in the New York Times. At Legal Blog Watch, Eric Lipman pointed out that a Volokh commenter had suggested that the serial comma is important for clarity in contracts. Here’s the entire comment, posted by “Mark”: I think we should at least all … Read More

More Syntactic Ambiguity

The ever-alert Steven Sholk has informed me of another legal opinion discussing syntactic ambiguity. This one was issued by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and addresses how much of a provision in an insurance policy was modified by a closing modifier. (Click here for a copy of the opinion.) I’m not particularly interested in what the court held, because … Read More

A Texas Court’s Take on Syntactic Ambiguity

Reader Patrick Grant told me about a newsletter describing a Texas case involving syntactic ambiguity. (Syntactic ambiguity derives from uncertainty over which part of a sentence a given word or phrase modifies.) The case in question was Consolidated Reinforcement v. Carothers Executive Homes, 271 S.W.3d 887 (Tex. App. 2008), a case before the Texas Court of Appeals, Third District. … Read More

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and Syntactic Ambiguity—A Cautionary Tale

Reader Kazu brought to my attention the following language from the recently enacted Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (emphasis added): For purposes of this section, an unlawful employment practice occurs, with respect to discrimination in compensation in violation of this title, when a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted, when an individual becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation … Read More

Another Helping of Syntactic Ambiguity

My email in-box is overflowing with emails from Lexis notifying me of cases ostensibly relating to ambiguity. I fished from the torrent the following straightforward example of syntactic ambiguity. (Syntactic ambiguity arises out of the order in which words appear and how they relate to each other.) It’s from Active Zones of America, LLC v. SDV (USA) Inc., 2007 U.S. … Read More