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AGO 1957 No. 18 - February 19, 1957
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES

Payment of premiums on false arrest insurance for the sheriff and his deputies is for individual benefit and is not a legitimate county expense.

                                                                   - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                February 19, 1957

Honorable R. A. Hensel
Prosecuting Attorney
Douglas County
Waterville, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 18


Dear Sir:

            By previously acknowledged letter, you have asked our opinion on the following question:

            Can a county pay false arrest insurance premiums on the sheriff and his deputies as a legitimate county expense?

            Your question is answered in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]                                                                            

            You have advised us that this question arises from an insurance plan so designed to protect the sheriff and his deputies with insurance which would cover them in the event of false arrest, false imprisonment, and various other actions which the sheriff or his deputies might erroneously take.  The contemplated policy is on a $100 deductible basis.                                                                             

            To answer your question, we must consider whether the protection afforded by the insurance inures to the benefit of the county or to the sheriff and his deputies individually.  Article VIII, § 7 of the Washington state constitution, in so far as pertinent to this inquiry, states:

            "No county, city, town or other municipal corporation shall hereafter give any money, or property, or loan its money, or credit to or in aid ofany individual, association company or corporation, * * * or become directly or indirectly the owner of any stock in or bonds of any association, company or corporation."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Thus, if no public benefit is to be gained by payment of the premiums in question, such payment would be prohibited under the above constitutional provision.

            By specific statute, a county is not responsible for the acts of the sheriff (RCW 36.28.010).  The sheriff is responsible for default or misconduct on the part of the deputies (RCW 36.28.020).  The Washington state supreme court has considered this matter on numerous occasions and has consistently supported the rule that the county is not liable for the wrongful acts of the sheriff or his deputies while acting in their official capacity.  For example, seeArishin v. King County, 103 Wash. 176.  InYoung v. Long, 124 Wash. 460, at page 464, the court stated:

            "A sheriff is personally liable for abuses of process committed by a deputy."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Since there is no liability on the part of the county for the type of action by the sheriff or his deputies which is contemplated in the insurance policy under discussion, it is our opinion that no public purpose would be served by the payment of such premiums.  The only benefits to be derived from such a policy would be to the sheriff and his deputies individually.  Hence, the payment of such premiums is not a legitimate county expense.

            We hope the foregoing will be helpful to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General


PAUL J. MURPHY
Assistant Attorney General

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