It’s About Time

I recently saw a foreclosure notice that gave the date, time and location of a foreclosure sale for some commercial real property.  The foreclosure sale date was set in December.  The location of the sale was in Oakland on the Alameda Courthouse steps.  But the time of the sale was listed as “12:00 p.m.”

That seems straightforward enough.  “12:00 p.m. means . . .”  well, it probably means noon, right?  Probably.  But what if it didn’t?  What if it meant some other time?  Was that even possible?

I knew that “p.m.” meant “post something” but I wasn’t sure what.  So this notice sent me first to my Law Dictionary and then to my desktop College Dictionary.  My Law Dictionary contains tens of thousands of legal definitions.  Sure enough, I found “p.m.” in my Law Dictionary.   I found it right after “Piepowder Court” (which was a court in medieval England that had jurisdiction over a fair or market). So what is the legal meaning of  “p.m.”?  According to my Law Dictionary, “p.m.” is an abbreviation for “post meridiem.”  That’s it. Not too helpful.  So I went to the Law Dictionary definition of “post meridiem” and found the meaning, which is “After noon.”  That’s it.  My College Dictionary?  It had nothing for p.m.  But the College Dictionary definitions of “post meridian” and “post meridiem” generally mean “after noon.”

So now I was really confused.  If 12:00 noon occurs at noon, and if you have 12 hours after noon, does that mean midnight?  If so, then 12:00 p.m. could literally mean 12 hours after noon had passed, which would be midnight.

Lacking adequate clarity on my situation from either of my two dictionaries, I accessed a very accessible encyclopedia —- which was Wikipedia.  I’ve heard that some people may not like Wikipedia.  But for quick accessibility on a topic of general interest, it’s hard to beat.

According to Wikipedia, “post meridiem” means “after midday.”  Conversely, “a.m.” means “before midday.”  Still no clarity – 12:00 p.m. could still logically mean either “noon” or twelve hours after noon.

Wikipedia neatly wrapped this up by suggesting that 12:00 can be viewed as “zero” which would mean that 12:00 p.m. would be “noon” and 12:00 a.m. would be “midnight.”  But then Wikipedia specifically observed that confusion can exist with the use of “12:00 a.m.”, “12:00 p.m.” and the word “midnight.”  If the date changes at exactly midnight, then it’s unclear which time “midnight” may refer to. For example, if a legal notice referred to “midnight on June 12″ then there’s a very real question as to whether the appointed time is at the end of June 11 and the beginning of June 12 in the very early morning hours, or late on June 12 at the latest possible hour just before June 13 begins.  It’s just not clear.  Likewise, 12:00 p.m. on June 12 could mean noon, or it could also mean 12 hours after noon, which would be the moment when June 12 ended and June 13 began.

So much confusion over such a little thing!

Wikipedia suggested a neat little remedy for avoiding such confusion.  Wikipedia noted that some legal documents use 11:59 p.m. as the end of one day, and 12:01 a.m. as the beginning of a second day.

A foreclosing person can choose the time at which the foreclosure sale will be held.  Why not choose 11:59 a.m.?  Or why not choose 12:00 noon? Or why not just choose 10:00 a.m. so everybody can go out to lunch afterwards?

Copyright 2023 ROBERT B. JACOBS