Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently issued an opinion providing a good example of the “supremacy-of-text principle,” which is used by Florida courts when interpreting statutes.

The case, The Kidwell Group, LLC v. ASI Preferred Insurance Corp., explains the textualism principle for statutory interpretation: “[t]he words of a governing text are of paramount concern, and what they convey, in their context, is what the text means.”

At issue in The Kidwell Group was the meaning of two undefined statutory terms, “invalid” and “unenforceable.”  The Court applied the textualism principle to discern the meaning of the terms, focusing on (1) the plain meaning of the terms (2) within the context of the statute.

As explained in the opinion, dictionaries are commonly used to discern the plain meaning of an undefined statutory term.  The Court’s analysis thus began with reviewing the dictionary definitions of the undefined terms.

The Court then looked to the statute’s context for further guidance on interpreting the terms. The Court explained the limitations when analyzing statutory context, which is to review “the purpose of the text, gathered only from the text itself, consistently with the other aspects of its context.”  Importantly, the words of the statute—rather than extraneous sources—establish the context.

Through the dictionary definitions and context, the Court determined the meaning of the undefined terms.  The Kidwell Group provides a basic overview of textualism’s fundamental principle:  a statute’s meaning is established from the words in the statute.

Jonathan Taylor is an associate attorney with The Law Offices of Moffa, Sutton, & Donnini, P.A.  Mr. Taylor concentrates in the areas of Florida tax appeals and general administrative appeals.  Mr. Taylor also volunteers with Guardian ad Litem to handle appellate matters.  Mr. Taylor can be reached at 954-234-2884 or jonathantaylor@floridasalestax.com.