October 20, 2004
New Castle County-Civil Division
The Honorable Bruce C. Ennis
House of Representatives
Dover, DE 19901
Re: Location of Kent County Offices-Del. Const. Art. III, § 23
Dear Representative Ennis:
You have asked whether Del. Const. Article III, § 23 prevents the relocation of the offices of the Prothonotary, Clerk of the Peace, Register of Wills, Recorders and other Kent County offices to the new Kent County Administration Building upon completion. It is our understanding that all of these offices are currently located within the corporate limits of the city of Dover. You have also indicated in your letter that the new Kent County Administration Building will be located on Bay Road within the Dover city limits. We conclude that the provisions of Del. Const. Article III, § 23 neither prevent nor require the relocation of the offices previously mentioned to the new Kent County
Administration Building. Both the existing location and the new office building satisfy the constitutional requirements.
The pertinent section of the Delaware Constitution provides as follows:
§ 23. Place of office of certain county officers.
Section 23. Prothonotaries, Clerks of the Peace, Registers of Wills, Recorders, Clerks of the Orphans' Court and Sheriffs shall keep their offices in the town or place in each county in which the Superior Court is usually held. Del. Const. Art. III, § 23.
This Section of the Delaware Constitution was passed as part of the Delaware Constitution of 1897. Art. III, § 23 was a new section in the 1897 Constitution yet was adopted without any constitutional debate and has never been reviewed in any court case. J. RANDY HOLLAND, THE DELAWARE STATE CONSTITUTION 122 (Greenwood Press 2002).
Although there is no available prior history on the meaning or intent of Art. III, § 23, we do find your question to be controlled by the plain wording of the Section. The Delaware courts, in construing the meaning of a statute, have "established as the standard the search for legislative intent....Where the intent of the legislature is clearly reflected by unambiguous language in the statute, the language itself controls." Spielberg v. State, 558 A. 2d 291, 293 (Del. 1989) (citations omitted); SINGER, 2A SUTHERLAND STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION, § 46.01 (1992). These same principles of statutory construction apply to interpretation of the provisions of the Delaware Constitution. See State v. Troise, 526 A.2d 898, 902 (Del. Supr. 1987).
The plain wording of Art. III, § 23 requires that the offices of Prothonotary, Clerks of the Peace, Registers of Wills, Recorders, and Sheriff must maintain their office in either "the town or the place in each county in which the Superior Court is usually held." (emphasis added). The Section provides two alternatives for compliance by these offices. First, the listed offices may locate in "the town ... in each county in which the Superior Court is usually held." The phrase "the town" is modified by the phrase "in each county in which the Superior Court is usually held." Alternatively, the listed offices can locate "in the place in which the Superior Court is usually held." The Section provides a choice for the listed offices to locate in the actual "place" where Superior Court is held in that county, or to locate in the same "town" in which Superior Court is located in that county. The use of the word "or" in Art. III, §23 demonstrates a clear legislative intent to provide for a choice for compliance with the Section.
In short, under Art. III, § 23, the offices of Prothonotary, Clerks of the Peace, Registers of Wills, Recorders, and Sheriff can be physically located in the Kent County Courthouse in Dover, which of course is the "place" where Superior Court is usually held. See BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY 1034 (5th ed. 1979)(primary definition of the word "place" means a locality, situation, or site, and it is also used to designate an occupied situation or building). The alternative is for these offices to locate within the "town" of Dover as specified in Art. III, § 23. The word "town", while not specifically defined in
the Section, most reasonably is interpreted to include the corporate limits of the city of Dover. See generally 8 Del. C. § 801(1)("municipal corporation" includes all cities, towns and villages created before or after December 28, 1961, under any general or special law of this State for general governmental purposes which possess legislative, administrative and police powers for the general exercise of municipal functions and which carry on such functions through a set of elected and other officials.).
Accordingly, we conclude that Del. Const. Art, III, §23 neither prevents, nor requires the offices listed in the Section from being relocated to a new Kent County Administration Building. This constitutional section simply requires that the listed offices either be located at the Kent County Courthouse or within the corporate limits of the city of Dover.
As always, we are available to assist you if you have any further questions about this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any additional questions.
Very truly yours,
Michael F. McTaggart
Deputy Attorney General
Malcolm S. Cobin
cc: The Honorable M. Jane Brady
Phillip Johnson, Opinion Coordinator