By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Appeals Court Attorney

How does an appellate court analyze the issue of contract interpretation, and whether a lower trial court erred in determining the meaning and enforceability of a signed contract. In interpreting the meaning of an agreement, an appeals court “reads the document as a whole in a fair and common sense manner,” and enforces the terms that are “clear and unambiguous…as written.” The court determines, as a legal matter, whether the contract is ambiguous. In seeking to ascertain the meaning of the language used, the court will “consider the bargaining status of the parties, the attendant circumstances, the operative usages and practices within the industry, and the objectives in the contract the parties were attempting to accomplish” in their negotiations leading up to execution of the contract.

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