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COUNTY OF FAIRFAX, ET AL. v. CENTURY CONCRETE SERVICES, INC.


COUNTY OF FAIRFAX, ET
AL.

v.

CENTURY CONCRETE
SERVICES, INC.


October 31, 1997

Record No. 961854

COUNTY OF FAIRFAX, ET AL.

v.

CENTURY CONCRETE SERVICES, INC.

OPINION BY JUSTICE LEROY R. HASSELL, SR.

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FAIRFAX COUNTY

Howe Brown, Jr., Judge

Present: Carrico, C.J., Compton, Lacy, Hassell, Keenan, and
Kinser, JJ., and Whiting, Senior Justice


In this appeal, we consider whether Code ?15.1-549 prohibits a county
from paying interest on a judgment.

Fairfax County executed a contract with Century Concrete
Services, Inc. Pursuant to the terms of the contract, Century
agreed to perform certain construction work on a landfill basin.
A dispute arose between Century and the County. Century filed a
motion for judgment against the County and was awarded a judgment
in the amount of $60,340.00 plus prejudgment and judgment
interest. The County appeals that portion of the judgment which
awarded interest.

The County argues that the trial court erred by entering an
order which requires the County to pay interest. The County
asserts that Code ? 15.1-549
prohibits the County from paying interest on a judgment. Century
responds that Code ?  15.1-549
does not bar the award of interest. We agree with the County.

Code ?  15.1-547
authorizes a county’s board of supervisors to issue and approve
warrants to pay all valid claims that may be asserted against a
county. Code   15.1-549,
which imposes certain limitations upon the issuance of warrants,
states in relevant part:

"No board of supervisors shall order any warrant
issued for any purpose other than the payment of a claim
received, audited and approved as required by ? 15.1-547.

. . . .

No interest shall be paid on any county warrant.

Any clerk, deputy clerk or member of any board of
supervisors who shall violate or become a party to the
violation of any of the provisions of this section shall
be guilty of a misdemeanor, and in addition thereto shall
be guilty of malfeasance in office."

 

In Lynchburg v. Amherst County, 115 Va. 600, 80
S.E. 117 (1913), we considered whether a city was entitled to a
jury instruction which would have permitted a jury to make an
award of prejudgment interest against a county. We stated:

"As a rule, the common law did not imply a
promise to pay interest, and interest could not be
recovered, save where it was expressly contracted
for. . . . While the courts in this State,
aided by the legislature, have established a different
doctrine as between natural persons and private
corporations, viz., that it is but natural justice that
he who has the use of another’s money should pay interest
on it . . . yet, so far as we know, it has
never been held by this court that a claim asserted
against the State or a county bears interest where there
is no provision in the statute or authorized agreement
creating the liability for the payment of interest. Not
only is there no statute or precedent for the payment of
interest on claims like those asserted in this case, but
clause 2, section 834 of Pollard’s Code [the precursor to
Code ?  15.1-549],
which provides for the examination, settlement and
allowance of all accounts chargeable against the county
and for the issuance of warrants therefor when settled
and allowed, expressly declares that no interest shall be
paid by any county on any county warrant. If the board of
supervisors had allowed the claims of the city, or any of
them, and issued a warrant therefor, and the county
afterwards refused to pay the claim and litigated its
liability, as it had the right to do . . . and
judgment had been rendered against it for the amount of
the warrant so issued, by the plain terms of the statute,
it would not have been chargeable with interest. This
being so, it is difficult to see upon what ground the
county would be liable for interest on the same claims
when disallowed by the board of supervisors."

 

Id. at 608-09, 80 S.E. at 120.

The rationale that we invoked in Lynchburg v. Amherst
County
is equally pertinent here. The County pays its
construction claims by ordering the issuance of warrants, payable
on demand, which may be converted to negotiable checks. See
Code ?  15.1-547.
That portion of the trial court’s judgment awarding interest
against the County is erroneous because Code ?  15.1-549, which
is similar to the statute that we considered in Lynchburg
v. Amherst County, specifically states that "[n]o
interest shall be paid on any county warrant." And,
consistent with our reasoning in Lynchburg v. Amherst
County
, in the absence of a specific statutory authorization,
we will not permit a judgment creditor to obtain an award of
interest against a county because to do so would enable that
judgment creditor to circumvent the express prohibition against
an award of interest contained in Code ?  15.1-549.

Moreover, Code ?  15.1-549,
which prohibits payment of interest in these circumstances,
provides that any clerk, deputy clerk, or member of any board of
supervisors who violates the statute is guilty of a misdemeanor
and guilty of malfeasance in office. Certainly, the language in
this statute is a strong command from the General Assembly that
the County cannot pay either prejudgment or post-judgment
interest on any claim against it.

It is true, as Century asserts, that Code ?  8.01-382
permits a litigant to recover interest against a party in certain
instances. That Code section states in relevant part:

"In any action at law or suit in equity, the
verdict of the jury, or if no jury the judgment or decree
of the court, may provide for interest on any principal
sum awarded, or any part thereof, and fix the period at
which the interest shall commence. The judgment or decree
entered shall provide for such interest until such
principal sum be paid. If a judgment or decree be
rendered which does not provide for interest, the
judgment or decree awarded shall bear interest from its
date of entry, at the rate as provided in ?  6.1-330.54,
and judgment or decree entered accordingly; provided, if
the judgment entered in accordance with the verdict of a
jury does not provide for interest, interest shall
commence from the date that the verdict was
rendered."

 

Contrary to Century’s assertion, however, Code ?  8.01-382 simply
has no application here. We must apply Code ?  15.1-549 in
this appeal because it is a statute of specific application which
takes precedence over Code ?  8.01-382,
a statute of general application. "’[W]hen one statute
speaks to a subject in a general way and another deals with a
part of the same subject in a more specific manner,
. . . where they conflict, the latter prevails.’" Dodson
v. Potomac Mack Sales & Service, 241 Va. 89, 94-95,
400 S.E.2d 178, 181 (1991) (quoting Virginia Nat’l Bank v.
Harris, 220 Va. 336, 340, 257 S.E.2d 867, 870 (1979)); City
of Winchester
v. American Woodmark, 250 Va. 451, 460,
464 S.E.2d 148, 153 (1995). [1]

Finally, Century, relying upon City of Richmond v. Blaylock,
247 Va. 250, 440 S.E.2d 598 (1994), says that this Court held
that "an award of prejudgment interest against the City of
Richmond, although denied, was properly within the discretion of
the court under Va. Code ?  8.01-382."
Blaylock is not pertinent to our resolution of this
appeal. The litigants in Blaylock did not, and indeed,
could not, assert that Code ?  15.1-549
precludes an award of interest against the City of Richmond
because Code ? 15.1-549
is applicable to counties only. Furthermore, in Blaylock,
the trial court refused to award prejudgment interest, and we did
not decide whether a city could be required to pay such interest.
Blaylock, 247 Va. at 253, 440 S.E.2d at 599.

We will reverse that portion of the trial court’s judgment
which awards interest against the County, modify the judgment
accordingly, and enter final judgment in favor of Century.

Reversed in part, modified and final judgment

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] In view of our holding, we need
not address the litigants’ remaining arguments.

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