Thursday, June 12, 2014


One sees "estopped to" and "estopped from." Which is right?

Well, both get you the maximum 10,000 hits that Westlaw can process on all-states/all-feds. The oldest result for "from" is McDonald v. King, 1 N.J.L. 432 (N.J. 1791). For "to," you have Holmes v. Kennedy, 1 Root 77 (Conn. 1775).

Bad Tennessee Decisions: State v. Marcum

The idea has been advanced recently that it is an attack on the independence of the judiciary to suggest that members of the appellate courts should be dismissed via retention election. I submit that most Tennessee appellate judges should be so dismissed, on the basis that our appellate courts routinely demonstrate legal reasoning so poor as to shock the conscience.

Here is an example: State v. Marcum, 109 S.W.3d 300 (Tenn. 2003). This is a criminal appeal involving the proper interpretation of a statute that is not exactly fit for mixed company, Tennessee Code Annotated § 39–13–501(7). That statute provides:
(7) “[Defined Term]” means [A], [B], [C], [D], or any other intrusion, however slight . . . .
In the statute, the terms that have replaced by letters are assorted acts. The Supreme Court holds, in Marcum, that act [C] can be committed without an "intrusion": "The phrase, 'or any other intrusion,' has no modifying effect upon the defined . . . acts. The word 'or,' as used in the statute, is a coordinating conjunction that functions merely to introduce a generic non-specific alternative."

This is nonsense. The word "or" is certainly disjunctive, but the court has read the word "other" out of the statute. The word "other" is certainly descriptive of the preceding list. Conversation would become impossible otherwise:

Q: Do you have any pets?
A: A dog, a cat, and a fish.
Q: Do you have any other animals?
A: A dog, a cat, and a fish.

Rinse, lather, repeat. The word "other" means that A, B, C, and D are all acts that involve "intrusion," but if the legislature left any off, they count too. Ejusdem generis and Noscitur a sociis both suggest this result: you do not read words in a statute in isolation. (Those principles also reinforce the conclusion that "intrusion" should be an element of each act, given the Defined Term, which, let us say, suggests such an element.) And each word in the statute should have a meaning. Deleting the word "other" yields precisely the result that the court reached: reaching the definition of each item without reference to the "intrusion" element. What we have here instead is sloppy, results-driven adjudication. If the court wants to adopt a "the sonofabitch had it coming" rule for criminal cases, let them do that and then take the consequences.