Wood v. Lacombe

Decision Date14 April 1885
Citation99 N.Y. 43,1 N.E. 599
PartiesPEOPLE ex rel. WOOD v. LACOMBE.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals


David Dudley Field, Robert Sewell, Aaron J. Vanderpoel, George Bliss, and George H. Forster, for the People.

James C. Carter, Charles F. Southmayd, and Thomas Allison, for respondent, E. H. Lacombe.


This case arises upon an appeal from a judgment rendered in favor of the defendant, upon the submission of a controversy which involves the title to the office of corporation counsel of the city of New York. The defendant held the office by virtue of an appointment made by Mayor Edson on the thirty-first of May, 1884, to fill a vacancy, which was confirmed by the board of aldermen. Said appointment terminated on the tenth of December, 1884, and defendant held over in accordance with the statute, which provided that he should continue to discharge the duties of his office until his successor was appointed and had qualified. On the first of January, 1885, the relator was appointed corporation cunsel by one William P. Kirk, who claimed to be the president of the board of aldermen, and, as such, assumed to act as mayor of New York between the hours of 12 o'clock midnight of December 31, 1884, and 12 o'clock noon of January 1, 1885. On the fourteenth of January, 1885, William R. Grace, the then mayor of said city, reappointed the defendant to the office he then claimed to fill.

The right of the relator to the office in question is based upon the ground that the term of Mayor Edson, by the charter of 1873, expired on the thirty-first of December, 1884, at midnight, and that by the consolidation act, so called, (chapter 410, Laws 1882,) the term of Mayor Grace did not commence until 12 o'clock noon of January 1, 1885, and therefore there was a vacancy in the office of mayor for 12 hours intervening, and that thereby William P. Kirk had the power, as mayor, to appoint the relator counsel to the corporation without the consent of the board of aldermen. The defendant, on the contrary, insists that no such vacancy existed; that Kirk had no authority as mayor to make the appointment; and that it legally devolved upon the incoming mayor, Mr. Grace, who was vested with full powers for that purpose. The defendant also insists that if, by any construction of the statutes, it should be held that there was a vacancy in the office of mayor, and any appointment should have been made during the interval stated, it devolved upon one Adolph L. Sanger, who, at the election in November, had been chosen to the office of president of the board of aldermen, under chapter 74, Laws 1884, and had qualified by taking the oath of office, etc., and who claimed that his term began January 1, 1885, thus superseding the rights of Kirk as president of the board of aldermen, and that he was clothed with all the powers and authority of mayor during the 12 hours named, provided any vacancy existed in that office.

The questions presented involve the consideration of the statutes already referred to, as well as various others which have a bearing upon the effect to be given to those cited. In the interpretation of statutes the great principle which is to control is the intention of the legislature in passing the same, which intention is to be ascertained from the cause or necessity of making the statute, as well as other circumstances. A strict and literal interpretation is not always to be adhered to, and where the case is brought within the intention of the makers of the statute it is within the statute, although by a technical interpretation it is not within its letter. It is the spirit, the object, and purpose of a statute which are to be regarded in its interpretation, and if they find fair expression in the statute, it should be so construed as to carry out the legislative intent, even although such construction is contrary to the literal meaning of some provisions of the statute. A reasonable construction should be adopted in all cases where there is a doubt or uncertainty in regard to the intention of the law-makers. These general rules are upheld by numerous authorities. People v. Commissioners of Taxes, 95 N. Y. 558;Burch v. Newbury, 10 N. Y. 389;Oswego Starch Factory v. Dolloway, 21 N. Y. 461;People v. New York Cent. R. Co. 13 N. Y. 78;Donaldson v. Wood, 22 Wend. 397;WatervlictT. Co. v. M'Kean, 6 Hill, 619; 3 Bing. 193; Com. v. Kimball, 24 Pick. 370. While the rules stated are specially applicable in considering the phraseology of statutes, they may also be properly invoked where several statutes are passed relating to the same general subject. In Com. v. Kimball, supra, it is said, by SHAW, C. J., that ‘where any particular construction would lead to an absured consequence, it will be presumed that some exception or qualification was intended by the legislature to avoid such conclusion.’ Where it is apparent that a strict construction of a statute would defeat the main purpose and object, not only of the statute, but of other legislative enactments which relate to the same subject, and which have been enacted in pursuance of and according to a general purpose of accomplishing a particular result, such interpretation should not be upheld, as it would be absurd to say that the law-makers designed to secure a result which would be antagonistic to their plain and clear intention.

The general rules to which we have referred must be borne in mind in the consideration of the question presented; and, having these in view, we are brought to the conclusion, after a careful examination of the statutes relied upon to sustain the authority of William P. Kirk, that no power was vested in him to make the appointment of corporation counsel at the time named. By the consolidation act, (Laws 1882, c. 410, § 106,) the power to appoint the corporation counsel was vested in the mayor, subject to the consent of the board of aldermen. This provision was in force until chapter 43 of the Laws of 1884, passed March 17 of that year, went into effect. The act of 1884 is entitled ‘An act to center responsibility in the municipal government of the city of New York,’ and provides as follows: Section 1. All appointments to office in the city of New York, now made by the mayor and confirmed by the board of aldermen, shall hereafter be made by the mayor without such confirmation. Sec. 2. This act shall take effect January 1, 1885.’ It will be seen that this act was to take effect on the first of January, 1885, some 10 months after its passage. It is therefore a fair and legitimate presumption that the members of the legislature knew that an election would be held in November following the passage of the act, at which a mayor would be elected, who, in accordance with the provisions of section 31 of the consolidation act of 1882, would take office on the first day of January, 1885, at 12 o'clock noon, and that, by section 29 of the same act, the board of aldermen then existing would continue in office until the first Monday, the fourth, of January, 1885, at noon. And even if it may be assumed that Mr. Kirk remained president of the board until the first Monday of January, 1885, at noon, and that Mr. Sanger, who was elected president of the board of aldermen in the fall of 1884, did not take office until that time, it is fairly to be presumed that these facts must have been known to the legislature. So, also, if it be assumed as a fact that a vacancy in the office of mayor did exist during the 12 hours referred to, within the meaning of section 32 of the consolidation act, and that thereby Mr. Kirk succeeded to the rights and authority of the mayor during that period of time, the legislature must be regarded as having knowledge that these things would occur.

It must also be considered that the members of the legislature under stood that the act of 1884 was designed and passed having in view the public interest, and with the intention of...

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