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2017 Tennessee Legislature Adds Requirement that Terms in Tennessee Statutes are Given Their “Natural and Ordinary” Meaning

Posted on Jul 22 2017 10:10AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Legislature passed a new law in 2017 that governs appropriate statutory construction.  This is an interesting change that has application to all of the words in the Tennessee Code that do not have a definition provided in the code.  This new law was passed as Public Chapter No. 302 and signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam on May 5, 2017, and it took effect immediately.  It is codified now in T.C.A. § 1-3-105.  This statute is not often cited to but is important to know about because it provides definitions for certain words provided for in the Tennessee Code (such as “property”, “highway”, “real property”, “age of majority”, “record” and other terms).

 

This new law provides as follows:

 

(b) As used in this code, undefined words shall be given their natural and ordinary meaning, without forced or subtle construction that would limit or extend the meaning of the language, except when a contrary intention is clearly manifest.

 

It appears to me that this new statute is designed to prevent judicial overreach in redefining terms outside of their normal meaning.   Sometimes in cases, key terms in statutes do not have a definition within the Tennessee Code and the lawyers and the Court must interpret the term.  This new law provides guiding principles for statutory construction that are intended to prevent odd or unique interpretation of key terms in statutes.  The only way to interpret a word beyond the “natural and ordinary meaning” is if the “contrary intention is clearly manifest”.  That is a very high standard and should not be taken lightly.  I interpret that standard to be when the statute actually misuses a word and a contrary interpretation is compelled by the clear intent of the legislation.  This should rarely be applied.

 

Some specific terms that are defined in this statute (T.C.A. § 1-3-105) that may be helpful to review and remember include the following:

 

(1) “Age of majority” means eighteen (18) years of age or older; except that when purchasing, consuming or possessing alcoholic beverages, wine or beer as those terms are defined in title 57, “age of majority” means twenty-one (21) years of age. This subdivision (1) shall not be construed as prohibiting any person eighteen (18) years of age or older from selling, transporting, possessing or dispensing alcoholic beverages, wine or beer in the course of employment;

 

(9) “Executor” includes an administrator, where the subject matter applies to an administrator;

 

(12) “Highway” includes public bridges and may be held equivalent to the words “county way,” “county road” or “state road”;

 

(13) “Insane” includes all persons of unsound mind;

 

(14) “Lands” includes lands, tenements and hereditaments, and all rights thereto and interests therein, equitable as well as legal;

 

(16) “Minor” means any person who has not attained eighteen (18) years of age; except that where used in title 57 with respect to purchasing, consuming or possessing alcoholic beverages, wine or beer, “minor” means any person who has not attained twenty-one (21) years of age. This subdivision (16) shall not be construed as prohibiting any person eighteen (18) years of age or older from selling, transporting, possessing or dispensing alcoholic beverages, wine or beer in the course of employment;

 

(17) “Month” means a calendar month;

 

(18) “Oath” includes affirmation;

 

(19) “Person” includes a corporation, firm, company or association;

 

(20) “Personal property” includes money, goods, chattels, things in action, and evidences of debt;

 

(21) “Personal representative,” when applied to those who represent a decedent, includes executors and administrators, unless the context implies heirs and distributees;

 

(23) “Property” includes both personal and real property;

 

(24) “Real estate” and “real property” include lands, tenements and hereditaments, and all rights thereto and interests therein, equitable as well as legal;

 

(25) “Record” means information that is inscribed on a tangible medium or that is stored in an electronic or other medium and is retrievable in a perceivable form;

 

(26) “Representative,” when applied to those who represent a decedent, includes executors and administrators, unless the context implies heirs and distributees;

 

(27) “Road” includes public bridges and may be held equivalent to the words “county way,” “county road” or “state road”;

 

(30) “Signature” or “signed” includes a mark, the name being written near the mark and witnessed, or any other symbol or methodology executed or adopted by a party with intention to authenticate a writing or record, regardless of being witnessed;

 

(36) “Writing” or “written” includes printing, typewriting, engraving, lithography, and any other mode of representing words and letters; and

 

(37) “Year” means a calendar year, unless otherwise expressed; but “year,” in reference to any appropriation from the state treasury, means fiscal year, unless otherwise expressed or implied.

 

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.

TAGS: 2017 Tennessee Legislation, Civil Procedure, Miscellaneous
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com

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