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State v. Corcilius

Court of Appeals of Oregon

September 12, 2018

STATE OF OREGON, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
RYAN CHARLES CORCILIUS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Submitted July 27, 2017

          Multnomah County Circuit Court 15CR14489 Stephen K. Bushong, Judge.

          Ernest G. Lannet, Chief Defender, Criminal Appellate Section, and Vanessa McDonald, Deputy Public Defender, Office of Public Defense Services, filed the brief for appellant.

          Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, Benjamin Gutman, Solicitor General, and Jacob Brown, Assistant Attorney General, filed the brief for respondent.

          Before Ortega, Presiding Judge, and Hadlock, Judge, and Schuman, Senior Judge.

         Case Summary:

         Defendant appeals a judgment of conviction for violating ORS 164.805(1)(a), which prohibits offensive littering by "creat[ing] an objectionable stench" by intentionally "[d]iscarding or depositing any rubbish, trash, garbage, debris or other refuse upon * * * any public way." He contends that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for a judgment of acquittal in which he argued that ORS 164.805(1)(a) does not encompass his conduct, public urination.

         Held:

         Because urine-the immediate product of defendant's conduct-does not ft within any of the ordinary meanings of the terms "rubbish, trash, garbage, debris or other refuse," the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal.

         Reversed.

         [294 Or.App. 21] ORTEGA, P. J.

         Defendant appeals a judgment of conviction for violating ORS 164.805(1)(a), which prohibits offensive littering by "creat[ing] an objectionable stench" by intentionally "[discarding or depositing any rubbish, trash, garbage, debris or other refuse upon *** any public way." He contends that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for a judgment of acquittal in which he argued that ORS 164.805(1)(a) does not encompass his conduct, public urination. The question presented is an issue of statutory interpretation, and we therefore review for legal error by employing the methodology set out in PGE v. Bureau of Labor and Industries, 317 Or. 606, 611, 859 P.2d 1143 (1993), and State v. Gaines, 346 Or. 160, 171-72, 206 P.3d 1042 (2009). Because we agree with defendant that ORS 164.805(1)(a) does not prohibit public urination, we reverse.[1]

         The facts relevant to this appeal are not in dispute. Defendant was on a cross-country road trip and, coming from California, stopped in downtown Portland late in the day. By the time he got to Portland and parked, it was already an "emergency" for him to use a restroom. He attempted to use a gas station restroom, but was informed that it was not available to the public. He then tried a Subway restaurant, but that restroom was available only to paying customers and the line for sandwiches was long. He began to panic because of the intense pressure of having to urinate. He found a spot that he believed was secluded and urinated on the side of a building.

         Sam, employed by a private security company engaged by local businesses to help enforce city ordinances and assist with nonemergency situations, saw defendant urinate and observed the urine flowing across the sidewalk toward the street. Sam knew it was urine because of the stench. Sam approached defendant, and defendant responded, "I couldn't find a better spot." Sam then radioed a police officer, who arrived shortly thereafter and issued defendant a citation for misdemeanor offensive littering, a [294 Or.App. 22] Class C misdemeanor, ORS 164.805(1). That statute provides, as relevant here:

"A person commits the crime of offensive littering if the person creates an objectionable stench or degrades the beauty or appearance of property or detracts from the natural cleanliness or safety of property by intentionally:
"(a) Discarding or depositing any rubbish, trash, garbage, debris or other refuse upon the land of another without permission of the owner, or upon any public way or in or upon any public transportation facility [.]"[2]

(Emphasis added.)

         At trial, defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal, asserting that the statute did not encompass his conduct. The trial court denied the motion on the basis that the terms of the offensive littering statute were broad enough to include human urine, and the jury found him guilty. This appeal ensued. Defendant reprises his argument that the statute was never intended to prohibit urinating on a public street, mainly asserting that the dictionary definitions of the terms "rubbish, trash, garbage, debris or other refuse" indicate their plain meaning. In his view, those plain meanings do not cover his conduct. Moreover, among other arguments, he contends that the act of urinating does not constitute either "discarding" or "depositing." The state, also looking to the dictionary definitions, argues that the terms can be read to cover defendant's conduct.

         As noted, the question presented poses the task of statutory interpretation. We thus use the PGEI Gaines [294 Or.App. 23] methodology that requires us to examine the text of ORS 164.805(1)(a) in context, along with any relevant legislative history or other aids to construction. Gaines, 346 Or. at 171-72. But before turning to that task, we pause to make a point about the use of dictionary definitions.

         When a case involves terms that are not statutorily defined, we typically resort to dictionary definitions to discern their meaning. Further, as a general rule, we give "words of common usage" their "plain, natural, and ordinary meaning," PGE, 317 Or. at 611, and the "ordinary meaning of a word is presumed to be what is reflected in a dictionary"[3]State v. Shifflett, 285 Or.App. 654, 661, 398 P.3d 383 (2017) (citing Jenkins v. Board of Parole, 356 Or. 186, 194, 335 P.3d 828 (2014)). Bear in mind, however, that when we construe statutes, "we do not simply consult dictionaries and interpret words in a vacuum." State v. Cloutier, 351 Or. 68, 96, 261 P.3d 1234 (2011). Put differently, "dictionary definitions are guides for discernment, not blunt instruments." State v. Carlton, 361 Or. 29, 36, 388 P.3d 1093 (2017). That is because dictionaries "do not tell us what words mean, only what words can mean, depending on their context and the particular manner in which they are used." Cloutier, 351 Or. at 96 (emphasis in original); see also State v. Fries, 344 Or. 541, 546, 185 P.3d 453 (2008) (context determines which of multiple definitions is the one the legislature intended). Thus, "[w]hen the dispute 'centers on the meaning of a particular word or words, a dictionary definition-although providing some evidence of meaning-should not be relied on to resolve a dispute about plain meaning without critically examining how the definition fits into the context of the statute itself" Shifflett, 285 Or.App. at 661 (quoting State v. Gonzalez-Valenzuela, 358 Or. 451, 461, 365 P.3d 116 (2015)).

         [294 Or.App. 24] Here, we frame the relevant question as whether public urination-defendant's conduct in creating an objectionable stench as a result of urinating on a public sidewalk-is proscribed by the statute, not merely whether urine falls under the terms "rubbish, trash, garbage, debris or other refuse." The framing matters because, under ORS 164.805(1)(a), in addition to the requirement that the thing that creates an objectionable stench must be "rubbish, trash, garbage, debris or other refuse," the defendant must also "discard" or "deposit" the thing. As we explain, those terms have particular meanings that limit the conduct contemplated by the offensive littering statute and also inform the meaning of "rubbish, trash, garbage, debris or other refuse." Although we focus this part of the discussion on the meaning of "discarding or depositing," we are mindful that those words must be considered in relation to things that must be discarded or deposited to run afoul of ORS 164.805 (1)(a)-"rubbish, ...


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