Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1965 No. 32 - August 18, 1965
AGO Opinion Header Image
John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


MOTOR VEHICLES ‑- HOUSE TRAILERS ‑- EXCISE TAX ‑- VEHICLE LICENSE FEES ‑- NONRESIDENT MILITARY PERSONNEL ‑- SOLDIERS AND SAILORS CIVIL RELIEF ACT.

(1) The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act of 1940 exempts house trailers owned by nonresident military personnel from the excise tax imposed by RCW 82.50.020.        

(2) The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act does not exempt the house trailer of nonresident military personnel from the license fee requirement of RCW 46.16.010, et seq. when the house trailer is moved over and along the public highways of this state.

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

                                                                 August 18, 1965

Honorable Paul Klasen
Prosecuting Attorney
Grant County Court House
Ephrata, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 65-66 No. 32

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office relative to the application of § 574, 50 U.S.C.A. (Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act of 1940) to the imposition of certain state excise taxes and license fees against house trailers owned by nonresident military personnel.  Specifically, you have asked, in effect:

            (1) Does the civil relief act exempt such a nonresident's house trailer from the excise tax required by RCW 82.50.020?

            (2) Does the civil relief act exempt such a nonresident's house trailer from the vehicle license fee requirement of RCW 46.16.010, et seq., when the house trailer is moved over and along a public highway of this state?

            Question (1) is answered in the affirmative, and question (2) in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Question (1):

            Your first question has been previously answered by this office in AGO 57-58 No. 128 [[to Washington State Tax Commission October 29, 1957]], copy enclosed, wherein we office in AGO 57-58 No. 128, copy enclosed, wherein we  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] first noted that an excise tax on house trailers is imposed in our state by § 2, chapter 269, Laws of 1957 (cf. RCW 82.50.020).  In order to determine the application of this tax to house trailers owned by nonresident military personnel we then noted the pertinent portion of the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act (50 U.S.C.A. 574) as follows:

            "(1) For the purposes of taxation in respect of any person, or of his personal property, income, or gross income, by any State, . . . such person shall not be deemed to have lost a residence or domicile in any State, Territory, possession, or political subdivision . . . solely by reason of being absent therefrom in compliance with military or naval orders, or to have acquired a residence or domicile in, or to have become resident in or a resident of, any other State, Territory, possession, . . . while, and solely by reason of being, so absent.  For the purposes of taxation in respect of the personal property, income, or gross income of any such person . . . personal property shall not be deemed to be located or present in or to have a situs for taxation in such State, Territory, possession, or political subdivision . . .Provided, That nothing contained in this section shall prevent taxation by any State, Territory, possession, or political subdivision of any of the foregoing, . . . in respect of personal property used in or arising from a trade of business, . . .

            "(2) When used in this section, (a) the term 'personal property' shall include tangible and intangible property (including motor vehicles), and (b) the term 'taxation' shall include but not be limited to licenses, fees, or excises imposed in respect to motor vehicles or the use thereof: Provided, That the license, fee, or excise required by the State, Territory, possession, or District of Columbia of which the person is a resident or in which he is domiciled has been paid."

            We thereupon concluded:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "From the above provisions of the federal act, it is clear that Congress has granted certain tax immunity to the personal property and income of nonresident military personnel who are required by military orders to be absent from the state of their residence or domicile.  The term 'personal property' above is broad enough to include house trailers.

            ". . .

            "Accordingly, . . . it is our opinion that the provisions of the Federal Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, supra, exempt nonresident military personnel from the state's house trailer excise tax, provided the house trailer is not used in a trade or business."

            We adhere to that conclusion and accordingly, answer your first question, as paraphrased, in the affirmative.

            Question (2):

            Your second question, relative to the necessity (in the case of nonresident military personnel) of obtaining a vehicle license (and paying the license fee) required by RCW 46.16.010, et seq., in order to move a house trailer over and along a public highway of this state, was also considered in AGO 57-58 No. 128,supra.  We noted that by virtue of subsection (2) of 50 U.S.C.A. § 574, supra, the term "taxation" (for purposes of the nonresident military personnel tax exemption granted by subsection (1))

            ". . . shall include . . . licenses, fees or excises imposed in respect tomotor vehicles or the use thereof: . . ."  (Emphasis supplied)

            However, we concluded that

            ". . . house trailers are not 'motor vehicles' within the terms of the Federal Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act (50 U.S.C.A. App. § 574)supra, and likewise are not 'motor vehicles' within § 18, chapter 269, Laws of 1957 (RCW 82.44.010), and accordingly nonresident servicemen desiring to move unlicensed house trailers over our highways must first secure license plates and pay the . . . fee provided therefor . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            We likewise adhere to this conclusion.1/   AGO 63-64 No. 72, [[to C. W. "Red" Beck, State Representative]], subsequently issued on December 5, 1963, and concluding that the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act,supra, exempts nonresident military personnel from the licensing requirements of RCW 46.16.010, et seq., supra, as well as from excise tax requirements2/ was concerned with and only applies to motor vehicles3/ and has no application to house trailers.4/

             We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

M. H. HEMMEN
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Notably, however, operation along Washington's highways when a trailer is licensed in another state can be lawful in any event if it falls within the provisions relating to reciprocity under RCW 46.16.030.  This statutory provision, it should be noted, operates completely independent of the Federal Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act.

2/Provided they pay all motor vehicle or excise taxes and fees required by their state of residence or domicile.

3/RCW 46.04.320 defines "motor vehicle" to mean ". . . every vehicle which is self-propelled and every vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolly wires, but not operated upon rails."

4/Clearly a house trailer, though not a motor vehicle, is a vehicle as defined by RCW 46.04.670, which reads:

            "'Vehicle' includes every device capable of being moved upon a public highway and in, upon, or by which any persons or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, excepting devices moved by human or animal power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks."

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo