Automatic Registering Machine Co., Inc. v. Pima County

Decision Date24 March 1930
Docket NumberCivil 2891
PartiesAUTOMATIC REGISTERING MACHINE COMPANY, INC., a Corporation, Appellant, v. PIMA COUNTY, a Municipal Corporation, Appellee
CourtArizona Supreme Court

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of the County of Pima. Fred W. Fickett, Judge. Affirmed.

Messrs Curley & Pattee, for Appellant.

Mr. Ben C. Hill, for Appellee.



On December 4th, 1928, a contract was made between the Automatic Registering Machine Company, Inc., a corporation, hereinafter called appellant, and Pima county, hereinafter called appellee, acting through its board of supervisors, providing for the purchase of some forty voting machines. The purchase price was the sum of $43,420.80, to be paid in eight annual installments of certain amounts. The machines were duly shipped to Tucson by appellant and tendered to appellee; but the board of supervisors in the meantime had changed its membership, and declined to accept the machines claiming the contract of purchase was invalid. In order to settle this controversy, appellee brought suit under the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act of 1927 to determine the validity of the contract. In its complaint, appellee claimed the contract was void on three grounds: (a) That it was entered into without advertising for bids; (b) that at the time it was made the terms of office of the then supervisors were about to expire, their successors having already been elected; and (c) that, in the county budget for the fiscal year during which the contract was made, there was no provision for the purchase of voting machines or of any fund from which such purchase could be made. The appellant answered, admitting in substance the material allegations of the complaint, and the matter was submitted to the court upon the pleadings and various statements of counsel made in open court. Judgment was thereafter rendered declaring that the contract was invalid; whereupon appellant has brought the case before us for review.

There are some six assignments of error, but, upon examining the record and the law applicable thereto, we think we need consider only the third, which raises the question of whether or not chapter 52, Session Laws of 1921, commonly known as the Budget Law, is applicable to the contract in question under the facts of the case. The position of appellant on this particular phase of the case is that, while the Budget Law applies to all ordinary county expenditures and liabilities, and under our decision, in the case of Bank of Lowell v. Cox, 35 Ariz. 403, 279 P. 257, any liability incurred in violation of the terms of such law is void. Chapter 68, Session Laws of 1927, under which authority to make the contract in question is claimed, by implication makes the purchase of voting machines an exception to the Budget Law. The position of appellee, on the other hand, is that the two laws are harmonious and consistent, and that the Budget Law applies to the purchase of voting machines in the same manner as it does to any other county expenditure.

The particular provisions of chapter 68, supra, relied upon by appellant, read as follows:

"Section 5. Payment for Machines. The local authorities upon the adoption and purchase of voting machines, shall provide for the payment therefor in such manner as they may deem for the best interest of the locality and may for that purpose issue bonds, certificates of indebtedness or other obligations which shall be a charge on the county, city, town or village. Such bonds, certificates or other obligations may be issued with or without interest, payable at such time or times as the authorities may determine, but shall not be issued or sold at less than par."

It is urged that this gives unlimited authority to the board of supervisors to make any contract of any nature they see fit, so far as payment for voting machines is concerned, free from the limitations of the Budget Law.

In determining the true meaning of a statute the great fundamental rule is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature. Deyo v. Arizona Grading etc. Co., 18 Ariz. 149, L.R.A. 1916E 1257, 157 P. 371; Hicks v. Krigbaum, 13 Ariz. 237, 108 P. 482; 36 Cyc. 1106; 25 R.C.L. 960. This intent is, of course, determined primarily from the language of the statute itself, and, when that is plain and unambiguous and conveys a clear and definite meaning there is no occasion for resorting to the rules of statutory construction. The statute must be given its plain and obvious meaning. Board of Lake County Commrs. v. Rollins, 130 U.S. 662, 32 L.Ed. 1060, 9 S.Ct. 651; Miles v. Wells, 22 Utah 55, 61 P. 534; Goble v. Simeral, 67 Neb. 276, 93 N.W. 235; 25 R.C.L. 962. But where a literal interpretation would lead to injustice, absurdity or contradictions, or where the language is of doubtful meaning, it is the primary duty of the court to ascertain the legislative intent, and for this purpose to apply the various rules of statutory construction. Hicks v. Krigbaum, supra; State Mut. Ins. Co. v. Clevenger, 17 Okl. 49, 87 P. 583; State v. Chicago & N.W. Ry. Co., 128 Wis. 449, 108 N.W. 594; E.R., Darlington Lumber Co. v. Missouri Pac. Ry. Co., 216 Mo. 658, 116 S.W. 530; 36 Cyc. 1107.

If section 5, supra, is given its literal meaning, it is in conflict, not only with the Budget Law, but with the Constitution of Arizona itself. Article 7, section 13, of the last-named document, reads as follows:

"Section 13. Questions upon bond issues or special assessments shall be submitted to the vote of property taxpayers, who shall also in all respects be qualified electors of the State, and of the political subdivision thereof affected by such question."

That the clause in section 5, supra, authorizing the issuance of bonds by the local authorities, if construed literally, violates this provision, needs no argument. The term "certificate of indebtedness" is not defined by the statute. Under some decisions it is held to be the equivalent of a bond. Christie v. City of Duluth, 82 Minn. 202, 84 N.W. 754. If that be the true definition here, it is necessarily subject to the same constitutional limitations. What is the meaning of the words "other obligations"? By the rule of ejusdem generis they would be placed in the same class as the bonds and certificates of indebtedness. If the section is to be saved at all, it must be by the use of some of the principles of statutory construction and not by a simple application of its plain and unambiguous terms. If it be urged that the words "and may for that purpose issue bonds, certificates of indebtedness or other obligations," etc., can be stricken without affecting the validity of the preceding part of the section, and that having done that we have a plain and unambiguous law needing no interpretation, the answer is that the only excuse for striking out a portion of a statute as unconstitutional and sustaining the remainder is that it is presumed as a rule of statutory construction the legislature would have enacted the remainder of the law, even had it known the part stricken would be declared unconstitutional. But in order to sustain this presumption, we must depart from the literal language of the statute; and if once we do this, to seek an intent not disclosed in such language, all rules which aid in determining that intent should be considered, and not one alone.

If, on the other hand, it be said that the section implies the various obligations mentioned therein are to be issued in accordance with the provisions of article 7, section 13, supra, and the general statutes providing for bond elections thereunder, we have again departed from the plain terms of the law in search of an implied intent of the legislature, and must continue our search until the entire intent is found, and not merely part thereof. We think, therefore, section 5, supra, is either unconstitutional as a whole -- in which case the Budget Law unquestionably applies to the contract in question in this action -- or else an investigation of the true intent of the legislature, not only as to the part of the section which is unconstitutional on its face, but as to the entire section, is required.

It is our duty to hold a statute constitutional if it is possible to do so on any reasonable interpretation thereof. Coggins v. Ely, 23 Ariz. 155, 202 P. 391. We therefore proceed to determine, if it may be done, the true intent of the legislature, and whether or not that intent can be reconciled with the Constitution. What, then, was such intent? There are three possible answers to the question. One is that the legislature intended just what is said, and that section 5, supra, was to stand or fall as a whole, regardless of any constitutional or general statutory provisions in conflict therein. A second is that it meant to except the purchase of voting machines from all limitations so far as legally possible, but that, if any exceptions granted in terms or by implication were found to be unconstitutional, it desired the section to stand...

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