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AGO 1951 No. 92 - July 19, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

MENTALLY ILL PERSONS

An order directing payment of hospital charges for a person mentally ill may be recorded in the judgment docket as any other judgment.

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                                                                    July 19, 1951

Honorable H. D. Van Eaton, Director
Department of Public Institutions
Public Lands-Social Security Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 92

Attention:  Mr. V. E. Billow

Dear Sir:

            This is to acknowledge your letter of July 12, 1951, in which you requested an opinion relative to section 38, chapter 139, Laws of 1951.

            We have taken the liberty of phrasing your question as follows:

            Can an order directing payment of hospital charges for a mentally ill person, which is in effect a judgment, be entered by the county clerk in the judgment docket, notwithstanding the provisions of section 38, chapter 189, Laws of 1951, which provides that "all files in these cases shall be closed?"

            Our answer is in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            We have heretofore held that a judgment directing payment of hospital charges creates a lien against any realty of the judgment debtor.  Opinion to Department of Finance, Budget and Business, February 10, 1942.  Since that time the statutes relative to the commitment of persons mentally ill have been substantially changed.  Chapter 139, Laws of 1951, expresses the latest change.  However, there is nothing in this law to indicate than an order directing payment for hospital charges does not have the force of a judgment.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            It is recognized that for a judgment to be of real value and for it to serve its purpose, it must appear of record.  Unless a judgment does appear of record in the judgment docket, there is no notice of the existence of the judgment in a legal sense, and the lien created thereby becomes a useless remedy.  Persons contemplating transactions relative to realty which is subject to an unrecorded judgment for maintenance charges are consequently prejudiced.  In this connection the rights of the judgment creditor, the state and counties are also prejudiced if the judgment does not appear of record.

            For the above reasons we feel that a judgment directing payment of hospital charges should be recorded just like any other judgment, unless it can be said that section 38, chapter 139, Laws of 1951 expressly prohibits the recording of such judgments.  Section 38 provides in part as follows:

            "All files in these cases shall be closed files subject to examination only on court order * * *."

            It is our opinion that the above quoted language of section 38 does not prohibit the recording of an order directing payment of hospital charges.  It must be presumed that the legislature, when enacting chapter 139, knew that such orders were judgments and that judgments were placed of record.  Consequently, had it been the legislature's intention to create an exception to the duty of the county clerk to record judgments, they could have easily expressed such an intention in such a way as to leave no doubt.  Thus, in the absence of any express language indicating that such judgments are not to be of public record, we do not feel that the legislature intended the quoted language above to have the effect of prohibiting the recording of a judgment for hospital charges.

            Accordingly, you are advised that section 38, chapter 139, Laws of 1951, does not prohibit the recording of a judgment for hospital charges in the judgment docket.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

ROBERT L. SIMPSON
Assistant Attorney General

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