Twelfth District: Bad Punctuation Puts Brakes on Parking Ordinance
West Jefferson meant to make it illegal for all types of motor vehicles, including campers, from parking on the street overnight, but a missing comma means the village couldn’t tow away a woman’s pickup truck, an Ohio appeals court ruled.
The Twelfth District Court of Appeals Monday reversed the decision of the Madison County Municipal Court that found Andrea Cammelleri of West Jefferson guilty of an ordinance forbidding parking on a West Jefferson street for 24 hours straight.
Cammelleri owns a 1993 Ford pickup. As a third shift worker, she woke up at 5:30 p.m. and looked out onto the street to see her truck missing. She called 911 to report it stolen, but a dispatcher informed her it had been impounded. Shortly after, a West Jefferson police officer went to her house and gave her a citation.
The West Jefferson ordinance said it is against the law to park on a village street: “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle for a continued period of twenty-four hours.”
In municipal court in March 2014, Cammelleri argued her truck is not a “motor vehicle camper” and the law does not apply to her. The court sided with the village that argued that by reading the ordinance in context it’s clear the ordinance was just missing a comma between motor vehicle and camper. She was found guilty and ordered to pay court costs. She appealed to the Twelfth District.
Writing for the appellate court, Judge Robert A. Hendrickson wrote the court must “read words and phrases in context and construe them in accordance with rules of grammar and common usage” when interpreting statutes.
He noted the ordinance separates vehicle types by comma, such as between motor vehicle camper, trailer, and farm implement. He also found that reading the words “motor vehicle camper” as one term does not produce an absurd result, and Cammelleri submitted evidence that she searched the words on the internet and several types of recreational vehicle appeared. Among the vehicles in the search were pickup trucks affixed with a bed cover that converted them into campers. Since her pickup was not fitted for camping it did not meet the definition of a motor vehicle camper, Judge Hendrickson concluded.
“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,’” he wrote.
The court vacated the charges against Cammelleri.
Judges Stephen Powell and Robert Ringland concurred in the decision.
W. Jefferson v. Cammelleri, 2015-Ohio-2463
Criminal Appeal From: Madison County Municipal Court
Judgment Appealed From Is: Reversed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: June 22, 2015
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