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AGO 1955 No. 90 - June 03, 1955
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

MENTALLY ILL PERSONS ‑- CONFINEMENT FOR OBSERVATION

Superior Courts do not have authority to confine mentally ill persons for observation pending commitment.

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

                                                                    June 3, 1955

Honorable Clarence Schrag
Acting Superintendent of Institutions
Department of Public Institutions
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 90

Dear Sir:

            In your letter of recent date you request our opinion on several questions, which you state as follows:

            "1. Do our Superior Courts have authority to order persons confined atstate hospitals for observation purposes to determine if they are proper subjects for commitment under RCW 71.02.130?

            "2. If your answer to question No. 1 is in the affirmative, then is the county responsible for the payment of the per capita cost of observation at a state hospital if the patient or his relatives are found unable to make such payment?

            "3. If your answer to question No. 1 is in the negative, may the Superintendent of the Department of Public Institutions consent to accept persons at state hospitals for observation in accordance with RCW 71.02.130?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "4. If your answer to question No. 3 is in the affirmative, may the Superintendent of the Department of Public Institutions condition his consent on payment being made of the charges involved by the particular county?"

            Our conclusions may be summarized briefly as follows:

            1. No.

            2. Our answer to question No. 1 obviates the necessity of answering this question.

            3. No.

            4. In view of our answer to question No. 3 it becomes unnecessary to reply to this question.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            1. Your question No. 1, quoted above, presents a problem of the statutory construction to be placed on RCW 71.02.130 (section 28, chapter 139, Laws of 1951), relating to its application to the state hospitals for the mentally ill.  RCW 71.02.130 provides:

            "There shall be set aside in each county of the state of Washington having a county hospital, such portions of such hospital as may be necessary for the detention and observation of those persons detained under the provisions of this chapter pending further proceedings.  In each such hospital there shall be separate detention wards for males and females.  The superior court may order the examination of such persons by medical personnel for the purpose of obtaining testimony as to the alleged mentally ill person's condition.  Such observation period shall not exceed sixty days unless  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] a jury trial has been demanded:  Provided, That in all counties having no county hospital, the court may designate as a detention ward such other place of detention and treatment as he may deem suitable for the purpose of this chapter."  (Emphasis supplied)

            The proviso, underlined above, falls within the rule of statutory interpretation that the state does not come within the terms of a statute, unless specifically named therein or brought within its scope by necessary implication.  West Norman Timber, Inc. v. State, 37 Wn. (2d) 467.

            As the state, and the state hospitals for the mentally ill, are not mentioned in RCW 71.02.130, the question to be determined is whether the state is included within the meaning of the terms of the statute by necessary implication.

            In determining whether or not the terms used in a statute include the state or other unit of government, the purpose and subject matter of the statute, and the context in which it is used, may be considered along with other factors.  General Casualty Co. v. Seattle‑First National Bank, 42 Wn. (2d) 433.

            RCW 71.02.130, quoted above, is a part of "The Mental Illness Hospitalization Act," chapter 139, Laws of 1951.

            The Mental Illness Hospitalization Act is primarily concerned with the administration of state hospitals for the mentally ill, and the commitment by the superior courts of persons suffering from mental illness to state hospitals for care and treatment.  The terms "state hospital" appear in the act many times and in addition the terms are defined in section 2 of the act.

            If the legislature had intended that state hospitals should be utilized by the courts under those conditions set forth in RCW 71.02.130, it could have easily done so by naming state hospitals as being included therein.

            In view of the purpose and subject matter of the Mental Illness Hospitalization Act, it is our opinion that the legislature, in not specifically naming state hospitals in RCW 71.02.130, intended that they were not to be utilized for the purpose of detention and observation of alleged mentally ill persons, pending court commitment.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Therefore, it is our opinion that the superior courts do not have the authority, under the terms of RCW 71.02.130, to order alleged mentally ill persons to be confined in state hospitals for detention and observation as to the existence of mental illness, pending commitment proceedings.

            2. Our answer to question No. 1 obviates the necessity of replying to question No. 2.

            3. It is a fundamental rule of statutory construction that the departments and agencies of the state government created by the legislature have only that authority which has been given by specific statutory grant of the legislature, or that authority which is necessarily implied therefrom.

            The statutes relating to the administration of state institutions for the mentally ill do not contain a statute which authorizes, either expressly or impliedly, the Department of Public Institutions, or the superintendents of the institutions for the mentally ill, to consent to the commitment by the courts to the state hospitals for detention and observation regarding the existence of mental illness, pending proceedings for commitment.

            Accordingly, it is our opinion that the Department of Public Institutions and the superintendents of the state hospitals for the mentally are without authority to consent to commitments from superior courts for the purpose of observation as to the existence of mental illness, pending proceedings for commitment.

            4. Our answer to question No. 3 obviates the necessity of rendering an opinion on this question.

            We hope that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General

STEPHEN C. WAY
Assistant Attorney General

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