Sunday, May 28, 2006

More Dictionary Cases: "Replace" and "Straight"

As part of an ongoing academic project studying the almost daily reliance on commonplace dictionaries as the basis for a holding in lower court rulings, here are two more recent examples:
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State v. Warholic, 2006 WL 1389109 (Conn., May 30, 2006) (Main issue in the case centered around the prosecutor’s diction in his questioning of a child witness, and in his closing and opening statements; prosecutor used suggestive language - like the word "straight" - to bolster a child witness’ credibility). Quotation (from Footnote 22):
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (2d Ed.1987) defines "straight" to include "free from using narcotics." In addition, the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang (1992) defines "straight" as "[n]ot using or under the influence of drugs."
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Monette-Shaw v. San Francisco Bd. of Supervisors, 2006 WL 1446492 (Cal. App. 1 Dist. May 26, 2006) (platintiff wanted city to use settlement revenues to "fix or replace" a hospital that had been damaged by an earthquake in 1989). I thought this was interesting because the court rejects the lawyer's use of dictionary definitions (apparently in his brief) but includes the citation to show that the result would not have changed. One question that has come up in this research project is whether citations to dictionaries in a brief (which, presumably, involves pitching one's case as a matter of defining the statutory terms) is advantageous as a general rule.
Quote (from footnote 14):
Because the broad scope of the Project is clear from the text of the proposition and ordinance, it is not necessary or appropriate to resort to dictionary definitions of "replace." Were we to do so as invited by petitioner, however, the result would be the same. "Replace" is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.2000) page 1479, column 2, to mean "1. To put back into a former position or place. 2. To take or fill the place of. 3. To be or provide a substitute for. 4. To pay back or return; refund." This definition certainly includes building a new, but different, health care facility in the place of the old Laguna Honda. That new facility will take the place of and provide a substitute for the old facility even if it is not a bed-for-bed replica.