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Elements of Contract Interpretation$
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Steven J. Burton

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195337495

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195337495.001.0001

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The Ambiguity Question

The Ambiguity Question

Chapter:
(p.105) Chapter 4 The Ambiguity Question
Source:
Elements of Contract Interpretation
Author(s):

Steven J. Burton

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195337495.003.0004

This chapter considers the question of ambiguity. Under the plain meaning rule, an unambiguous contract will be given its unambiguous meaning as a matter of law. When determining whether a contract is unambiguous, most courts consider the contract on its face, excluding parol evidence and giving the words their ordinary meaning(s). Other courts consider the contract's context before deciding whether the contract is ambiguous. A few authorities would dispense with the question of ambiguity as a distinct task in contract interpretation. The law of civil procedure, however, thrusts the question of ambiguity into contract law. If a contract is unambiguous, there is no material question of fact for a fact-finder to determine upon a trial. Summary judgment or a comparable motion then is appropriate.

Keywords:   plain meaning, ambiguous contract, unambiguous contract, parol evidence, extrinsic evidence, ordinary meaning, summary judgment

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