Between the Excel error heard 'round the world and the terrorist watchlist spelling mistake, it's already been a thrilling week for pedants. And now we have this: AIG won a lawsuit removal decision against Bank of America because of the Oxford comma.
In short, AIG had sued B of A over mortgage-backed securities losses, and this Oxford-comma decision had to do with where the case would be tried (Federal vs. State court). AIG wanted State because it has more rules and regulations that B of A would be subject to. B of A obviously wanted the fewer rules of a Federal trial and argued that since the dispute included transactions overseas or in US territories, the case should fall into Federal rules realm. And the ruling came down to interpreting the grammatical intent of the Edge Act, as explained by Thomson Reuters below:
The key language in the statute was a clause allowing cases involving U.S. corporations to be moved to federal court when they "aris(e) out of transactions involving international or foreign banking, or banking in a dependency or insular possession of the United States, or out of international or foreign financial operations, either directly or through the agency, ownership, or control of branches or local institutions in dependencies or insular possessions of the United States or in foreign countries."
Bank of America argued that the portion beginning "either directly or through the agency" should be read to modify only the immediately preceding clause, not the two earlier antecedent clauses.
I had to read original sentence four times, and I'm still not sure I got it. Good thing I'm not a lawyer. I did, however, understand the judge's basketball player example used to illustrate B of A's "anti-grammatical" interpretation:
"When a modifier is set off from a series of antecedents by a comma, the modifier should be read to apply to each of those antecedents," [Judge] Leval wrote.
"For example, the statement, 'This basketball team has a seven-foot center, a huge power forward, and two large guards, who do spectacular dunks,' differs from the statement, 'This basketball team has a seven-foot center, a huge power forward, and two large guards who do spectacular dunks,'" Leval wrote. "The first statement conveys that all four players do spectacular dunks. The latter statement conveys that only the guards do so."