With so many ambiguous and seemingly indecipherable laws, rules, and regulations on the books, how are we supposed to know what they all mean and how to interpret them? Even in the era of social media, the metaverse, and reddit, courts still turn to the old-school dictionary for help assessing the plain and ordinary meaning of a statutory word or phrase.
Emerge attorneys Corinne Celko and Alex Berger successfully defended a recent appeal to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (“LUBA”) with the help of the dictionary. Emerge’s client sought to develop an RV Park on land zoned Exclusive Farm Use, with each campsite having its own water and electrical service hookup. A neighbor opposed the development and claimed that our client violated a rule prohibiting the provision of “[s]eparate sewer, water or electric service hook-ups . . . to individual campsites . . . .” Emerge devised a plan to have a shared utility hook-up between every two campsites, and Josephine County approved the proposal. The neighbor appealed the decision to LUBA.
At LUBA, Emerge cited the following dictionary definitions: “separate” means “not shared with another;” “individual” means “intended for one person;” and “hookup” means “a linking of two or more items into an interacting whole.” Emerge argued that such definitions support their proposition that shared water and electric hookups between more than one campsite complied with the rule. In its decision favoring Emerge’s client, LUBA agreed that such dictionary definitions support interpreting the rule to mean that individual campsites may not have hookups which are limited to serving the individual campsite, but that shared service hookups are allowed. Therefore, since a water and electric service hookup would be shared between more than one campsite, LUBA affirmed the county’s decision approving the RV Park.
For more details explaining how courts interpret statutes and rules, you can find LUBA’s full Opinion and Order in this matter here.”