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Public Q&A: How do you know if a legal question is multi-level (e.g., fed, state, county, etc.)?
Answer: You can’t always tell – except if you can clearly establish the person is talking about a “local” issue, (i.e., zoning, noisy neighbors, etc.) vs. a federal one (i.e., federal bankruptcy filings or medicare benefits). Even then, you can find several levels of information related to many questions, i.e., if filing for bankruptcy and reviewing what exemptions are available, the federal law makes clear allowance for some exemptions that are outlined within state statutes, i.e., amount allowed for homestead exemption.. And even a “local issue” such as zoning can also have implications if a local plan or ordinance has elements that have been challenged (and decided) in the state appellate courts (or even higher, as last year’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on a community’s use of eminent domain to set aside property for use by private developers – which started as a municipality’s administrative ruling, contested in local court, and then rose through state appellate level to the U.S. Supreme Court – which impacts all states and municipalities with similar issues.).

Short answer is never assume that any “answer” is only one dimensional. For example, the local ordinance on noise levels allowed for airports or industrial sites may not be the only answer possible to a question about what levels of noise. However, a question about what areas are affected by the ordinance might be – if the ordinance referenced specific zoning maps, for instance. (Thank you to the Lane County Law Librarian for answering this question from a public librarian.)

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