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AGO 1962 No. 150 - July 30, 1962
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


LABOR ‑- 1961 MINIMUM WAGE AND HOUR ACT ‑- EXEMPTIONS ‑- AGRICULTURAL EMPLOYEES.

Individuals employed on a farm in the employment of any person, partnership, association, corporation or other organization in connection with cultivation of the soil are exempt from the provisions of the 1961 minimum wage and hour act.

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                                                                    July 30, 1962

Honorable Don L. Talley
State Senator, 18th District
404 North 7th
Kelso, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 150

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Is the word "person" as used in RCW 49.46.010 (5) (a) exempting "any individual employed (i) on a farm, in the employ of any person, in connection with the cultivation of the soil," limited to an individual or does it include partnerships, associations, corporations and other organizations?

            It is our opinion that the word "person" is not limited to an individual but is as broad as the definition of the word "employer" in chapter 49.46 RCW, and includes "any individual, partnership, association, corporation, business trust, or any person or group of persons acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee."

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The Washington Minimum Wage Act (chapter 49.46 RCW) does not define the term "person," but does contain in the pertinent part of RCW 49.46.010 the following definitions:

            "(4) 'Employer' includes any individual, partnership, association, corporation, business trust, or any person or group of persons acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee;

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "(5) 'Employee' includes any individual employed by an employer but shall not include:

            "(a) any individual employed (i) on a farm, in the employ of any person, in connection with the cultivation of the soil, or in connection with raising or harvesting any agricultural or horticultural commodity, including raising, shearing, feeding, caring for, training, and management of livestock, bees, poultry, and furbearing animals and wild life, or in the employ of the owner or tenant or other operator of a farm in connection with the operation, management, conservation, improvement, or maintenance of such farm and its tools and equipment; or (ii) in packing, packaging, grading, storing or delivering to storage, or to market or to a carrier for transportation to market, any agricultural or horticultural commodity; and the exclusions from the term 'employee' provided in this item shall not be deemed applicable with respect to commercial canning, commercial freezing, or any other commercial processing, or with respect to services performed in connection with the cultivation, raising, harvesting and processing of oysters or in connection with any agricultural or horticultural commodity after its delivery to a terminal market for distribution for consumption;" (Emphasis supplied.)

            It is well settled that in considering the meaning of terms used in an act, the definition of such terms as found in the act must be accepted.  North Pac. Coast Freight Bureau v. State, 12 Wn. (2d) 563, 122 P. (2d) 467 (1942).

            It is equally true that where a statute does not define a term, it must be given its plain and ordinary meaning.  Crown Zellerbach Corp. v. State, 53 Wn. (2d) 813, 328 P. (2d) 884 (1958).

            In determining the meaning of the word in this statute we find Webster's New International Dictionary (2d Ed.) gives the legal definition of the term "person" as:

            "A human being (natural person), or a body of persons, or, in a wider sense, an aggregate of property (artificial, conventional, or juristic person), that is recognized by law as the subject of rights and duties."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Thus, the dictionary definition gives the word a broad and comprehensive meaning when used in a legal sense.  Our Supreme Court has also given this meaning to the term when used in a statute and not defined.  The court inLongview Co. v. Cowlitz County, 1 Wn. (2d) 64, 73, 95 P. (2d) 376 (1939) said:

            "To place upon the word 'person' the construction contended for by cross-appellants, would not, in our opinion, be a strained or unnatural construction; in fact, unless it is so construed, we are of the opinion this provision would have no meaning.  The word 'person' is a generic term of comprehensive nature, embracing natural and artificial persons, such as corporations.  State ex rel. Northwestern Colonization & Imp. Co. v. Huller, 23 N. M. 306, 168 Pac. 528, 1 A.L.R. 170.  We have in our own statutes an expression indicating the broad scope given to the word 'person.'  Rem. Rev. Stat., § 11110 [P. C. § 6882-6], provides in part:  'The term "person," wherever used in this act, shall be construed to include firm, company, association or corporation.'

            "The word 'person' has been held to include the state.  West Coast Mfg. & Inv. Co. v. West Coast Imp. Co., 25 Wash. 627, 66 Pac. 97, 62 L.R.A. 763.  See, also,State v. Odd Fellows Hall Ass'n, 123 Neb. 440, 243 N.W. 616.  InHulbert Special School Dist. v. Cooper, 180 Ark. 29, 20 S.W. (2d) 322, it was held that school and drainage districts were persons, within the meaning of the statute.  See, also,Spear v. Bremerton, 90 Wash. 507, 156 Pac. 825.  InLancaster County v. Trimble, 34 Neb. 752, 52 N.W. 711, it was decided that a county was a person, in the legal sense of the term."

            This broad definition of the word is consistent with the remainder of the act since the legislature used the term "individual" and not "person" to denote a single human being or natural person.

            It is well settled that in defining statutory language a court must determine the meaning intended by the legislature, and this is accomplished by reading the statute in its entirety and where possible, by looking to other portions of the act to determine the meaning of doubtful or ambiguous expressions.  In re Bracken's Estate, 56 Wn. (2d) 17, 351 P. (2d) 151 (1960).  When similar words are used in different parts of a statute, the meaning is presumed to be the same throughout.  DeGrief v. Seattle, 50 Wn. (2d) 1, 297 P. (2d) 940 (1956).

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Thus, by reading the statute in its entirety and looking to other portions of the act we find the legislature used the term "individual" to denote a single individual.  In contrast the definition of "employer" includes the use of the term "person" in a broad sense.  There the legislature stated that the term "employer" included, besides individuals, "any person or group of persons acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee."

            Our conclusion is further supported by the fact that this identical exemption for agricultural labor was originally formulated by Congress as an agricultural exemption to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.A. 410 (f).  Congress has since that time adopted the same exemption for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, 26 U.S.C.A. 3121 (g) and the Federal Unemployment Tax Act, 26 U.S.C.A. 3306 (k).  In none of the federal acts is the term "person" defined.

            The Washington legislature originally adopted this federal exemption in its Unemployment Compensation Act, chapter 253, Laws of 1941.  This statute, identical with those in the federal acts insofar as we are here concerned, is codified as RCW 50.04.150.  Thus, our legislature has also seen fit to use the same agricultural exemption statute in the Washington Minimum Wage Act, RCW 49.46.010.

            The rule applicable to the foregoing circumstances is aptly set forth in 2 Sutherland, Statutory Construction (3d Ed.) § 5209, p. 551 as follows:

            "When the legislature of a state has used a statute of another state or county as a guide for the preparation and enactment of a statute, the courts of the adopting state will usually adopt the construction placed on the statute in the jurisdiction of its inception.  The reason usually given for this rule is that in adopting the statute the legislature is presumed to have adopted the construction which had been put on the statute by the courts of the state of its origin. . . ."

            This is also the rule in Washington as set forth in State v. Brunn, 145 Wash. 435, 436, 260 Pac. 990 (1927):

            "It is a familiar rule requiring no citation of authority that statutes adopted from other jurisdictions, which have been construed by the proper authority before such adoption, will be considered  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] as adopted with the construction already placed upon them, and it seem necessary to inquire only as to what the Federal courts have said."

            See alsoState v. Standish, 14 Wn. (2d) 39, 127 P. (2d) 255 (1942).

            In looking to the federal statutes and the court decisions construing them, we find that all employers are included within the agricultural exemption and that the exemption goes to the class or type of employment, that is, whether the employee is in fact doing agricultural labor as the statute defines it.  Nowhere is any distinction made that the phrase "in the employ of any person" limits such exemption to those employed by an individual but in fact allows such exemption to corporations, cooperatives and other employers.  See also the annotations to RCW 50.04.150 of the Unemployment Compensation Act.

            Therefore, it is our opinion that the term "person" is not limited to an individual but is as broad as the definition of the term "employer" in RCW 49.46.010 and includes "any individual, partnership, association, corporation, business trust, or any person or group of persons acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee."

            This result is also consistent with the rule that "a statute must be construed, if fairly possible, so as to avoid not only the conclusion that it is unconstitutional but also grave doubts upon that score."  Hammack v. Monroe St. Lbr. Co., 54 Wn. (2d) 224, 339 P. (2d) 684 (1959).  To hold that the class exempted, to wit:  agricultural labor, is operative only if the employer is an individual as opposed to corporations and others would cast some doubt upon its validity in view of the equal protection clause of the state constitution.  See,Aberdeen Savings & Loan Ass'n. v. Chase, 157 Wash. 351, 358, 289 Pac. 536, 290 Pac. 697 (1930), in which our supreme court unequivocally held that a corporation, and any other artificial person, is entitled to this constitutional safeguard.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

RICHARD M. MONTECUCCO
Assistant Attorney General

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