Lease Versus Sublease: Rules of Statutory Construction - Rochester-Mobile, LLC, and Salzman- Mobile, LLC v. C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc.


Rochester-Mobile, LLC, and Salzman-Mobile, LLC v. C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc., [Ms. 1160185, June 16, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2017). In this plurality opinion (Main, J., and Stuart, C.J., and Bolin, J., concur; Murdock and Bryan, JJ., concur in the result), the Court determines that a lease is not synonymous with "sublease" and therefore that the sublease was not unenforceable when not recorded pursuant to § 35-4-6, Ala. Code 1975, which provides:

"No leasehold estate can be created for a longer term than 99 years. Leases for more than 20 years shall be void for the excess over said period unless the lease or a memorandum thereof is acknowledged or approved as required by law in conveyances of real estate and recorded within one year after execution in the office of the judge of probate in the county in which the property leased is situated."

Id., Ms. * 7. The opinion reiterates numerous rules of statutory construction:

In interpreting a statutory provision, "a court is required to ascertain the intent of the legislature as expressed and to effectuate that intent." Tuscaloosa Cty. Comm'n v. Deputy Sheriffs' Ass'n of Tuscaloosa Cty., 589 So. 2d 687, 689 (Ala. 1991).

"Words used in the statute must be given their natural, plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning, and where plain language is used a court is bound to interpret that language to mean exactly what it says. If the language of the statute is unambiguous, then there is no room for judicial construction and the clearly expressed intent of the legislature must be given effect."

IMED Corp. v. Systems Eng'g Assocs. Corp., 602 So. 2d 344, 346 (Ala. 1992)). "'In the absence of a manifested legislative intent to the contrary, or other overriding evidence of a different meaning, legal terms in a statute are presumed to have been used in their legal sense.'" Crowley v. Bass, 445 So. 2d 902, 904 (Ala. 1984) (quoting 2A D. Sands, Sutherland Statutory Construction § 47.30 (4th ed. 1973)).

"Our review of an issue concerning the intent of the legislature is confined to the terms of the legislative act itself, unaided by the views of observers of or participants in the legislative process. City of Daphne v. City of Spanish Fort, 853 So. 2d 922, 945 (Ala. 2003). We can look to ' "the history of the times, the existing order of things, the state of the law when the instrument was adopted, and the conditions necessitating such adoption." ' City of Birmingham v. Hendrix, 257 Ala. 300, 307, 58 So. 2d 626, 633 (1952) (quoting In re Upshaw, 247 Ala. 221, 223, 23 So. 2d 861, 863 (1945)). We can also look to an act's '"relation to other statutory and constitutional provisions, view its history and the purposes sought to be accomplished and look to the previous state of law and to the defects intended to be remedied."' Hendrix, 257 Ala. at 307, 58 So. 2d at 633 (quoting Birmingham Paper Co. v. Curry, 238 Ala. 138, 140, 190 So. 86, 88 (1939))."

Ms. * 8-10 (quoting King v. Campbell, 988 So. 2d 969, 984 (Ala. 2007)).

* * *

" ' "There is a presumption that every word, sentence, or provision [of a statute] was intended for some useful purpose, has some force and effect, and that some effect is to be given to each, and also that no superfluous words or provisions were used." ' " Richardson v. Stanford Props., LLC, 897 So. 2d 1052, 1058 (Ala. 2004)(quoting Sheffield v. State, 708 So. 2d 899, 909 (Ala. Crim. App. 1997), quoting in turn 82 C.J.S. Statutes § 316, at 551-52 (1953)).

Ms. * 11-12.

* * *

"statutes in derogation or modification of the common law are strictly construed." Arnold v. State, 353 So. 2d 524, 526 (Ala. 1977). Statutes are presumed to not alter the common law in any way not expressly declared. Arnold, supra. Likewise, "[s]tatutes or ordinances which impose restrictions on the use of private property are strictly construed and their scope cannot be extended to include limitations not therein included or prescribed."

Ms. * 16-17 (quoting Smith v. City of Mobile, 374 So. 2d 305, 307 (Ala. 1979)).

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