CONSTRUCTION OF STATUTES
Construction of laws; rules for.
Construction of laws; words and phrases.
Construing statutes of 1898.
Effect of repeals.
Actions pending not defeated by repeal of statute.
Repeal or change of law limiting time for bringing actions.
Citation of supreme court rules.
Construction of laws; rules for.
In construing Wisconsin laws the following rules shall be observed unless construction in accordance with a rule would produce a result inconsistent with the manifest intent of the legislature:
(1) Singular and plural.
The singular includes the plural, and the plural includes the singular.
Words importing one gender extend and may be applied to any gender. Any person who by statute, rule or ordinance is designated a chairman, alderman or other similar title may use another equivalent title such as, in the case of a chairman, “chair", “chairperson", “chairwoman" or other such appropriate title.
The present tense of a verb includes the future when applicable. The future perfect tense includes past and future tenses.
The time within which an act is to be done or proceeding had or taken shall be computed by excluding the first day and including the last; and when any such time is expressed in hours the whole of Sunday and of any legal holiday, from midnight to midnight, shall be excluded.
If the last day within which an act is to be done or proceeding had or taken falls on a Sunday or legal holiday the act may be done or the proceeding had or taken on the next secular day.
When the last day within which a proceeding is to be had or taken or an act done, which consists of any payment to or the service upon or the filing with any officer, agent, agency, department or division of the state or of any county, city, village, town, school district or other subdivision of the state, of any money, return, statement, report, notice or other document, falls on a Saturday and the duly established official office hours of such officer, agent, agency, department or division to which such payment is to be made or upon which such service is to be made or with which such return, statement, report, notice or other document is required to be filed, do not include any office hours thereof on such Saturday, said proceeding may be had or taken or such act may be done on the next succeeding day that is not a Sunday or a legal holiday.
Regardless of whether the time limited in any statute for the taking of any proceeding or the doing of an act is measured from an event or from the date or day on which such event occurs, the day on which such event took place shall be excluded in the computation of such time.
“Legal holiday" as used in this section means any statewide legal holiday provided in s. 995.20
. When an act is permitted to be done by the use of the postal service, and the last day within the time prescribed by law for performing such act falls on a legal public holiday under federal law, or other holiday designated by the president such that the postal service does not receive registered mail or make regular deliveries on that day, the day shall be considered a legal holiday for purposes of this section.
If a statute refers, by number, to a group of chapters, sections, subsections or paragraphs of the statutes, the reference includes both the first and the last numbers mentioned.
When a decimal-numbered statute of this state contains a reference to another decimal-numbered statute of this state, the reference is to the current text of the statute referenced, and includes any change that has been inserted into and any interpretation or construction that has been adopted with respect to the referenced statute since the reference was first incorporated into the statute, whether or not the referenced statute is a general, specific, substantive or procedural statute. When a decimal-numbered statute refers to another decimal-numbered statute in a specific prior edition of the Wisconsin statutes, the reference does not include subsequent changes to the statute referenced.
(6) Statute titles and history notes.
The titles to subchapters, sections, subsections, paragraphs and subdivisions of the statutes and history notes are not part of the statutes.
(7) Construction of revised statutes.
A revised statute is to be understood in the same sense as the original unless the change in language indicates a different meaning so clearly as to preclude judicial construction. If the revision bill contains a note which says that the meaning of the statute to which the note relates is not changed by the revision, the note is indicative of the legislative intent.
(8) Joint authority, how exercised.
All words purporting to give a joint authority to 3 or more public officers or other persons shall be construed as giving such authority to a majority of such officers or other persons.
A quorum of a public body is a majority of the number of members fixed by law.
(9) Acts by agents.
If a statute requires an act to be done which may legally be done by an agent, such requirement includes all such acts when done by an authorized agent.
(10) Liability of sureties.
If an officer is liable on his or her official bond for any act, the sureties on the officer's bond are also liable.
The provisions of the statutes are severable. The provisions of any session law are severable. If any provision of the statutes or of a session law is invalid, or if the application of either to any person or circumstance is invalid, such invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application.
When time is referred to, the standard of time as provided by s. 175.09
, whichever is applicable, is meant.
(13) Registered and certified mail.
Except in s. 345.09
, whenever the statutes authorize or require the use of registered mail, and do not require a return receipt of the addressee only, certified mail may be used if a sender's receipt is obtained from the postal authorities and return receipt is requested. If a return receipt signed by addressee only is required, registered mail must be used.
(14) Statutory reference to numerical series.
If a statute refers to a numerical series such as 1 to 10, the reference includes both the first and last number mentioned.
(15) Statutory reference to a class of city.
If a statute refers to a class of city specified under s. 62.05 (1)
, such reference does not include any city with a population which makes the city eligible to be in that class unless the city has taken the actions necessary to pass into the class under s. 62.05 (2)
(16) Degrees of kinship.
The degree of kinship is computed according to the rules of the civil law, as follows: [See Figure 990.001 (16) following]
Figure: 990.001 (16)
(17) Live birth or circumstance of being born alive. 990.001(17)(a)(a)
An individual who undergoes a live birth is born alive.
If a statute or rule refers to a live birth or to the circumstance in which an individual is born alive, the statute or rule shall be construed so that whoever undergoes a live birth as the result of an abortion, as defined in s. 253.10 (2) (a)
, has the same legal status and legal rights as a human being at any point after the human being undergoes a live birth as the result of natural or induced labor or a cesarean section.
may not be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract a legal status or legal right that is applicable to a human being at any point before the human being undergoes a live birth.
NOTE: Chapter 89, laws of 1979
, which created sub. (5) (b), contains a prefatory note by the legislative council that includes a discussion on cross-references.
As to sub. (4), see s. 801.15
for exception as to computation of time. Also see s. 985.09 (2)
Unless a statute is so vague and uncertain that it is impossible to execute it or to ascertain the legislative intent with reasonable certainty, it is valid. Forest Home Dodge, Inc. v. Karns, 29 Wis. 2d 78
, 138 N.W.2d 214
When the legislature enacts a statute, which through clerical error, refers to, and by its terms amends, a preexisting statute that had earlier in the same legislative session been renumbered, and there is no issue as to the legislative intent and no doubt that correcting the clerical error in numbering is the only means of having the statute serve the purpose intended, a court is duty bound to rectify the error and substitute the right number for the wrong number used in the statute. State ex rel. Gutbrod v. Wolke, 49 Wis. 2d 736
, 183 N.W.2d 161
The general rule is that a specific penalty prescribed by a special statute for a particular offense takes precedence over a general provision in a penal code. State ex rel. Gutbrod v. Wolke, 49 Wis. 2d 736
, 183 N.W.2d 161
If a statute imposes a punishment for the commission of an act, that is sufficient to make the act a crime. State ex rel. Gutbrod v. Wolke, 49 Wis. 2d 736
, 183 N.W.2d 161
Statutory construction requires that a law be construed so that no word or clause is surplusage. Johnson v. State, 76 Wis. 2d 672
, 251 N.W.2d 834
When a limitation period would otherwise expire on a legal holiday, sub. (4) (b) permits commencement of the action on the next secular day. Cuisinier v. Sattler, 88 Wis. 2d 654
, 277 N.W.2d 776
When a statute is written in objective terms not susceptible to more than one meaning, the subjective intent of lawmakers is not controlling. State v. Derenne, 102 Wis. 2d 38
, 306 N.W.2d 12
Registered mail serves the purpose of certified mail to an even greater degree. Patterson v. Board of Regents, 103 Wis. 2d 358
, 309 N.W.2d 3
(Ct. App. 1981).
When a contemporaneous report or other document from a non-legislative agency or private party forms a vital link in the chain of legislative history of a statute, it may be used to determine legislative intent. Ball v. District No. 4, Area Board, 117 Wis. 2d 529
, 345 N.W.2d 389
A court may consider titles of statutes to resolve doubt as to statutory meaning. In Interest of C.D.M., 125 Wis. 2d 170
, 370 N.W.2d 287
(Ct. App. 1985).
A reference to a general federal law as amended necessarily references current federal law when the act named in the state statute had been repealed and the law rewritten in another act. When a reference is stated as part of a contingency, it does not constitute unlawful delegation of legislative authority to the U.S. Congress. Dane County Hospital & Home v. LIRC, 125 Wis. 2d 308
, 371 N.W.2d 815
(Ct. App. 1985).
An unconstitutional clause was severable under sub. (11). Wis. Wine & Spirit Institute v. Ley, 141 Wis. 2d 958
, 416 N.W.2d 914
(Ct. App. 1987).
Generally, legislation is presumptively prospective unless statutory language reveals an intent that the statute apply retroactively. Procedural or remedial, rather than substantive, statutes are generally given retroactive effect unless contracts would be impaired or vested rights disturbed. Statutes of limitations are substantive. Betthauser v. Medical Protective Co., 172 Wis. 2d 141
, 493 N.W.2d 40
Sub. (4) (a) and (d) applies to statutes of limitations; the day upon which a cause of action accrues is not included in computing the period of limitation. Pufahl v. Williams, 179 Wis. 2d 104
, 506 N.W.2d 747
It is presumed that the legislature knows the case law in existence at the time it changes a statute. When a legislative act has been construed by an appellate court, the legislature is presumed to know that in the absence of the legislature explicitly changing the law, the court's interpretation will remain unchanged. Blazekovic v. City of Milwaukee, 225 Wis. 2d 837
, 593 N.W.2d 809
(Ct. App.1999), 98-1821
It is impermissible to apply rules of statutory construction to ascertain legislative intent when the legislation is clear on its face. Jones v. State, 226 Wis. 2d 565
, 594 N.W.2d 738
Procedural statutes are to be liberally construed to permit a determination upon the merits of the controversy if possible. DOT v. Peterson, 226 Wis. 2d 623
, 594 N.W.2d 765
When statutory language is ambiguous, the scope, history, context, subject matter, and object of the statute will be examined to determine the intent of the legislature. State v. Reitter, 227 Wis. 2d 213
, 595 N.W.2d 646
When an ambiguity exists regarding the specific party to be served, procedural statutes must be construed liberally to achieve a determination of the merits of the controversy, if such construction is possible. McDonough v. DWD, 227 Wis. 2d 271
, 595 N.W.2d 686
The purpose of legislative interpretation is to discern the intent of the legislature, first considering the language of the statute. If the statute clearly and unambiguously sets forth the legislative intent, the court does not look beyond the statute to find the statute's meaning. In construing a statute, all words and phrases should be construed according to common and approved usage unless a different definition is designated by statute. Resort to a dictionary may be made to ascertain the common and ordinary usage of an undefined term. Resort to a dictionary does not render a term ambiguous. State v. Curiel, 227 Wis. 2d 389
, 597 N.W.2d 697
If the potential for conflict between two statutes exists, they will be read to avoid the conflict if a reasonable construction so permits. Providence Catholic School v. Bristol School District No. 1, 231 Wis. 2d 159
, 605 N.W.2d 238
(Ct. App. 1999), 98-3390
The rule of strict construction of penal statutes does not apply unless a statute is ambiguous, and the rule cannot be used to circumvent the purpose of the statute. The rule is not a rule of general or universal application. Sometimes a strict and sometimes a liberal construction is required, even in respect to a penal law because the purpose of all construction is to carry out the legislative purpose. State v. Kittilstad, 231 Wis. 2d 245
, 603 N.W.2d 732
(Ct. App. 1999), 98-1456
If a statute contains a given provision, the omission of that provision from a similar statute concerning a related subject is significant in showing that a different intention existed. Outagamie County v. Town of Greenville, 2000 WI App 65
, 233 Wis. 2d 566
, 608 N.W.2d 414
Although courts may not look to legislative history to show that an unambiguous statute is ambiguous, there is no rule that the history cannot be used to reinforce that a statute, plain on its face, is unambiguous. Seider v. O'Connell, 2000 WI 76
, 236 Wis. 2d 211
, 612 N.W.2d 659
Although a court will not look beyond a statute's plain meaning, it does consider its parts in relation to the whole statute and related sections. Dubis v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 2000 WI App 209
, 238 Wis. 2d 608
, 618 N.W.2d 266
Statutes and rules that assist in implementing a chapter's goals must be read in pari materia
, which requires a court to read, apply, and construe together statutes relating to the same subject matter. Perra v. Menomonee Mutual Insurance Co., 2000 WI App 215
, 239 Wis. 2d 26
, 619 N.W.2d 123
The principal of expressio unius est exclusio alterius
provides that the express mention of one matter excludes other similar matters not mentioned. The enumeration of specific alternatives in a statute is evidence of legislative intent that any alternative not enumerated is to be excluded. Perry v. Menomonee Mutual Insurance Co., 2000 WI App 215
, 239 Wis. 2d 26
, 619 N.W.2d 123
When related statutes were not created at the same time, the fact that the older statute specifically lists certain powers does not necessarily mean that the legislature intended a broadly worded, later enacted statute to be thus limited. To be limited by the earlier statute, there must be some evidence that the legislature intended its application. Pritchard v. Madison Metropolitan School District, 2001 WI App 62
, 242 Wis. 2d 301
, 625 N.W.2d 613
By expressing a time requirement in terms of hours rather than days, the legislature manifests its intent that the clock start running immediately rather than the next day, and the “exclude-the-first-day" rule of sub. (4) (a) and (d) does not apply. Matter of the Mental Commitment of Ryan E.M., 2002 WI App 71
, 252 Wis. 2d 490
, 642 N.W.2d 592
Words appearing multiple times in the same statute are given the same meaning unless the context clearly requires a different meaning. Donaldson v. Board of Commissioners of Rock-Koshkonong Lake District, 2003 WI App 26
, 260 Wis. 2d 238
, 659 N.W.2d 66
Generally, legislative enactments are entitled to a presumption of constitutionality. The purpose of the presumption of constitutionality does not appear to have any relation to whether the statute predates or postdates the constitutional provision. State v. Cole, 2003 WI 112
, 264 Wis. 2d 520
, 665 N.W.2d 328
Chapter 35 codifies the rules of publishing and interpreting public documents, including the statutes. Section 35.18 (3) explains how the numbers and sections of statutory provisions are designated. Storm v. Legion Insurance Company, 2003 WI 120
, 265 Wis. 2d 169
, 665 N.W.2d 353
Scope, context, and purpose are perfectly relevant to a plain-meaning interpretation of an unambiguous statute as long as the scope, context, and purpose are ascertainable from the text and structure of the statute itself, rather than extrinsic sources, such as legislative history. Many words have multiple dictionary definitions; the applicable definition depends upon the context in which the word is used. Kalal v. Dane County, 2004 WI 58
, 271 Wis. 2d 633
, 681 N.W.2d 110
It is a basic rule of construction to attribute the same definition to a word each time it is used in the same statute or administrative rule. DaimlerChrysler v. LIRC, 2007 WI 15
, 299 Wis. 2d 1
, 727 N.W.2d 311
Previous cases construing a statute become a part of the understanding of a statute's plain meaning. Once a construction has been given to a statute, the construction becomes a part of the statute. Meyers v. Bayer AG, 2007 WI 99
, 303 Wis. 2d 295
, 735 N.W.2d 448
The statutes contain thousands upon thousands of nouns, very few of which are preceded by the word “real" because “real" is implied in the general understanding of most nouns. State v. Van Buren, 2008 WI App 26
, 307 Wis. 2d 447
, 746 N.W.2d 545
While terms of a statute are to be interpreted to avoid superfluousness if possible, the rule is not absolute. If the legislature has created redundancies, it is not up to the court to create functions for such parts. The legislature sometimes uses more words than necessary without intending to add meaning. Wisconsin Realtors Ass'n v. Town of West Point, 2008 WI App 40
, 309 Wis. 2d 199
, 747 N.W.2d 681
Sub. (6) provides that a title to a statute is not part of the statute. A title may not be used to alter the meaning of a statute or create an ambiguity where no ambiguity existed. Noffke v. Bakke, 2009 WI 10
, 315 Wis. 2d 350
, 760 N.W.2d 156
The legislature has a history of using “and" when the context shows it means “or." “And" in statutes is not always interpreted as a conjunctive term. It is a familiar rule of construction that the words “or" and “and" are often used incorrectly, and that when a strict reading would render the sense dubious one may be read in place of the other, in deference to the meaning of the context. State v. Freer, 2010 WI App 9
, 323 Wis. 2d 29
, 779 N.W.2d 12
The Legislative Reference Bureau's analysis of a bill is printed with and displayed on the bill when it is introduced in the legislature; as such, it is indicative of legislative intent. State v. Freer, 2010 WI App 9
, 323 Wis. 2d 29
, 779 N.W.2d 12
Whenever the application of a common law doctrine or rule would undermine the manifest purposes of a statutory cause of action, the conflict between the statute's manifest purpose and the common law defense “leaves no doubt of the legislature's intent." In a case of such apparent incompatibility, the legislature necessarily intended that the common law defense would not be applied to bar claims under the statute. MBS-Certified Public Accountants, LLC v. Wisconsin Bell Inc., 2012 WI 15
, 338 Wis. 2d 647
, 809 N.W.2d 857