2019 New Mexico Statutes
Chapter 12 - Miscellaneous Public Affairs Matters
Article 2A - Uniform Statute and Rule Construction Act
Section 12-2A-18 - Principles of construction; presumption.

Universal Citation: NM Stat § 12-2A-18 (2019)

A. A statute or rule is construed, if possible, to:

(1) give effect to its objective and purpose;

(2) give effect to its entire text; and

(3) avoid an unconstitutional, absurd or unachievable result.

B. A statute that is intended to be uniform with those of other states is construed to effectuate that purpose with respect to the subject of the statute.

C. The presumption that a civil statute in derogation of the common law is construed strictly does not apply to a statute of this state.

History: Laws 1997, ch. 173, § 18.

ANNOTATIONS

Effective dates. — Laws 1997, ch. 173 § 22 made the Uniform Statute and Rule Construction Act effective July 1, 1997.

I. GENERAL CONSIDERATION.

Principles of statutory interpretation. — If a statute is ambiguous, then to ascertain the legislature's intent the court considers the legislative purpose behind the statute to effectuate the intent of the statute and accomplish its objectives and statutes concerning similar subject matter, relevant common law principles and public policy; and reads the provisions of the statute together with statutes pertaining to the same subject to achieve a harmonious whole. Pub. Serv. Co. of N.M. v. Diamond D Constr. Co., 2001-NMCA-082, 131 N.M. 100, 33 P.3d 651, cert. quashed, 131 N.M. 221, 34 P.3d 610.

Absurd meaning to be avoided. — The court is not bound by a literal interpretation of the words of a statute if a strict interpretation would defeat the intended object of the legislature. Thus, words can be added, and words in a statute can be read as though they were omitted, if that is necessary to effectuate legislative intent and prevent an absurd and unreasonable meaning. State v. Romero, 2000-NMCA-029, 128 N.M. 806, 999 P.2d 1038.

Interest in uniformity. — Courts may consider other jurisdictions' interpretations of Uniform Health Care Decisions Act to effectuate the purpose of uniformity with other states that have likewise adopted the Uniform Act. Corum v. Roswell Senior Living LLC, 2010-NMCA-105, 149 N.M. 287, 248 P.3d 329, cert. denied, 2010-NMCERT-010, 149 N.M. 64, 243 P.3d 1146.

Constructive service of process is in derogation of common law; it is harsh; and a statute authorizing it is to be strictly construed. Kalosha v. Novick, 1973-NMSC-010, 84 N.M. 502, 505 P.2d 845.

Tort Claims Act in derogation of common-law rights. — A court must strictly construe the Tort Claims Act, since it is in derogation of one's common-law right to sue for negligence. Wells v. County of Valencia, 1982-NMSC-048, 98 N.M. 3, 644 P.2d 517.

Exemption statutes are liberally construed in favor of debtor. Advance Loan Co. v. Kovach, 1968-NMSC-154, 79 N.M. 509, 445 P.2d 386; McFadden v. Murray, 1927-NMSC-039, 32 N.M. 361, 257 P. 999.

Construction of "electors voting in the whole state". — To construe "electors voting in the whole state" (N.M. Const., art. XIX, § 1) to mean in effect, "all electors voting at the election," as distinguished from those voting on the particular amendment, would have the effect of making the "unamendable section" (N.M. Const., art. VII, § 1) even more unamendable than would otherwise be true. To so hold would in effect attribute to the membership of the convention, the congress of the United States and the electorate who ratified the constitution and the amendment to N.M. Const., art. XIX, § 1 the intention of incorporating provisions which ostensibly provide for amendment while in fact making it impossible. State ex rel. Witt v. State Canvassing Bd., 1968-NMSC-017, 78 N.M. 682, 437 P.2d 143 (decided under prior law).

Use of "void" and "voidable". — The word "void" is not always used in an absolute or in its literal sense but may be and often is used in the sense of "voidable." Where an enactment has relation only to the benefit of particular persons, "void" will be understood as "voidable" only at the election of the person or persons for whose protection the enactment was made, provided they are capable of protecting themselves. "Absolutely void" is that which the law or nature of things forbids to be enforced at all, and that is "relatively void" which the law condemns as a wrong to individuals and refuses to enforce against them. State ex rel. State Tax Comm'n v. Garcia, 1967-NMSC-098, 77 N.M. 703, 427 P.2d 230.

Application of ejusdem generis. — The rule of statutory construction, ejusdem generis, is that general words in a statute, which follow a designation or enumeration of particular subjects, objects, things or classes of persons, will ordinarily be presumed to be restricted so as to embrace only subjects, objects, things or classes of the same general character, sort or kind, to the exclusion of all others. It arises from the presumption that, having enumerated a list of things or persons, the legislature must have had in mind no other kind. Cardinal Fence Co. v. Comm'r of Bureau of Revenue, 1972-NMCA-136, 84 N.M. 314, 502 P.2d 1004.

State of law when act passed may aid construction. — In the interpretation of a statute, changes made by the act in the previous state of the law may be given consideration. Indeed, one of the recognized rules of construction of statutes is to look to the state of the law when the statute was enacted in order to see for what is was intended as a substitute. Bettini v. City of Las Cruces, 1971-NMSC-054, 82 N.M. 633, 485 P.2d 967.

One guide is history and prior condition of law. — One guide in the construction of a statute that is most useful to the courts is the consideration of the history and prior condition of a particular law. Munroe v. Wall, 1959-NMSC-054, 66 N.M. 15, 340 P.2d 1069.

Severability clause an aid in construction. — The presence or absence of a severability clause merely provides one rule of construction which may be considered and may sometimes aid in determining legislative intent, "but it is an aid merely; not an inexorable command." Bradbury & Stamm Constr. Co. v. Bureau of Revenue, 1962-NMSC-078, 70 N.M. 226, 372 P.2d 808.

II. CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY.

Constitutional limitations are sole restraints upon legislature's prerogatives. — The legislature's prerogative in the matter of legislation is to be questioned solely from the standpoint of our federal or state constitutional limitations. The function of the courts in scrutinizing acts of the legislature is not to raise possible doubt nor to listen to captious criticism. The legislature possessing the sole power of enacting law, it will not be presumed that the people have intended to limit its power or practice by unreasonable or arbitrary restrictions. Every presumption is ordinarily to be indulged in favor of the validity and regularity of legislative acts and procedure. State ex rel. Holmes v. State Bd. of Fin., 1961-NMSC-172, 69 N.M. 430, 367 P.2d 925.

Presumption that legislature kept within bounds of constitution. — In determining the constitutionality of an act of the legislature, the presumption is that the legislature has performed its duty and kept within the bounds fixed by the constitution, and that the judiciary will, if possible, give effect to the legislative intent, unless it clearly appears to be in conflict with the constitution. Seidenberg v. N. M. Bd. of Med. Examiners, 1969-NMSC-028, 80 N.M. 135, 452 P.2d 469.

Policy of court to construe statutes in light of presumed constitutionality. — The court will construe statutes in the light that they are presumed constitutional rather than unconstitutional. State ex rel. City of Albuquerque v. Lavender, 1961-NMSC-096, 69 N.M. 220, 365 P.2d 652.

Every presumption favoring constitutionality indulged. — In passing on issues of constitutionality of statutes the court must indulge every presumption in favor of validity of the enactment. Board of Dirs. of Mem'l Gen. Hosp. v. County Indigent Hosp. Claims Bd., 1967-NMSC-042, 77 N.M. 475, 423 P.2d 994.

Statute should be construed so as to avoid conflict with constitution and give effect to statute whenever possible; all doubts should be resolved in favor of constitutionality of statute. State ex rel. Sedillo v. Sargent, 1918-NMSC-042, 24 N.M. 333, 171 P. 790.

Unless no other conclusion reasonable, acts not unconstitutional. — Legislative acts should not be held unconstitutional unless no other conclusion can reasonably be reached and all doubts must be resolved in favor of constitutionality. Peyton v. Nord, 1968-NMSC-027, 78 N.M. 717, 437 P.2d 716.

In any event, doubt is resolved in favor of constitutionality of statutes. Daniels v. Watson, 1966-NMSC-011, 75 N.M. 661, 410 P.2d 193.

Unconstitutionality must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt. — A statute will not be declared unconstitutional unless the court is satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that the legislature went outside the constitution in enacting the challenged legislation. City of Raton v. Sproule, 1967-NMSC-141, 78 N.M. 138, 429 P.2d 336.

III. CRIMINAL STATUTES.

Ambiguity in criminal statute construed against the state. — Courts will not add words in the construction of a statute, except where it is necessary to do so to make the statute conform to the obvious intent of the legislature, or to prevent absurdity, and if there be any ambiguity or doubt concerning the meaning of a criminal statute, it will be construed against the state which enacted it and in favor of the accused. State v. Ortiz, 1967-NMCA-019, 78 N.M. 507, 433 P.2d 92.

Court will not change or limit wording in criminal statute in order to construe it against the accused. Penal statutes are strictly construed and should be of sufficient certainty so that a person will know his act is criminal when he does it. State v. Collins, 1969-NMSC-104, 80 N.M. 499, 458 P.2d 225.

Criminal statutes fairly and reasonably construed as to both sides. — The cardinal rule in the construction of a statute is to ascertain the intention of the legislature as it is expressed in the words of the statute, and for this purpose the whole act must be considered. The law, it is true, in its tenderness for life and liberty, requires that penal statutes shall be strictly construed, by which is meant that courts will not extend punishment to cases not plainly within the language used. At the same time such statutes are to be fairly and reasonably construed, and the courts will not by a narrow and strained construction exclude from its operation cases plainly within their scope of meaning. State v. Garcia, 1971-NMCA-186, 83 N.M. 490, 493 P.2d 975, cert. denied, 83 N.M. 473, 493 P.2d 958 (1972).

Intendment not to broaden penal statutes. — Penal statutes must be strictly construed, and the definition of crimes therein contained is not to be broadened by intendment. State v. Allen, 1967-NMSC-029, 77 N.M. 433, 423 P.2d 867.

Penal statutes must be strictly interpreted with respect to offense. State v. Shop Rite Foods, Inc., 1964-NMSC-048, 74 N.M. 55, 390 P.2d 437.

Criminal sentences must be imposed as prescribed by statute. State v. Baros, 1968-NMSC-001, 78 N.M. 623, 435 P.2d 1005.

Unless legislative intent indicates otherwise, criminal intent will be required. — Except where the legislature clearly indicates a desire to eliminate the requirement of criminal intent, criminal statutes will be construed in the light of the common law and criminal intent will be required, and failure to instruct on this required element will be considered jurisdictional. State v. Fuentes, 1973-NMCA-069, 85 N.M. 274, 511 P.2d 760, cert. denied, 85 N.M. 265, 511 P.2d 751.

Act prohibited only by statute construed in light of common law. — When an act is prohibited and made punishable by statute only, the statute is to be construed in the light of the common law and the existence of a criminal intent is to be regarded as essential, although the terms of the statute do not require it. State v. Austin, 1969-NMCA-095, 80 N.M. 748, 461 P.2d 230; State v. Jordan, 1972-NMCA-033, 83 N.M. 571, 494 P.2d 984.

Requirement of criminal intent is matter of construction. — Whether a criminal intent is to be regarded as essential is a matter of construction, to be determined from a consideration of the matters prohibited and the language of the statute, in the light of the common-law rule. State v. Jordan, 1972-NMCA-033, 83 N.M. 571, 494 P.2d 984.

Criminal intent is required unless it clearly appears legislature intended otherwise. — The legislature may forbid the doing of an act and make its commission criminal, without regard to the intent with which such act is done; but in such case it must clearly appear from the act, from its language or clear inference, that such was the legislative intent. State v. Austin, 1969-NMCA-095, 80 N.M. 748, 461 P.2d 230.

Requirement of criminal intent. — Intent is required unless it clearly appears that the legislature meant to eliminate intent as part of the offense. State v. Pedro, 1971-NMCA-145, 83 N.M. 212, 490 P.2d 470.

IV. TAX STATUTES.

One provision not to destroy another. — The established rule of construction of a statute is that, if possible, it will be construed to give effect to all of its provisions so that one part will not destroy another. State ex rel. Maloney v. Neal, 1969-NMSC-095, 80 N.M. 460, 457 P.2d 708.

Giving effect to all parts of a statute. — A statute should be construed, if possible, to give effect to all of its provisions and so that one part will not destroy another. Martinez v. Research Park, Inc., 1965-NMSC-146, 75 N.M. 672, 410 P.2d 200, overruled on other grounds, Sundance Mech. & Util. Corp. v. Atlas, 1990-NMSC-031, 109 N.M. 683, 789 P.2d 1250.

Meaning and effect given to every part of statute. — An appellate court construes statutes so that meaning and effect will be given to every part thereof. State v. Herrera, 1974-NMSC-037, 86 N.M. 224, 522 P.2d 76.

Each part construed to produce harmonious whole. — Particular words, phrases and provisions must be construed with reference to the leading idea or purpose derived from the whole statute. Thus, each part should be construed in connection with every other part so as to produce a harmonious whole. State ex rel. Maloney v. Neal, 1969-NMSC-095, 80 N.M. 460, 457 P.2d 708.

Statutes construed in a manner so as to prevent absurdity. 1960 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 60-61.

Statutes construed so that application is not absurd. — It is fundamental that statutes will be construed so that their application will be neither absurd nor unreasonable. Midwest Video v. Campbell, 1969-NMSC-034, 80 N.M. 116, 452 P.2d 185.

Intention to authorize a deduction must be clear. — The rule is that legislative intention to authorize a deduction must be clearly and unambiguously expressed in the statute. Kaiser Steel Corp. v. Prop. Appraisal Dep't, 1971-NMCA-131, 83 N.M. 251, 490 P.2d 968, cert. denied, 83 N.M. 258, 490 P.2d 975.

The legislature is presumed to have used no surplus words and each word should have attributed to it some meaning not within the plain signification of other language found in the act. Cromer v. J.W. Jones Constr. Co., 1968-NMCA-027, 79 N.M. 179, 441 P.2d 219, overruled on other grounds by Schiller v. Southwest Air Rangers, Inc., 1975-NMSC-018, 87 N.M. 476, 535 P.2d 1327.

No part of statute rendered superfluous. — It is fundamental that a statute should be so construed that no word, clause, sentence provision or part thereof shall be rendered surplusage or superfluous. Cromer v. J.W. Jones Constr. Co., 1968-NMCA-027, 79 N.M. 179, 441 P.2d 219, overruled on other grounds by Schiller v. Southwest Air Rangers, Inc., 1975-NMSC-018, 87 N.M. 476, 535 P.2d 1327.

All parts of act construed together. — In statutory construction all parts of an act relating to the same subject matter are to be construed together. Kendrick v. Gackle Drilling Co., 1962-NMSC-127, 71 N.M. 113, 376 P.2d 176.

All of statute given effect. — In construing statute, effect is to be given to every clause and section of it, if possible. Butts v. Woods, 1888-NMSC-004, 4 N.M. (Gild.) 343, 16 P. 617.

Statutes construed to prevent absurdity, and to favor public convenience. — Statutes will be construed in the most beneficial way which their language will permit to prevent absurdity, hardship or injustice; to favor public convenience, and to oppose all prejudice to public interests. 1956 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 56-6479.

An appellate court will not construe statutes to achieve an absurd result or to defeat the intended object of the legislature. State v. Herrera, 1974-NMSC-037, 86 N.M. 224, 522 P.2d 76.

Presumption in favor of validity and regularity of statutes. — Every presumption is to be indulged in favor of the validity and regularity of legislative enactments. City of Raton v. Sproule, 1967-NMSC-141, 78 N.M. 138, 429 P.2d 336.

When statute's application absurd construe according to obvious spirit. — If the language of a statute renders its application absurd or unreasonable, it will be construed according to its obvious spirit or reason. But where the meaning of the language is plain, it must be given effect, and there is no room for construction. State v. Garcia, 1971-NMCA-186, 83 N.M. 490, 493 P.2d 975, cert. denied, 83 N.M. 473, 493 P.2d 958 (1972).

If the language of a statute renders its application absurd or unreasonable, it will be construed according to its obvious spirit or reason, but where the meaning of the language is plain, it must be given effect, and there is no room for construction. State v. Ortiz, 1967-NMCA-019, 78 N.M. 507, 433 P.2d 92.

When tax statutes strictly construed. — Statutes imposing taxes and providing means for the collection of the same should be construed strictly insofar as they may operate to deprive the citizen of his property by summary proceedings or to impose penalties or forfeitures upon him; but otherwise tax laws ought to be construed with fairness, if not liberality, in order to carry out the intention of the legislature and further the important public interests which such statutes subserve. NBS Corp. v. Valdez, 1965-NMSC-027, 75 N.M. 379, 405 P.2d 224.

When ambiguity exists statute construed against taxing authority. — Where an ambiguity or doubt exists as to the meaning or applicability of a tax statute, it should be construed most strongly against the taxing authority and in favor of those taxed. New Mexico Elec. Serv. Co. v. Jones, 1969-NMCA-111, 80 N.M. 791, 461 P.2d 924.

Statute of exemption from taxation must receive a strict construction, and no claim of exemption should be sustained unless within the express letter or the necessary scope of the exempting clause. Gibbons & Reed Co. v. Bureau of Revenue, 1969-NMSC-096, 80 N.M. 462, 457 P.2d 710.

Tax and assessment contrasted. — An assessment is unlike a tax in that the proceeds must be expended in an improvement from which a benefit, clearly exceptive and plainly perceived, must enure to the property upon which it is imposed. There is a wide difference in law between a tax and an assessment. In the one case the taxes are assessed against the individual and become a charge upon his property generally. In the other, the assessment, being for benefits accruing to the specific property, becomes a charge only upon and against it, and liability for the charge is confined to the particular property benefited. Leigh v. Hertzmark, 1967-NMSC-064, 77 N.M. 789, 427 P.2d 668.

Fundamental law that statutes and regulations construed to make constitutional. — It is fundamental law that the courts will construe a statute, and for that matter a regulation, so as to make it constitutional and valid. 1961 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 61-85.

Proviso survives invalidity when disjunctive. — While it is the general rule that a proviso modifies or restricts only that part of a statute which immediately precedes it and therefore would fall when that part of the statute falls, there is an exception to this rule to the effect that the mere fact that a sentence begins "provided" does not of necessity make it a proviso and that it may, in fact, be used in the disjunctive and contain new matter rather than an exception to what has gone before. 1959 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 59-188.

Constitutional provisions must receive a reasonable and liberal construction to uphold the acts of the legislature to the extent that this can be done. 1958 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 58-85.

Statutes construed as beneficial and favoring public convenience. — It is a well-recognized rule of construction that statutes should be construed in a beneficial way in order to prevent absurdity, hardship, injustice and so as to favor public convenience. 1957 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 57-246.

"Remedial and humanitarian" statute is to be broadly construed, and exceptions thereto, in application, be narrowly construed. 1957 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 57-248.

Specific words control general words which follow. — Under well-settled rules of statutory construction, when general words are used, following the enumeration of specific classes of things, the general words are to be construed as applicable only to things of the same general nature as those enumerated. 1957 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 57-279, superseded by 2000 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 00-03 on other issues.

Maxim "expressio unius est exclusio alterius" is only an aid. — The legal maxim "expressio unius est exclusio alterius," while time honored, is only an aid to construction. It is not a rule of law, and in any event is of limited application. 1958 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 58-18.

Statutes dealing with public assistance are to be liberally construed to carry out the intent and purpose of the legislation. 1953 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 53-5631.

When two constructions, court adopts constitutional one. — When a statute is before the court for construction, and the language of the act is reasonably susceptible to two constructions, one of which would render the act inoperative and in contravention of the constitution or law of the land, and the other would uphold the statute, it is the duty of the court to adopt the latter construction. 1953 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 53-5878.

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