In Praise of the Oxford Comma
Joshua Byrne Spector’s “A Walk Through the Strike Zone” (May) is a very helpful manual for litigators. Thank you for publishing it. In my view, the most important way the manual can be used, by way of Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.140(f), is striking “scandalous matter from any pleading at any time.” And nothing could be more scandalous than the failure to use the Oxford comma.
Yes, the failure to use one can create millions of dollars’ worth of ambiguity, and courts are beginning to take notice. O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy, 851 F.3d 69 (1st Cir. 2017). So, too, have the varied members from bars and the judiciary all across this country as shown on #appellatetwitter. (You won’t have to go too far on the Twitter record of Judge Dillard at @judgedillard, incoming chief judge at Georgia’s court of appeals, to see the reasons.)
Ultimately, the challenge before us as law-abiding members of The Florida Bar is essentially civilizational, and, therefore, a matter of public policy. Valley Forge Life Ins. Co. v. Lawrence, 196 So. 2d 759, 760 (Fla. 3d DCA 1967) (“There is no doubt that the public policy of any civilized state is against the commission of crimes….”).
Thus, when an opposing pleading fails to use the Oxford comma, I encourage litigators everywhere to rise up and strike back, using Rule 1.140(f) to preserve clarity, peace, and justice in our time.