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In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, the definition of an abandoned vehicle includes:

Motor Vehicle...That is left unattended on or along a highway or other public property for more than forty-eight (48) hours and does not bear all of the following:

a. Valid registration plate.

b. A current certificate of inspection.

c. An ascertainable vehicle identification number.

There are two possible meanings of this phrase:

  1. The vehicle does not bear (a), does not bear (b), and does not bear (c).

  2. The vehicle does not bear all of (a), (b), and (c); in other words, the answer to "Does it bear all of the following?" would be "No".

Now, I am guessing they mean (2), because vehicles are usually supposed to have all three of these things.

However my question is not about this specific case, but about the legal terminology: Is there an accepted unambiguous understanding of this phrase in law? Which of (1) and (2) would be correct?

  • 1
    How is your #2 interpretation "The vehicle does not bear all of (a), (b), and (c)" different from the original "... does not bear all of the following: [(a), (b), (c) listed]"? – Brandin Feb 19 '18 at 10:29
  • Ways for a vehicle not to bear all of the following (a, b, c): 1. bears (a), bears (b), doesn't bear (c), 2. bears (a), doesn't bear (b), bears (c), 3. bears (a), doesn't bear (b), doesn't bear (c), 4. doesn't bear (a), bears (b), bears (c), 5. doesn't bear (a), bears (b), doesn't bear (c), 6. doesn't bear (a), doesn't bear (b), bears (c), 7. doesn't bear (a), doesn't bear (b), doesn't bear (c). For three things, there is just one way out of 8 for it to bear all of the three things. Any other combination, and it does not bear all of the three. – Brandin Feb 19 '18 at 10:33
  • @Brandin That is interpretation (2). The other interpretation (1) is that it doesn't bear (a), it doesn't bear (b), and it doesn't bear (c). I find my mind jumps to one of the two, and it's hard to see both. But do you see how both are valid interpretations? – 6005 Feb 19 '18 at 11:28
  • Your interpretation (1) appears to be a subset of interpretation (2). If you enumerate all possible combinations using Interpretation (2) (i.e. all possible ways that a vehicle does not bear all of a, b, or c), you will get the list I generated in the earlier comment. (1) is a subset of that list. – Brandin Feb 19 '18 at 12:45
  • It may help to realize "all of" is the 3+ version of "both". Maybe the negation is potentially confusing. Customer who is not wearing both a shirt and shoes. (= No shoes, no shirt, or no shoes nor shirt). Does not have all of A, B, C. (= No A, no B, no C, or any combination of not having one of those.) – Brandin Feb 19 '18 at 12:53
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In this context "does not bear all of the following" is equivalent to "does not have any one or more of the following."

  • So you are saying it is (1)? But it does not answer the question. How do you know? – 6005 Feb 19 '18 at 21:32
  • @6005 I know because that is how phrases like that are usually parsed in a context like that, but I don't have an authoritative case that would say that. – ohwilleke Feb 19 '18 at 21:35
  • OK, thank you. Now I am having trouble understanding your answer because I think it has the same parsing problem, haha. "does not have any one or more of the following" could mean "the vehicle fails the test of having (one or more of a, b, and c)" (in other words it has none of the three). Or it could mean "the vehicle fails at least one of the three tests: it fails to have a, or it fails to have b, or it fails to have c. Which one of (1) and (2) is correct? – 6005 Feb 19 '18 at 21:40
  • Do you see the problem here? There is a subtle unambiguity no matter how you word it, and as far as I can tell either of (1) and (2) is a correct interpretation in English. So if someone were to explain this ambiguity in court (which apparently, I am finding it very difficult to explain in this post), how would the unambiguity be resolved? – 6005 Feb 19 '18 at 21:41
  • The culprit for the unambiguity seems to be the presence of negation together with the statement "all of the following". If it were reworded to avoid negation, it would be cleared up. – 6005 Feb 19 '18 at 21:42

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