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AGO 1951 No. 123 - September 07, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

INSTITUTIONS ‑- UNCLAIMED MONEY OF DISCHARGED PATIENTS

The superintendent of any state mental institution shall, pursuant to Rem. Supp. 1947, section 8435, pay over to the State Treasurer any unclaimed money in his possession to which his office has no claim.

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                                                               September 7, 1951

Honorable H. D. Van Eaton
Director
Department of Public Institutions
Public Lands-Social Security Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 123

Attention:  Mr. V. E. Billow

Dear Sir:

            This is to acknowledge your letter of August 31, 1951, in which you requested our opinion as to what disposition can be made of unclaimed funds and personal property of discharged patients of state institutions.

            From your letter it appears that patients have left small amounts of money with the superintendent of the hospital after their discharge.  These sums, as appears from the accounting attached to your letter, vary from $ .04 to about $43.00.  It also appears that these funds have been kept by the superintendent for more than two years during which time the superintendent was unsuccessful in locating any of the patients to return the money and property to them.

            Our conclusion may be stated as follows:

            The superintendent of any state mental institution shall, pursuant to Rem. Supp. 1947, section 8435, pay over to the State Treasurer any unclaimed money in his possession to which his office has no claim.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Since your inquiry concerns the disposal of money left unclaimed by discharged patients rather than money or property left unclaimed following the death of a patient, chapter 138, Laws of 1951, is not applicable.  Chapter 138 is so written that it only applies in the case of the death of an inmate.

            Section 1, chapter 98, Laws of 1947, (Rem. Supp. 1947, sec. 8435) provides as follows:

            "When unclaimed money is in the possession of a public officer to which his office has no claim, and no other provision exists for its disposition, he shall pay it to the State Treasurer and take his receipt therefor.  The receipt shall be a full release of the officer from all further liability therefor.  The provisions of this section shall not apply to county or precinct officers."

            We feel the above statute, however, is applicable to the instant situation.  This same statute, prior to its amendment in 1947, was applied to unclaimed money of inmates of our state penal institutions.  (See enclosed opinion to the Department of Finance, Budget and Business, June 17, 1943.)

            We are confident that hospital superintendents are public officers, within the meaning of section 8435.  InDunn vs. Ayres, 112 Mont. 120, 113 P. (2d) 785, it was held that the superintendent of a state mental institution was a public officer.

            Section 8435, you will note, is limited to unclaimed money and makes no reference to unclaimed personal effects.

            We were unable to find any statute covering the disposal of unclaimed personal property applicable to the type of public officer herein involved.  (See section 3436 (a) which applies to county officers.)

            Thus, in the absence of any authority directing the disposal of personal effects left unclaimed by discharged patients, it is our suggestion that the superintendent retain possession of unclaimed personal property until such time as the legislature provides for the disposition of such property.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Accordingly, it is our opinion that any funds in the possession of the superintendent left unclaimed by discharged patients, be paid over to the State Treasurer.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

ROBERT L. SIMPSON
Assistant Attorney General

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