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Guidance for Interpreting California Codes

California has more than half a million codes

By Chris Micheli, July 19, 2020 7:20 am

California’s statutes, California Codes of which there are more than half a million, are contained in 29 separate codes. In an effort to provide guidance to those needing to interpret these statutes, each Code begins with a “General Provisions” section. Within these General Provisions are codified directives, which generally include the following:

  • The general provisions found in these initial sections of the Code govern the construction of the Code.
  • Titles and section hearings do not determine how provisions of the Code are to be interpreted.
  • Present tense also means past and future tenses.
  • The singular includes the plural.
  • The word “shall” is mandatory, while the word “may” is permissive.

Below is additional guidance that is found is almost all of the Codes, but I have included some that unique to the particular Code.

BUSINESS & PROFESSIONS CODE

The provisions of this code in so far as they are substantially the same as existing statutory provisions relating to the same subject matter shall be construed as restatements and continuations thereof, and not as new enactments.

No action or proceeding commenced before this code takes effect, and no right accrued, is affected by the provisions of this code, but all procedure thereafter taken therein shall conform to the provisions of this code so far as possible.

Unless the context otherwise requires, the general provisions hereinafter set forth shall govern the construction of this code.

Division, part, chapter, article and section headings contained herein shall not be deemed to govern, limit, modify, or in any manner affect the scope, meaning, or intent of the provisions of this code.

Whenever any reference is made to any portion of this code or of any other law of this State, such reference shall apply to all amendments and additions thereto now or hereafter made.

The present tense includes the past and future tenses; and the future, the present.

Each gender includes the other two genders.

The singular number includes the plural, and the plural the singular.

If any provision of this code, or the application thereof, to any person or circumstance, is held invalid, the remainder of the code, or the application of such provision to other persons or circumstances, shall not be affected thereby.

CIVIL CODE

No part of it is retroactive, unless expressly so declared.

The rule of the common law, that statutes in derogation thereof are to be strictly construed, has no application to this Code. The Code establishes the law of this State respecting the subjects to which it relates, and its provisions are to be liberally construed with a view to effect its objects and to promote justice.

The provisions of this Code, so far as they are substantially the same as existing statutes or the common law, must be construed as continuations thereof, and not as new enactments.

Words and phrases are construed according to the context and the approved usage of the language; but technical words and phrases, and such others as may have acquired a peculiar and appropriate meaning in law, or are defined in the succeeding section, are to be construed according to such peculiar and appropriate meaning or definition.

Words used in this code in the present tense include the future as well as the present; words used in the masculine gender include the feminine and neuter; the singular number includes the plural, and the plural the singular; the word person includes a corporation as well as a natural person; county includes city and county; writing includes printing and typewriting; oath includes affirmation or declaration; and every mode of oral statement, under oath or affirmation, is embraced by the term “testify,” and every written one in the term “depose”.

CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE

Whenever any act of a secular nature, other than a work of necessity or mercy, is appointed by law or contract to be performed upon a particular day, which day falls upon a holiday, such act may be performed upon the next business day with the same effect as if it had been performed upon the day appointed.

No statute, law, or rule is continued in force because it is consistent with the provisions of this Code on the same subject; but in all cases provided for by this Code, all statutes, laws, and rules heretofore in force in this State, whether consistent or not with the provisions of this Code, unless expressly continued in force by it, are repealed and abrogated. This repeal or abrogation does not revive any former law heretofore repealed, nor does it affect any right already existing or accrued, or any action or proceeding already taken, except as in this Code provided; nor does it affect any private statute not expressly repealed.

COMMERCIAL CODE

This code shall be liberally construed and applied to promote its underlying purposes and policies

This code being a general act intended as a unified coverage of its subject matter, no part of it shall be deemed to be impliedly repealed by subsequent legislation if such construction can reasonably be avoided.

If any provision or clause of this code or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the invalidity does not affect other provisions or applications of the code which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this code are severable.

In this code, unless the statutory context otherwise requires:

(1) words in the singular number include the plural, and those in the plural include the singular; and

(2) words of any gender also refer to any other gender.

Whether a time for taking an action required by this code is reasonable depends on the nature, purpose, and circumstances of the action.

Whenever this code creates a “presumption” with respect to a fact, or provides that a fact is “presumed,” the trier of fact must find the existence of the fact unless and until evidence is introduced that supports a finding of its nonexistence.

CORPORATIONS CODE

Title, division, part, chapter, article, and section headings contained herein do not in any manner affect the scope, meaning, or intent of the provisions of this code.

The masculine gender includes the feminine and neuter.

“Shall” is mandatory and “may” is permissive.

EDUCATION CODE

The code establishes the law of this state respecting the subjects to which it relates, and its provisions and all proceedings under it are to be liberally construed, with a view to effect its objects and to promote justice.

The time in which any act provided by this code is to be done is computed by excluding the first day, and including the last, unless the last day is a holiday, and then it is also excluded.

ELECTIONS CODE

Whenever a power is granted to, or a duty is imposed upon, a public officer, the power may be exercised or the duty may be performed by a deputy of the officer or by a person authorized, pursuant to law, by the officer, unless this code expressly provides otherwise.

EVIDENCE CODE

The rule of the common law, that statutes in derogation thereof are to be strictly construed, has no application to this code. This code establishes the law of this state respecting the subject to which it relates, and its provisions are to be liberally construed with a view to effecting its objects and promoting justice.

FAMILY CODE

A provision of this code, insofar as it is the same in substance as a provision of a uniform act, shall be construed to effectuate the general purpose to make uniform the law in those states which enact that provision.

“Shall” is mandatory and “may” is permissive. “Shall not” and “may not” are prohibitory.

FINANCIAL CODE

“Section” means a section of this code unless some other statute is specifically mentioned, and “subdivision” means a subdivision of the section in which the term occurs unless some other section is expressly mentioned.

The existence of corporations formed or existing on the date this code takes effect is not affected by the enactment of this code nor by any change in the requirements for the formation of corporations, nor by the amendment or repeal of the laws under which they were formed or created.

FISH AND GAME CODE

Unless the provisions or the context otherwise requires, the definitions in this chapter govern the construction of this code and all regulations adopted under this code.

This code shall not impair any privilege granted or right acquired under any of the laws of this State prior to the date it takes effect.

Unless otherwise specified by statute, any notice or other written communication required to be sent to any person by this code or regulations adopted pursuant thereto, is sufficient notice if sent by first-class mail to the last address furnished to the department by that person.

Unless the provision or context otherwise requires, a provision of this code that applies to a whole animal also applies to a part of the animal.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE CODE

It is hereby declared, as a matter of legislative determination, that the provisions of this code are enacted in the exercise of the power of this state for the purposes of promoting and protecting the agricultural industry of the state and for the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare. In all civil actions the provisions of this code shall be liberally construed for the accomplishment of these purposes and for the accomplishment of the purposes of the several divisions of this code, and in criminal actions the rule of construction set forth in Section 4 of the Penal Code shall be the rule of construction for this code.

Unless a different penalty is expressly provided, a violation of any provision of this code is a misdemeanor.

Whenever any notice, report, statement, or record is required by this code, it shall be in writing unless it is expressly provided that it may be oral.

In all matters which arise under this code, proof of the fact of possession by any person engaged in the sale of a commodity establishes a rebuttable presumption that the commodity is for sale. This presumption is a presumption affecting the burden of producing evidence.

It is hereby declared, as a matter of legislative determination, that the provisions of this section are enacted in the exercise of the power of this state for the purpose of protecting and furthering the public health and welfare.

GOVERNMENT CODE

The Legislature hereby declares its intent that the terms “man” or “men” where appropriate shall be deemed “person” or “persons” and any references to the terms “man” or “men” in sections of this code be changed to “person” or “persons” when such code sections are being amended for any purpose. This act is declaratory and not amendatory of existing law.

HARBORS AND NAVIGATION CODE

If any provision of this code, or the application thereof to any person or circumstance, is held invalid, the remainder of the code, or the application of such provision to other persons or circumstances, shall not be affected thereby.

HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE 

“Person” means any person, firm, association, organization, partnership, business trust, corporation, limited liability company, or company.

INSURANCE CODE

As used in this code the word “shall” is mandatory and the word “may” is permissive, unless otherwise apparent from the context.

Provisions of this code relating to a particular class of insurance or a particular type of insurer prevail over provisions relating to insurance in general or insurers in general.

LABOR CODE

Whenever, by the provisions of this code, an administrative power is granted to a public officer or a duty imposed upon such an officer, the power may be exercised or the duty performed by a deputy of the officer or by a person authorized pursuant to law.

MILITARY AND VETERANS CODE

“Oath” includes affirmation.

PENAL CODE

No part of it is retroactive, unless expressly so declared.

The rule of the common law, that penal statutes are to be strictly construed, has no application to this Code. All its provisions are to be construed according to the fair import of their terms, with a view to effect its objects and to promote justice.

In the case of any ambiguity or conflict in interpretation, the code section or particular provision of the code section shall take precedence over the descriptive language. The descriptive language shall be deemed as being offered only for ease of reference unless it is otherwise clearly apparent from the context that the descriptive language is intended to narrow the application of the referenced code section or particular provision of the code section.

The several sections of this Code which declare certain crimes to be punishable as therein mentioned, devolve a duty upon the Court authorized to pass sentence, to determine and impose the punishment prescribed.

In every crime or public offense there must exist a union, or joint operation of act and intent, or criminal negligence.

PROBATE CODE

A provision of this code, insofar as it is the same in substance as a provision of a uniform act, shall be so construed as to effectuate the general purpose to make uniform the law in those states which enact that provision.

“Division” means a division of this code.

“Part” means a part of the division in which that term occurs.

“Chapter” means a chapter of the division or part, as the case may be, in which that term occurs.

“Article” means an article of the chapter in which that term occurs.

“Section” means a section of this code.

“Subdivision” means a subdivision of the section in which that term occurs.

“Paragraph” means a paragraph of the subdivision in which that term occurs.

“Subparagraph” means a subparagraph of the paragraph in which that term occurs.

PUBLIC CONTRACT CODE

The Legislature finds and declares that placing all public contract law in one code will make that law clearer and easier to find. Further,

California public contract law should be efficient and the product of the best of modern practice and research.

To encourage competition for public contracts and to aid public officials in the efficient administration of public contracting, to the maximum extent possible, for similar work performed for similar agencies, California’s public contract law should be uniform.

PUBLIC RESOURCES CODE

All persons who, at the time this code goes into effect, hold office under any of the acts repealed by this code, which offices are continued by this code, continue to hold the same according to the former tenure thereof.

PUBLIC UTILITIES CODE

The definitions in the Public Utilities Act (Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 201) of Part 1 of Division 1), shall govern the construction of this code.

“City” includes city and county and “incorporated town,” but does not include “unincorporated town” or “village.”

REVENUE AND TAXATION CODE

No act in all the proceedings for raising revenue by taxation is illegal on account of informality or because not completed within the required time.

The courts of this State shall recognize and enforce liabilities for taxes lawfully imposed by any other state, or the political subdivisions thereof, which extends a like comity to this State.

Whenever any notice or other communication is required by this code to be mailed by registered mail, the mailing of such notice or other communication by certified mail shall be deemed to be sufficient compliance with the requirements of law.

STREETS AND HIGHWAYS CODE

As used in this code, unless the particular provision or the context otherwise requires, “highway” includes bridges, culverts, curbs, drains, and all works incidental to highway construction, improvement, and maintenance.

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE CODE

Whenever any reference is made to any person, officer, board, or agency by any provision of this code, the reference applies to any other person, officer, board, or agency to whom the functions vested in the person, officer, board, or agency referred to are transferred.

The Legislature hereby declares its intent that the term “workmen’s compensation” shall hereafter also be known as “workers’ compensation.” In furtherance of this policy it is the desire of the Legislature that references to the term “workmen’s compensation” in this code be changed to “workers’ compensation” when such code sections are being amended for any purpose. This act is declaratory and not amendatory of existing law.

VEHICLE CODE

If any portion of this code is held unconstitutional, such decision shall not affect the validity of any other portion of this code.

WATER CODE

The standard miner’s inch of water is equivalent to one and one-half cubic feet of water per minute, measured through any aperture or orifice.

WELFARE AND INSTITUTIONS CODE

It is the purpose of this code, in establishing programs and services which are designed to provide protection, support or care of children, to provide protective services to the fullest extent deemed necessary by the juvenile court, probation department or other public agencies designated by the board of supervisors to perform the duties prescribed by this code to insure that the rights or physical, mental or moral welfare of children are not violated or threatened by their present circumstances or environment.

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