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Contract interpretation – how the courts approach it

From here:

[C]ourts interpret contracts with the goal of ascertaining the parties’ intent.

In the case of a written contract, the court determines the parties’ intent by looking first to the plain and ordinary meaning of the contract language.

  • If the contract language is clear and unambiguous, the court interprets the document as a matter of law [that is, without the need for a jury — DCT] without looking to extrinsic evidence.
  • If, however, the contract language is ambiguous, the trier of fact [that is, the jury, or the judge in a non-jury trial — DCT] must examine relevant extrinsic evidence in order to ascertain the parties’ intent.

BKCap, LLC v. Captec Franchise Trust 2000-1, Nos. 08-3239 & 08-4038, at 10 (7th Cir. Jul. 13, 2009) (Tinder, J., reversing summary judgment, on grounds that contract language was ambiguous, and remanding for fact-finding) (extra paragraphing and bullets added).

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