The Special Role of Revisor’s Notes in Maryland Statutory Interpretation

By Joseph Dudek
Guest Contributor*

On January 26, the Court of Special Appeals published its opinion in Gateway Terry, LLC v. Prince George’s County (slip op. here). In my former job with the Office of the Attorney General, I was arguing counsel for the County and the Clerk of the Circuit Court, defending certain transfer and recordation taxes.

I doubt that Gateway will make headlines outside the MSBA Real Property Section’s listserv. But I want to highlight an important doctrinal development and footnote that should bear on any statutory case that involves a law recodified during the grand recodification of the Maryland Code in the 1980s. In short, it is exceedingly important that attorneys arguing these cases review the recodification bill and the pre-recodification statute to truly understand the law.

Footnote 6 on page 13 says:

“‘It is a well-settled practice of this Court to refer to the Revisor’s Notes when searching for legislative intent of an enactment.’” Comptroller of Treasury v. Blanton, 390 Md. 528, 538 (2006) (quoting Dean v. Pinder, 312 Md. 154, 163 (1988)); see also Kane v. Schulmeyer, 349 Md. 424, 435, 437 (1998) (noting that “a fair indication of legislative intent . . . is unmistakably revealed . . . in the Revisor’s Note”); Murray v. State, 27 Md. App. 404, 409 (1975) (relying on revisor’s note as an indication of legislative intent).

Hidden in here is something important: If the Revisor’s Note says that changes in the text of the statute were “without substantive change,” then the old text of the statute still weighs on the meaning of the new text. At my urging, the Court of Special Appeals took this yet further, declaring that the Revisor’s Note is statutory history, not legislative history, so it is properly reviewed even absent ambiguity in the statutory text. See Anita S. Krishnakumar, Statutory History, (forthcoming, 108 Va. L. Rev.      (2022)).

In Gateway, this principle helped to prove that the phrase “the State” means “Maryland” by relying on the old statute’s use of “this State.” The Attorney General’s Office has a law library with hard copies of superseded statutes and recodification bills. As a result, I could easily find the bill that first enacted the modern statute using Westlaw’s history notes, use the Revisor’s Note in the bill to identify the predecessor statute, and then go open an old book and read the old statute.

This process is far harder in private practice, especially if you’re not near the State’s law library in Annapolis. To find the Revisor’s note in private practice, I recommend the Archives of Maryland Online (here). But to find predecessor statutes, I know of no good electronic source or database. That means late-70s and early-80s copies of MIchie’s Maryland Code are a precious commodity, one to seek out and guard carefully.

* Although the author was counsel in this matter, he is no longer with the Office of the Attorney General and he does not speak for the OAG or his clients in any case. This post’s purpose is not to address the merits of the decision, but to identify a key takeaway for practitioners.

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