Arkansas Supreme Court clarifies deference prohibition

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The Arkansas Supreme Court on October 29 clarified in American Honda Motor Co. v. Walther that state courts should not exercise deference to state agency interpretations of statutes. Instead, the court held that Arkansas state courts should review agency statutory interpretations de novo—without deference to a previous interpretation of the underlying statute in question.

The court’s decision reiterated its May 2020 holding in Meyers v. Yamato Kogyo Co. that the court should determine the meaning of state laws and not defer to state agency interpretations of statutes.

In an opinion by Justice Karen Baker, the court cited its earlier holding in Meyers, stating that “it is the province and duty of this Court to determine what a statute means. In considering the meaning and effect of a statute, we construe it just as it reads, giving the words their ordinary and usually accepted meaning in common language. An unambiguous statute will be interpreted based solely on the clear meaning of the text. But where ambiguity exists, the agency’s interpretation will be one of our many tools used to provide guidance.”

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