No “Motor Vehicle Campers” in the Park

July 3rd, 2015

A West Jefferson, Ohio law provides:

It shall be unlawful for any person … to park … upon any street … in the Village, any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle for a continued period of twenty-four hours.

Andrew Cammeleri was given a citation for parking her pickup truck for longer than 24 hours. Does a pickup truck fall within this statute? No she argued. A pickup truck is not a “motor vehicle camper,” a “farm implement,” or a “non-motorized vehicle.” The trial court found that the legislature omitted the comma, and thought the intent clearly captured the pickup truck.

{¶5} The trial court held that when reading the ordinance in context, it unambiguously applied to motor vehicles and “anybody reading [the ordinance] would understand that it is just missing a comma.” The trial court then found Cammelleri guilty of violating West Jefferson Codified Ordinances 351.16(a) and ordered her to pay court costs. …

Judge Hendrickson of the Court of Appeals for the Twelfth Appellate District of Ohio reversed. As drafted, the defendant did not have a “motor vehicle camper.”

{¶ 15} In this instance, the intent of the ordinance is plain from the grammar andlanguage used in West Jefferson Codified Ordinances 351.16(a). According to ordinary grammar rules, items in a series are normally separated by commas. Chicago Manual of Style 312 (16th Ed.2010). The items included in the series of motor vehicle camper, trailer, and farm implement are separated by commas. In order to interpret the ordinance in the way the village suggests, prohibiting parking either a motor vehicle or a camper upon a street in the village for over 24 hours, a comma must be inserted between the phrase “motor vehicle” and the word “camper.” However, no such comma exists. According to the rules of grammar, “motor vehicle camper” is one item. See Karder Mach. Co. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 9th Dist. Summit No. 14486, 1990 WL 177199, *3 (Nov. 7, 1990).

{¶ 18} By utilizing rules of grammar and employing the common meaning of terms, “motor vehicle camper” has a clear definition that does not produce an absurd result. If the village desires a different reading, it should amend the ordinance and insert a comma between the phrase “motor vehicle” and the word “camper.” As written, however, legislative intent is clear from looking at the language used in the ordinance itself.

Chief Justice Roberts was unavailable to add a comma to rewrite the statute as the legislature obviously wanted it to read.

H/T Joe H.