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Nevada Law Library

Statutory Interpretation

In Nevada, all questions of statutory construction must start with the language of the statute itself.  See 2A Norman J. Singer & J.D. Shambie Singer, Statutes and Statutory Construction § 47:1, at 274–75 (7th ed. 2007) (“The starting point in statutory construction is to read and examine the text of the act and draw inferences concerning the meaning from its composition and structure.” (footnote omitted)) – as quoted by In re Nevada State Eng’r Ruling No. 5823, 277 P.3d 449 (2012).   In other words, the Court must begin its inquiry with the statute’s plain language.  Arguello v. Sunset Station, Inc., 252 P.3d 206, 209 (2011).  The Court may not look beyond the statute’s language if it is clear and unambiguous on its face.  See Washoe Med. Ctr. v. Second Jud. Dist. Ct., 122 Nev. 1298, 1302, 148 P.3d 790, 792-793 (2006).  See also Valdez v. Emp’rs Ins. Co. of Nev., 123 Nev. 170, 162 P.3d 148 (2007); Hobbs v. Nev., 127 Nev. Adv. Op. 18, 251 P.3d 177, 179 (2011); Pro-Max Corp. v. Feenstra, 117 Nev. 90, 95, 16 P.3d 1074, 1078 (2001). Stated another way, in circumstances where the statute’s language is plain, there is no room for constructive gymnastics, and the court is not permitted to search for meaning beyond the statute itself.  See Pro-Max Corp. v. Feenstra, 117 Nev. 90, 95, 16 P.3d 1074 1078 (2001).

Courts must not render any part of the statute meaningless, and must not read the statute's language so as to produce absurd or unreasonable results.  Leven v. Frye, 123 Nev. 399, 405, 168 P.3d 712, 716 (2007). They must consider “the policy and spirit of the law and will seek to avoid an interpretation that leads to an absurd result.”  Id. (quoting CityPlan Dev. v. State Labor Comm'r, 121 Nev. 419, 435, 117 P.3d 182, 192 (2005)). In fact, “The meaning of words used in a statute may be sought by examining the context and by considering the reason or spirit of the law or the causes which induced the legislature to enact it.  The entire subject matter and the policy of the law may also be involved to aid in its interpretation, and it should always be construed so as to avoid absurd results.” Welfare Div. of State Dept. of Health, Welfare and Rehabilitation v. Washoe Cty. Welfare Dept., 88 Nev. 635, 637 (1972); Ex parte Siebenhauer, 14 Nev. 365, 368 (1879); Western Pacific R.R. v. State, 69 Nev. 66, 69 (1952). Finally, the Courts must conform their decisions to reason and the public policy behind the statute.  Great Basin Water Network v. State Eng'r, 234 P.3d 912, 918 (2010).