law

STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
How to Steal From Your Employer Using the Courts and Grammar
By Joe Jarvis - March 22, 2017

What is the point of law? Is it to settle disputes that arise between two individuals; the way common law was born? Or perhaps law is meant to spur debate on the use of the oxford comma, like a high stakes schoolhouse lesson on grammar.

The whole situation is silly from the beginning. You have to peel back layers of ridiculousness before you can even get at the issue: that truckers just won millions of dollars in overtime from their employer because the state law did not insert an oxford comma into their overtime rule.

Maine law states that the following industries are exempt from a rule requiring overtime pay:

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.

Does that law exempt “packing for shipment” as well as “distribution” of those goods from the overtime law? Or does it exempt “packing” for “shipment or distribution” as the truckers argued?

Seriously, that is what this case revolved around.

The truckers ended up convincing the courts that the law was ambiguous enough so that they could expect overtime, since “packing” could be understood to apply to both “shipment and distribution” as opposed to “distribution” being a separate sector which does not get overtime.

But a better question: why was the government ever allowed to insert itself into the employee employer relationship to force certain businesses to pay employees overtime?

Can people not decide to accept a job or not based on the agreement the company gives you from the beginning?

The state should not be governing overtime pay in private transactions, and the truckers should not be shaking down their employer because the state left out a comma in its law.

And this is the whole problem with the current state of law in the USA. There is no common law, or common sense, when deciding verdicts. The question was not, “were these truck drivers wronged by their employer?” The question was, “who did the government intend to point their guns at when writing that law?”

Because that is what laws come down to: government’s guns pointed at some party to use force to prevent or compel an action.

Government Statutes Destroy Real Law

Inevitably, there will be disputes between humans. In an essay called “The Obviousness of Anarchy,” John Hasnas argues that the best society achievable is one where the entire governing structure is meant only to settle disputes.

The rule of law was born out of trying to peacefully solve disputes that might have otherwise erupted into violence. Common law is a collection of these outcomes, so that others in similar predicaments can see what worked to avoid violent outcomes.

…common law provides us with rules that facilitate peace and cooperative activities. Government legislation provides us with rules that facilitate the exploitation of the politically powerless by the politically dominant. The former bring order to society; the latter tend to produce strife. Hence, not only is government not necessary to create the basic rules of social order, it is precisely the rules that the government does create that tend to undermine that order.

This means there had to first be a conflict before any legal proceedings in common law. In this case with the truck drivers, there was no conflict. The conflict arose when they saw something in a government law that could be exploited for monetary gain.

The conflict was not that they were being “forced” to work overtime with no pay; they knew that going into the job. If they didn’t like it, since they are not slaves, they could quit their job

It is insane to consider an employee/ employer relationship for mutual gain exploitative unless one party breaks an agreement that was the basis for the employment. Had they been promised overtime pay by their employer, and the employer reneged on that promise, that would be a basis for a claim against the employer. The lack of a comma is no legitimate basis to seek damages.

Governments really muddy the waters of law when they go and codify behaviors we all know are naturally illegal, like murder or theft, next to laws which have nothing to do with right or wrong, like how much companies should pay employees based on the hours they work, and sector of the economy.

It is true that most of our current law exists in the form of statutes. This is because much of the common law has been codified through legislation. But the fact that politicians recognised the wisdom of the common law by enacting it into statutes, hardly proves that government is necessary to create rules of law. Indeed, it proves precisely the opposite.

That is the problem. That it is impossible for regular people to understand government law, and practically impossible for anyone to mistake common law.

Understanding the traditional rules of common law requires only that one be a member of the relevant community to which the rules apply, not that one be an attorney.

Government legislation, in contrast, need have no relationship to either the understanding or the moral sensibility of the ordinary person.

But what government legislation does apparently require, is a firm understanding of grammar, lest the lack of an oxford comma cost you millions of dollars.

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  • autonomous

    “it is impossible for regular people to understand government law, and practically impossible for anyone to mistake common law.”
    Yes, indeed. The whole purpose of government is to mislead, and the best way to mislead is to confuse. It is said that the purpose of using Latin in law, medicine and religion is its precision of meaning, but its true purpose is to obscure what is being practiced on the common man.
    “Objection, your honor, the defendant is fingunt habere iura.”
    “Sustained, the defendant is plane fatuus.”

    • Exactly we sit here reading bills and regulations all the time. Every once and a while you just have to stop and shake your head, because they are so clearly trying to make the law unreadable and incoherent.

      • thefinancedude

        govern-ment: control-mind…its in our faces and we whine about it? 🙂 invent something better – if its better, people will consent – consent forms the WHOLE of the law…

        re: latin – its a dead language and the romans left it so that none of the fraternal orders could change the definitions of words and cause what we have today – because from their perspective – we live in the underworld, so we were supposed to use a dead language so no one could argue over meanings definitions and get into this quandary…then the english king created the common law and made the people believe it was theirs and starting redefining the words…then a tradesman class formed and starting reading the bible and said no more spoken oaths (it says not to in the bible)…

        it ties into how F’s and S’s were changed in old English and a bunch of other fun literary games (starting anagraming all the words!)…our minds live in fantasy lands…and we choose some of the most egregious fantasies to live out…all this control and taking from each other…when we could be living splendidly…

  • L.C. in Texas

    If attorney’s did not write the Laws, then the people could understand the Laws. The purpose of the Original 13th Amendment?

  • Eric Coote

    If the Government has any useful role in this it should be to enforce common law provisions and prevent lawyers from writing unconscionable one sided contracts that operate to the detriment of citizens. There is no justice in most of the web based contracts for example and it is not enough to say that people are not slaves as they can opt to not use web based data, programs etc promulgated by the likes of Google Apple, Amazon and Microsoft. What right has pinterest for instance to claim copyright on al images posted or for anyone or any corporation to sell our personal information for gain. There once was a time when the copyright owner (the one who made something new, whether legally recognised or not, enforced recognition at pain of death – that’s real common law.

  • thefinancedude

    two points – one the law is for the lawless – keyword factcheck me in the bible b/c ther is another form of action/cause and attorneys are taught never to go there – gee a court where attorney CAN NOT be heard – wowsa! :)~

    two – juris-diction – spoken oath…its called spelling b/c its magical language – no one observes per Mr. Hasnas claims so let he be deceived who is deceived says the romans…(btw – thanks, reading treatise today!)…

    so ya a comma changes everything in a highly precise technical language such as legalese/statutes which is not law, its legal form, color of law…fake law…to top all of this off, TECHNICALLY, the statutes are copyrighted and we’ve all heard of copyright laws 🙂

    learn who ye is and stake ye’s claim for all eternity…

    btw – common law is perverted public policy of the romans when the king made the law into his law, called it common and its anything but – it was kings law (go look up what happens when u take a deer from his forest – on the whole island)…the king/pope stood above all and the English king divorced the pope (but not really)- so the learned elders aka “founders” made individual American man into a king and pope to raise/rise to the high contracting power status…then they kept the knowledge for their posterity attempting to control the federal state’s (manifest) destiny except now they’re all fighting over the pie and telling tales out of (mystery) school…

    • Thank you for the insight, law is certainly perverted, and was surely by Kings and Rome as well. When two individuals agree to settle a dispute by going with the verdict of who they choose to be judge, we would call that common law, while rules about the King’s forest seem to fall under government statute.

  • Q46

    The Oxford comma is a comma that precedes ‘and’ at the end of a list. So in the legislation if used it would be: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment, and distribution of:”

    In that example the presence of the Oxford comma would not render the sentence any less ambiguous than its absence.

    An unambiguous draft would be: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment, distribution of:”

    As drafted the legislation seems to intend to link packing with distribution otherwise why the ‘or’? If it had said: “The canning or processing or preserving, or freezing, or etc” There would be no ambiguity.

    But… quite. Why is the State even involved in contracts?

  • FEEuser

    Great article, Joe!

    Yes, our legal system, which is wedded to our political system, is the problem, and we are going to have a hell of a time changing it for the better.

    As long as we have taxation and all the coercion, bureaucracy, and other evils which it enables, instead of freedom, voluntarism, and the markets and arbitration of disputes which they foster, we shall have this problem.

    Mr. Market, ever obedient to the laws of economics, has a way of fighting back, however. That trucking company does have options. It could make working there so unpleasant that people WILL start to quit. It happens all the time. By no means does this unpleasantness have to be planned or deliberate. Sheer stupidity and/or incompetence can easily do the job.

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