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AGO 1959 No. 65 - September 11, 1959
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS - COUNTY AUDITOR - STATUTORY FEES FOR FILING AND INDEXING INTERNAL REVENUE TAX LIEN NOTICES AND CERTIFICATES OF DISCHARGE.

Section 6, chapter 263, Laws of 1959, prescribing the fees to be collected by the county auditors for their official services does not supersede § 1, chapter 250, Laws of 1955, which prescribes the fee the auditor should receive for filing and indexing internal revenue tax lien notices and certificates of discharge.

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                                                              September 11, 1959

Honorable Victor A. Meyers
Secretary of State
Legislative Building                                                                                             Cite as:  AGO 59-60 NO. 65
Olympia, Washington

Dear Sir:

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

            Does § 6 of chapter 263, Laws of 1959, (amending RCW 36.18.010) which prescribes the fees to be collected by the county auditors for their official services, supersede § 1, chapter 250, Laws of 1955, (RCW 60.68.040) which prescribes the fee the auditor shall receive for filing and indexing internal revenue tax lien notices and certificates of discharge?

            We answer your question in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Section 6, chapter 263, Laws of 1959, which amends RCW 36.18.010, provides in part as follows:

            "County auditors shall collect the following fees for their official services:  For filing each chattel mortgage, renewal affidavit, or conditional sale contract, and entering same as  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] required by law, two dollars; for each assignment, modification, transfer, correction or release of chattel mortgage, conditional sale contract, or miscellaneous instrument, one dollar;

            "For filing a release of chattel mortgage, conditional sale contract,or miscellaneous instrument, one dollarProvided, That said fee shall be paid at the time of filing the chattel mortgage, conditional sale contract, or miscellaneous instrument, and no charge shall be made when the release of any of the above instruments is filed;

            ". . .

            "For filing of miscellaneous records, not listed above,two dollars; . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            Section 1, chapter 250, Laws of 1955 (cf. RCW 60.68.040), which relates to internal revenue tax liens, provides:

            "The auditor shall receiveone dollar for filing and indexing each notice of lien, andfifty cents for each certificate of discharge."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            You have advised us that:

            ". . . several of the county auditors have assumed that the tax liens filed by the Collector of Internal Revenue pursuant to Chapter 60.68 RCW are not only subject to this new fee schedule but that the release fee of such tax liens are to be paid in advance.

            "Other county auditors believe that the provision of the tenth paragraph of said Section 6 apply which reads:

            "'For filing of miscellaneous records, not listed above, two dollars.'  (Emphasis ours)"

            You indicate, however, that your office is of the opinion that § 6, above, does not apply and that RCW 60.68.040 determines the filing fee and time of payment of internal revenue tax lien notices and certificates of discharge.  As noted above, we agree.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            When reading the statutes, we must bear in mind that the essence, or vital element of any statute is the intention of the legislature which enacted it.  Layton v. Home Indemnity Co., 9 Wn. (2d) 25, 113 P. (2d) 538 (1941).  If the language of a statute is plain, free from ambiguity, and devoid of uncertainty, there is no room for construction or interpretation for the meaning will be discovered from the wording of the statute itself.  State v. Houck, 32 Wn. (2d) 681, 203 P. (2d) 693 (1949).  It is only when a statute falls within the domain of ambiguity that we resort to construction or interpretation.  See 82 C.J.S. 527, Statutes, § 311.  Then, the fundamental object of such construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature.  Graffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn. (2d) 390, 191 P. (2d) 858 (1948).

            In view of the different interpretations given to the two statutes, set forth above, by the various county auditors, we will assume, arguendo, that there is an ambiguity.

            To aid in resolving questions which arise out of statutes that are ambiguous in order that the legislative intent may be ascertained, the courts and legal text writers, long ago, established basic rules, maxims or canons of statutory construction.  The legislature is presumed to be familiar with these rules.  State ex rel. Gebhardt v. Superior Court, 15 Wn. (2d) 673, 131 P. (2d) 943 (1943).  Rules of statutory construction pertinent to the problem at hand are as follows:

            (1) The legislature is presumed to have passed a statute with full knowledge of existing statutes.  State v. Thornbury, 190 Wash. 549, 69 P. (2d) 815 (1937).

            (2) The repeal of a statute by implication is not favored; the courts will seek to harmonize the laws and preserve them rather than declare them abrogated or repealed.  Meade v. French, 4 Wash. 11 (1892).

            ". . . a later act will not operate to repeal an earlier act except in such instances where the later act covers the entire subject matter of the earlier legislation, is complete in itself, and is evidently intended to supersede the prior legislation on the subject, or unless the two acts are so clearly inconsistent with, and repugnant to, each other that they cannot, by a fair and reasonable construction, be reconciled and both given effect. . . ."Abel v. Diking & Drainage Imp. Dist. 19 Wn. (2d) 356 363, 142 P. (2d) 1017.

            (3) There is a duty to construe two statutes dealing with the same subject so as to maintain the integrity of both.  DeGrief v. Seattle, 50 Wn. (2d) 1, 297 P. (2d) 940 (1956).  Seemingly conflicting statutes will be so  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] interpreted as to make them both effective if possible.  State ex rel. Moulton v. City of Spokane, 174 Wash. 679, 26 P. (2d) 89 (1933).

            "Statutes inpari materia must be construed together.  Statutes inpari materia are those which relate to the same person or thing, or the same class of persons or things; and in construing a statute, or statutes, all acts relating to the same subject matter or having the same purpose, should be read in connection therewith as together constituting one law.  The object of the rule is to ascertain and carry into effect the intent of the legislature, and it proceeds upon the supposition that the several statutes having to do with related subject matters were governed by one spirit or policy, and were intended to be consistent and harmonious in their several parts and provisions. . . ."State v. Houck, 32 Wn. (2d) 681, 684, 203 P. (2d) 693 (1949).

            (4) Where there are concurrent general and special laws, the special law applies to the exclusion of the general law.  State v. Becker, 39 Wn. (2d) 94, 234 P. (2d) 897 (1951).

            ". . . Endlich on the Interpretation of Statutes, § 223, thus announces the rule:

            "'It is but a particular application of the general presumption against an intention to alter the law beyond the immediate scope of the statute, to say that a general act is to be construed as not repealing a particular one. . . . It is usually presumed to have only general cases in view, and not particular cases which have been already otherwise provided for by the special act, or what is the same thing, by a local custom.  Having already given its attention to the particular subject, and provided for it, the legislature is reasonably presumed not to intend to alter that special provision by a subsequent general enactment, unless that intention is manifested in explicit language, or there be something which shows that the attention of the legislature had been turned to that special act, and that the general one was  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] intended to embrace the special cases within the previous one; or something in the nature of the general one making it unlikely that an exception was intended as regards the special act.  The general statute is read as silently excluding from its operation the cases which have been provided for by the special one. . . . The fact that the general act contains a clause repealing acts inconsistent with it does not diminish the force of this rule of construction.'"  State ex rel. Johnson v. Clausen, 51 Wash. 548, 555, 99 Pac. 743 (1909).

            Clearly, the two statutes in question are in pari materia; both relate to fees to be charged by the county auditors for their official services.  Accordingly, if the two are read together as constituting one law, and in such a manner as to render them consistent and harmonious, it is apparent that the terms "miscellaneous instrument" or "miscellaneous records" used in § 6, above, do not include the internal revenue tax notices and certificates of discharge enumerated in RCW 60.68.040.

            Or, if we construe § 6, above, as a general statute prescribing fees to be charged by the county auditors and RCW 60.68.040 as a special statute prescribing the fees to be charged by the auditor for filing and indexing particular instruments not expressly enumerated in § 6, the result is the same.  Under the rule set forth above, the special act applies to the exclusion of the general.

            Thereby, it is our opinion that § 6, chapter 263, Laws of 1959, does not supersede § 1, chapter 250, Laws of 1955 and RCW 60.68.040.  Consequently, the county auditors should determine the fee for filing internal revenue tax notices and certificates of discharge of said liens, and the time for payment thereof, by reference to RCW 60.68.040 (§ 1, chapter 250, Laws of 1955) rather than the newly enacted § 6, chapter 263, Laws of 1959.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

PHILIP R. MEADE
Assistant Attorney General

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