Also that which is serviceable is not rendered invalid by that which is useless.
A Latin maxim of law primarily of assistance in dealing with pleadings - that the Court may salvage from a pleading sufficient allegations of fact and law to find for the litigant even though parts of the pleadings are immaterial, irrelevant, struck or stand unproven.
"... it is well settled as a general rule of pleading, in criminal as well as civil cases, that mere surplusage will not vitiate, the maxim being that utile per inutile non vitiatur."1
In Suber v. Fountain, Justice Quillian of the Court of Appeals of Georgia adopted these words:
"On the return of a verdict, the court may direct the jury to strike from it anything that is mere surplusage.
"The canon utile per inutile non vitiatur - surplusage does not spoil the remaining part if that is good in itself ... is relevant for the verdict complained of was $40,000 civil fine for punitive damages. The jury did not award a civil fine and punitive damages. They awarded a civil fine for punitive damages. Thus, the words civil fine are surplusage as they were used to describe punitive damages which the jury was authorized to award if they found aggravating circumstances. With the surplusage omitted the verdict is not subject to the objection made."
In French v. Clinchfield Coal Corporation, these words were part of the Supreme Court of Virginia's judgment:
"Admittedly the instrument would have been free from objection if the words of the court had been omitted. Those words, it will be observed, are not necessary to give meaning to the paper, and neither their presence nor absence can affect its validity. They are, in short, merely superfluous, and may be rejected. Utile per inutile non vitiatur."
In his well-known book on Latin legal maxims first published in 1845, Herbert Broom considered utile per inutile non vitiatur to be a fundamental legal principle. He proposed this translation:
"Surplusage does not vitiate that which in other respects is good and valid."
- Broom, Herbert, A Selection of Legal Maxims Classified and Illustrated, 10th Ed., (London: Sweet & Maxwell Limited, 1939)
- French v. Clinchfield Coal Corp., 171 Va. 211 (1938)
- NOTE: Elliot, W. F., Conviction of One Crime Under an Indictment for Another, 7 Crim. L. Mag. & Rep. 157 (1886)
- Suber v. Fountain, 259 SE 2d 685 (1979)