Knowledgebase-Statutory Construction: Conflicting Statutes/ More Specific Statute Given Effect


Information Product

Title:Statutory Construction: Conflicting Statutes/ More Specific Statute Given Effect
Summary:Specific statutory provisions generally will be given effect over conflicting general provisions.
Original Author:Bingham, Pamela
Co-Author:
Product Create Date:04/14/2000
Last Reviewed on::10/04/2017
Subject:Laws and regulations--State
Type:Legal Opinion
Legal Opinion:

Reference Documents:

Text of Document: As we discussed on the telephone, there are a number of Tennessee cases that cite the general rule of statutory construction with respect to conflicting statutes and instances where one statute is more specific than another addressing/covering the same subject matter. What follows is a brief synopsis of this rule, as explained in a selection of the appellate courts' opinions. In Lambert v. Invacare Corp., 985 S.W.2d 446, (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998), the appellate court stated:

It is well-established that specific statutory provisions generally will be given effect over conflicting general provisions. See Dobbins v. Terrazzo Machine & Supply Co., 479 S.W.2d 806, 809 (Tenn.1972), and Woodroof v. City of Nashville, 183 Tenn. 483, 192 S.W.2d 1013, 1015 (Tenn.1946)('... the reason and philosophy of the rule [giving effect to specific statutory provisions over general ones] is that where the mind of the legislature has been turned to the details of a subject and they have acted upon it, a statute treating the subject in a general manner should not be construed as intended to affect the more particular provision.'). In Dobbins, an injured employee, who previously had received workers' compensation benefits, brought an action against the manufacturers of the machine that had caused his injuries. The Supreme Court held that the specific statute of limitations provisions now found at Tenn. Code Ann. 50-6-112 controlled over the general statute of limitations for personal tort actions. See Dobbins, 479 S.W.2d at 809.
Lambert, 985 S.W.2d at 448.

In the earlier case of Woodroof v. City of Nashville 183 Tenn. 483, 192 S.W.2d 1013 (1946), the Court concluded that the specific provisions of a statute must be given effect over the general statute and said:

Where the mind of the legislature has been turned to the details of a subject and they have acted upon it, a statute treating the subject in a general manner should not be considered as intended to effect the more particular provision.
(Emphasis added)

It is a reasonable rule of construction that, when the legislative expression of a general intent conflicts with a particular intent subsequently expressed, the latter will prevail. "Specific provisions relating to a particular subject must govern in respect to that subject, as against general provisions in other parts of the law which otherwise might be broad enough to include it." Lewis' Sutherland Statutory Construction (2d Ed.) 491. Wade v. Madding, 28 S.W.2d 642, 161 Tenn. 88,, (Tenn. 1930) 28 S.W.2d 649.

The foregoing cases are also authority for the applicable rule of construction that specific provisions in a following section will control and limit the general and broad provisions of preceding sections. A special provision in a statute will control a general provision which would otherwise include that mentioned in the particular provision. Hayes v. Arrington, 108 Tenn. 494, 68 S.W. 44, 46; Sealed Power Corp. v. Stokes,127 S.W.2d 114, 174 Tenn. 493 (Tenn. 1939)

What happens if two different parts of a statute appear to be in conflict? The rule is where different portions of a statute seem to be conflict, courts must harmonize them, if practicable, and lean in favor of a construction which will render every word operative, rather than one which may make some idle and nugatory. Tiger Creek Bus Line v. Tiger Creek Transp. Ass'n, 216 S.W.2d 348, 187 Tenn. 654 (Tenn. 1948).


Finally, with respect to interpreting state tax statutes, Tenn.Code.Ann. 67-1-1402 of the Tax Enforcement Procedures Act codifies the opposite interpretation of this general rule of statutory construction, where it provides as follows:

(c) In the event of any conflict between the provisions of this part and those of any other specific statutory provisions contained elsewhere in this title or in any other title, it is declared to be the legislative intent that, to the extent such other specific provisions are inconsistent with or different from this part, the provisions of this part shall prevail. There shall be preserved and prevail over this part such other provisions of this title or of any other title that govern, restrict, or confer special authority or powers upon the commissioner or the commissioner's delegate in the exercise of each of their responsibilities to enforce the collection of public taxes and that are not inconsistent with the provisions of this part ...."
See generally State Dept. of Revenue v. Moore, 722 S.W.2d 367 (Tenn. 1986).

Please remember that these legal opinions were written based on the facts of a given city at a certain time. The laws referenced in any opinion may have changed or may not be applicable to your city or circumstances.

Always consult with your city attorney or an MTAS consultant before taking any action based on information contained in this database.