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Statutory Construction – Legislative Acquiesence / History

Steven T. Kilian v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, 2011 WI 65; case activity

Statutory Construction – Legislative Acquiesence

¶30 n. 12:

“Legislative failure to act is ordinarily weak evidence of legislative intention to acquiesce in or countenance a judicial or executive branch interpretation. . . . Under proper circumstances, however, inaction by the legislature may be evidence of legislative intent.”  Schill v. Wisconsin Rapids School Dist., 2010 WI 86, ¶124, 327 Wis. 2d 572, 786 N.W.2d 177.  In the instant case, we conclude the “presumption of tacit adoption and ratification” is relevant insofar as it is consistent with the plain language contained in subsection (7)’s broad introductory clause.  See Green Bay Packaging, Inc. v. Dep’t of Industry, Labor and Human Relations, 72 Wis. 2d 26, 35, 240 N.W.2d 422 (1976).

Statutory Construction – Legislative History

¶31 n. 13:

While we do not rely on legislative history when a statute is unambiguous on its face, this court, on occasion, will “consult legislative history to show how that history supports our interpretation of a statute otherwise clear on its face.”  Seider v. O’Connell, 2000 WI 76, ¶52, 236 Wis. 2d 211, 612 N.W.2d 659.

In the instant case, the legislative history of the Lemon Law supports our interpretation of the term “damages.” The legislative drafting notes from 1983 show that the term “pecuniary loss” was originally used in place of the term “damages.”  Subsection (7) initially provided that “any person suffering a pecuniary loss because of a violation of this section may bring a civil action . . . .”  However, the final bill was amended to state that “a consumer damaged by a violation of this section may bring an action . . . .”  See LRBs0091/1; WLCS:92/1 (March 4, 1983).  This amendment suggests the legislature intended to provide a broader range of remedies under this provision than merely pecuniary loss.

Minor, uncontroversial principles, to be sure; but that doesn’t make them non-recurrent. You can always find them right here, if you need a quick, supporting cite.

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