The Oxford Comma Case (Oakhurst Dairy in Portland, ME vs its drivers) has been settled for five million dollars. According to The New York Times

The relatively small-scale dispute gained international notoriety last year when the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that [a] missing comma created enough uncertainty to side with the drivers, granting those who love the Oxford comma a chance to run a victory lap across the internet.

Maine law requires time-and-a-half pay for each hour worked after 40 hours, but the law at the time the suit was filed listed several exemptions, as follows:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods

The court ruled that it was not clear whether the law exempted the distribution of the three categories that followed, or if it exempted packing for the shipment or distribution of them.

Thus, the drivers lucked out, but the Maine legislature amended the law to read:

The canning; processing; preserving; freezing; drying; marketing; storing; packing for shipment; or distributing of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods

It is true that the law is now as unambiguous as a law can be, but could this not have been accomplished by merely inserting the Oxford Comma? The lawyer for the drivers said: That comma would have sunk our ship.

Is not the solution arrived at by the Maine Legislature ..... unnecessarily clunky?

  • 1
    Objection, calls for a conclusion...........
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 0:18

1 Answer 1


I suppose I'll weigh in as an attorney. My guess is that the Maine legislature wanted to be unambiguous without having to address the issue of Oxford commas. Clunky or not, they've solved the problem without having to take a stand on the grammatical aspect.

  • I'm glad to get an answer from a lawyer.
    – ab2
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 4:10
  • Absent some other agenda, courts especially (but also legislatures) usually try very hard to avoid addressing anything they don't have to. Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 18:27

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