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State Tax Notes

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St. Tax Notes



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This installment of Interpretation Matters explores one of the most widely used canons of statutory construction: the ejusdem generis (“of the same kind or class”) principle. “If general words follow the enumeration of particular classes of things, the rule of ejusdem generis provides that the general words will be construed as applicable only to things of the same general nature as the enumerated things.”

To take a simple example, a statute prohibited persons placing on the streets “dirt, rubbish, wood, timber, or other material of any kind” tending to obstruct the streets. The statute was held not to apply to an automobile left on the street. “Dirt, rubbish, wood, [and] timber" are of the same kind, class, or nature – a nature different from that of automobiles. Under the canon, the initial particular words of the same class impart a limiting connotation to the later language of an otherwise general nature "other material of any kind.”

The first section below gives example of the operation of the “same kind” precept in state and local tax cases. The second section explores the rationales for the canon. The third section considers arguments by which the party opposing the precept can seek to counter it.


© 2013 Steve R. Johnson


First published in State Tax Notes.

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