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© 2017 by the Law Offices of Zachary L. Catanzaro, PA

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The Missing Multi-Million Dollar Oxford Comma

 “For want of a comma, we have this case. . .”  writes First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Barron in a March 13, 2017 opinion over unpaid overtime lawsuit between a dairy company and its delivery drivers.[1]  The 29-page opinion ruled in favor of the delivery drivers because of the absence of an Oxford comma (the final comma in a list of things) in Maine’s “wage and hour law” statutory exemptions[2] created an ambiguity as to whether the States overtime law applied to the drivers. 

 

The truck drivers argued that the lack of a comma in the clause "packing for shipment and distribution" meant that the phrase defined a single activity, and that their truck driving, while a form of distribution, was not included in the exclusionary language of "packing for shipment and distribution."  Relying on well-established contractual and statutory interpretation principles, the Court interpreted the ambiguous language against the drafter, the dairy company, and agreed with the truck drivers.

 

[1] Kevin O’ Connor, et al., v. Oakhurst Dairy, et al., No. 16-1901 (1st Cir. 2017).

 

[2] The relevant exclusion stated:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

26 M.R.S.A § 664(3)(F).

 

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