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AGO 1965 No. 41 - September 27, 1965
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


A hospital district or a fire protection district has the authority to expend public funds to provide ambulance service.

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                                                              September 27, 1965

Honorable Robert C. Bailey
State Senator, 19th District
Box 146
South Bend, Washington 98586

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 65-66 No. 41

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested the opinion of this office on two questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) Is it legally permissible for a hospital district to provide ambulance service?

            (2) Is it legally permissible for a fire protection district or any other taxing district to provide ambulance service?

            We answer your first question in the affirmative; your second in the manner set forth in our analysis.


            (1) RCW 70.44.010 provides that:

            "Municipal corporations, to be known as public hospital districts, are hereby authorized and may be established within the several counties of the state . . ."

            RCW 70.44.005 provides:

            "The purpose of this chapter is to authorize the establishment of public hospital districts to own and operate hospitals and to supply hospital service for the residents of such districts and other persons."  (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            A pertinent portion of RCW 70.44.060, defining the powers and duties of hospital districts, is as follows:

            "All public hospital districts organized under the provisions of this chapter shall have power:

            ". . .

            "(2) To construct, condemn and purchase, purchase, acquire, lease, add to, maintain,operate, develop and regulate, sell and convey all lands, property, property rights, equipment, hospital facilities and systems for the maintenance of hospitals, buildings, structures and any and all other facilities, and to exercise the right of eminent domain to effectuate the foregoing purposes . . .

            "(3) To lease existing hospital and equipment and/or other property used in connection therewith, . . .

            "(4) For the purpose aforesaid, it shall be lawful for any district so organized to take, condemn and purchase, lease, or acquire, any and all property, and property rights, including state and county lands, for any of the purposes aforesaid,and any and all other facilities necessary or convenient, and in connection with the construction, maintenance, and operation of any such hospital."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            As a general rule, a municipal corporation has only the powers granted expressly to it, or necessarily implied from the powers granted.  Pacific Etc. Ass'n v. Pierce County, 27 Wn.2d 347, 178 P.2d 351 (1947).

            Although the cited statutory provisions delimiting the powers of hospital districts do not contain an express grant of power to provide ambulance service, it is our opinion that such power is necessarily implied from the powers expressly granted.  Certainly ambulance service is an integral part of "hospital service" (cf. RCW 70.44.005).  An even clearer definition of legislative intent is contained in the section cited authorizing the hospital district to lease "other property used in connection therewith."  (RCW 70.44.060 (3)).  Furthermore, any notion of restrictive interpretation is dispelled in RCW 70.44.060 (4):

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            ". . . it shall be lawful for any district . . . to . . . purchase, lease, or acquire, any and all property, . . . and any and all other facilities necessary or convenient, . . . in connection with the . . . operation of any such hospital."

            Reading all of these statutes together we believe it is clear that the legislature was speaking of "hospital" in terms of an institution rather than a structure.

            In accord with the foregoing analysis, it is the opinion of this office that a hospital district may provide ambulance service.

            (2) The question of whether or not a fire protection district may own and operate an ambulance business has previously been answered in the affirmative by this office (AGO 53-55-121 [[to W. J. Beierlein, State Representative on August 24, 1953]], a copy of which is attached).  We adhere to this conclusion.

            As to other taxing districts, it would be impossible for us to determine the powers of such a district without reference to the express statutory language or the resultant implied powers.  We are therefore unable to comment concerning the possibilities of providing ambulance service through other taxing districts.1/

             We trust that this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Other opinions concerning the operation of ambulances by public bodies are:  AGO 47-49 No. 502 [[to Division of Municipal Corporations on January 3, 1949]](operation of ambulance as proper function of a town of the fourth class); AGO 61-62 No. 72 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Clark County on October 11, 1961]](subject to certain limitations, city of third class may operate ambulance).

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