A patent ambiguity is an ambiguity that appears on the front of a document or font because uncertain or obscure language has been used. Sometimes courts decide the meaning of ambiguous language based on who was responsible or to blame for the ambiguity. If only one party knew or should have known the ambiguity, the subjective knowledge of the unsuspecting party about the meaning will prevail. If both parties knew or should have known the uncertainty, the court will consider the subjective understanding of both. Ambiguity no longer exists when the parties agree on their importance. If the parties do not agree and the ambiguous provisions are essential, no contract is concluded without mutual consent. In property law, a distinction is made between patent ambiguity and latent ambiguity. The two forms of ambiguity differ in two ways: (1) which led to the existence of ambiguity; and (2) the type of evidence base that may be permitted to resolve the problem. In CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, laws that contain ambiguous wording are VOID FOR IMPRECISION.
The wording of these laws is considered so obscure and uncertain that a reasonable person cannot determine from a reading what the law purports to command or prohibit. This legal ambiguity deprives a person of the requirement to dismiss a PROPER TRIAL AND THUS RENDERS THE LAW UNCONSTITUTIONAL. Many legal texts are vague. In fact, most law students become familiar with a variety of vague terms early in their careers in law school. Let`s take “appropriate” – was the accused`s behaviour “appropriate” in the circumstances? There will be clear cases of inappropriate behavior: driving at 150 mph in a residential area. But there will also be borderline cases. Was it reasonable to drive at 55 mph in a light fog? There are two categories of ambiguities: latent and patent. Latent ambiguity occurs when the language used is clear and understandable, so that it suggests meaning, but an extrinsic fact or proof creates a need for interpretation or a choice between two or more possible meanings.
In a classic case, Raffles v. Wichelhaus, 159 Eng. Rep. 375 (e.g. 1864), a contract was signed for the sale of 125 bales of cotton to arrive on a ship called Peerless from Bombay, India. Unbeknownst to the Contracting Parties, two ships of the same name should arrive from the same port in different months of the same year. This foreign fact required the interpretation of an otherwise clear and unambiguous contractual term. In such cases, extrinsic EVIDENCE or PAROL may be allowed to explain what was meant or to identify the property referred to in writing. Some legal languages are general, abstract and vague.
For example, the term “equal protection” in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution could refer to a very general and abstract idea of equality. Given this generality and abstraction, it may be that the “borderline cases” seem to form the entire doctrine of equal protection. What would be considered a clear example of “equal” or “unequal”? In a common law system, general and abstract language can be translated into relatively more specific and concrete rules by individual decision. Courts often interpret an ambiguous contractual clause against the interests of the party who prepared the contract and created the ambiguity. This is common in membership contracts and insurance contracts. The author of a document should not profit at the expense of an innocent party because the author was negligent in drafting the agreement. Similar problems occur when you specify an age requirement.
The term “over 21 years of age” has two possible meanings. A person may be “over 21 years of age” on their 21st birthday or 22nd birthday. Depending on the meaning you intend to give, clarify the ambiguity as follows: DO NOT SAY: A person over 21 years of age. SAY: A person who is 21 years of age or older. unless you mean a person who is 22 years of age or older. DO NOT SAY: Between 16 and 20 years old. SAY: Sixteen years or older and under 21 years of age. Why is the distinction between ambiguity and vagueness important? Does the distinction make a practical difference? We can address these issues by examining the role of the word “ambiguity” in the famous Supreme Court decision in Chevron U.S.A., Inc.
v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., the case that led to the so-called “Chevron Doctrine.” In short, the Chevron doctrine requires courts to limit themselves to “interpretations” of laws by administrative authorities when a law is “ambiguous.” But as Professor Cass Sunstein and I show in an article titled “Chevron as Construction,” the Chevron case itself was actually a vague or openly structured provision. The problem in Chevron was not that a word or phrase in the by-laws had multiple meanings, but that an organization had a judgment on how to specify an underdetermined provision. Then, according to Chevron, the decisions extended the doctrine to cases where the language of the law was ambiguous (multiple meanings). Much of Chevron`s criticism focuses on these cases, where respect for the agency appears incompatible with the traditional notion that legal interpretation (i.e., determination) falls within the competence of judges, not administrative authorities. In contract law, ambiguity means more than that language has more than one meaning that reasonable people might disagree with.