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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 titl...

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TAGS: 2017 Tennessee Legislation, Civil Procedure, Miscellaneous Comments [0]

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