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AGO 1963 No. 20 - April 23, 1963
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTIES ‑- LIABILITY ‑- COMMITMENT OF MENTALLY ILL UNDER CHAPTER 71.02 RCW IN STATE HOSPITAL ‑- DELAY IN TRANSPORTING PATIENT TO HOSPITAL.

Where a person is found mentally ill in proceedings brought under chapter 71.02 RCW and committed to a state hospital, the state and not the county is liable for the cost of detention for any period of time which elapses between the entry of the order of hospitalization and the time an ambulance arrives to transport the patient to a state hospital.

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                                                                   April 23, 1963

Honorable Lincoln E. Shropshire
Prosecuting Attorney
Yakima County
Yakima, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 20

Dear Sir:

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

            Where a person is found mentally ill in proceedings brought under chapter 71.02 RCW (chapter 25, Laws of 1959), and committed to a state hospital, and a period of time lapses between entry of the order of hospitalization and the time an ambulance arrives to transport the patient to a state hospital, can the county be held liable for the cost of detention during such period?

            We answer your question in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Your question specifically concerns the liability for "detention pending proceedings" imposed on the county by RCW 71.02.230, which states:

            "After a person has been found mentally ill under RCW 71.02.200, the court shall, after reasonable notice of the time, place and purpose of the hearing has been given to persons subject to liability under this section,  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] inquire into the ability of the person's estate, or his spouse, parents or children, or any combination thereof, to pay the charges for transportation and hospitalization in a state hospital, detention pending proceedings, and court costs.  If the court finds that the patient's estate or above‑named relatives, or combination thereof, are able to pay such charges or any part thereof, an order to such effect shall be entered.  If the court finds that neither the patient's estate nor said relatives are able to pay the charge for transportation to and hospitalization in a state hospital, such costs shall be borne by the state of Washington.  If the court finds that neither the patient's estate nor above relatives can pay charges for detention pending proceedings or court costs, such costs shall be borne by the county.  When a patient is a resident of another county, the committing county shall recover from the county of the patient's residence all costs and expenses of the patient's detention and commitment."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In defining statutory language the intention of the legislature must be determined by reading the statutory text as a whole and by reference to other parts of the act to ascertain the meaning of doubtful or ambiguous expressions.  In re Bracken's Estate, 56 Wn. (2d) 17, 19, 351 P. (2d) 151 (1960); Sutherland, Statutory Construction, 3rd ed., Vol. 2, § 4703.  Certainly, the words "pending proceedings" are not words of such art or of such common meaning that the phrase can be separated from its context and divorced from the rest of RCW 71.02.230 or from other sections of the same act without doubt as to its meaning and effect.

            However, it is our opinion that any question as to the meaning of the term in relation to the issue presented is precluded by RCW 71.02.290, which provides as follows:

            "The department [of institutions] shall be charged with the execution of orders of hospitalization at state hospitals and orders directing payment of hospitalization charges at such hospitals, including the transportation of persons so hospitalized."  (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Our supreme court has specifically held that a judgment becomes operative from the time of its entry.  Cinebar Coal & Coke Co. v. Robinson, 1 Wn. (2d) 620, 623, 97 P. (2d) 128 (1939).  Assuming that in entering the order of hospitalization, the court directs the patient to be transported and hospitalized at a state hospital without express provision for any lapse of time or other condition precedent to the order taking effect, both law and logic compel the conclusion that there can be no time lapse between entry of the order and the vesting of the duty to execute the order.  It follows that if the duty to transport the patient to a state hospital rests in the department of institutions immediately upon entry of the order, any detention of the patient that occurs thereafter must of necessity be deemed a part of and incidental to the transportation of such patient to the state hospital.

            It is therefore the opinion of this office that the term "detention pending proceedings" as used in RCW 71.02.230 must be construed to impose liability on the county only for the charges of detention prior to entry of the order of hospitalization, and that the cost of any detention occurring thereafter must be viewed as an expense incident to transportation, to be borne as such according to the provisions of RCW 71.02.230.

            In passing it should be mentioned that in order to avoid any administrative problems arising between the various counties and the department of institutions regarding transportation of patients, we suggest that notice of the order of hospitalization be given the designated state hospital immediately upon the entry thereof.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

GERALD C. WEAVER
Assistant Attorney General

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