Page 41

Nov Advocate 2017

THE ADVOCATE V O L . 7 5 P A R T 6 N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 7 839 THE COMMA: HOOK, LINE AND THINKER1 By Richard Olson It is perhaps no coincidence that the comma, with its claw-like shape, provokes some of the most vicious fighting among grammarians, editors, writers, lawyers, judges and other pedants.2 Some use commas liberally, others use commas indiscriminately and others avoid them.3 In a recent decision in the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals4 the decision hung, claw-like, on the absence of a comma. The judgment begins: For want of a comma we have this case. It arises from a dispute between a Maine dairy company and its delivery drivers, and it concerns the scope of an exemption from Maine’s overtime law … . Specifically, if that exemption used a serial comma to mark off the last of the activities that it lists, then the exemption would clearly encompass an activity that the drivers perform. And, in that event, the drivers would plainly fall within the exemption and thus outside the overtime law’s protection. But, as it happens, there is no serial comma to be found in the exemption’s list of activities, thus leading to this dispute over whether the drivers fall within the exemption from the overtime law or not.5 The Court goes on to state the issue: Exemption F covers employees whose work involves the handling—in one way or another—of certain, expressly enumerated food products. Specifically, Exemption F states that the protection of the overtime law does not apply to: 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). The parties’ dispute concerns the meaning of the words “packing for shipment or distribution.”6 One would think the analysis would be simple but the reasons for judgment span almost 28 pages of discussion. The essence of the opposing arguments was that the words “packing for shipment or distribution” meant the activities either of:


Nov Advocate 2017
To see the actual publication please follow the link above