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The Washington Attorney General, as the chief law officer of the state, provides official opinions on questions of law at the request of designated public officials on issues arising in the course of their duties.
While these formal legal opinions are not binding in any way, they have historically been given "great respect" and "great weight" by the courts.
Issuing Attorney General Opinions is just one of the duties of the Washington Attorney General, as the constitutional legal adviser to state officers.
Formal opinions issued by the Office of Attorney General since 1949 can be searched from this site using the links on the right. If you would prefer to review a pdf of all opinions by topic, click here.
I hope that you find this website to be a helpful tool. Please do not hesitate to call my office for further assistance.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson
What is an Attorney General Opinion?
An Attorney General Opinion is a statement of the Attorney General’s official views on a legal question relating to a public officer’s duties. An Attorney General Opinion, also called a “formal opinion”, thus represents the Attorney General’s official position on a point of law.
An Attorney General Opinion is issued at the request of someone authorized to request such an opinion.
Attorney General Opinions are researched much like opinions issued by appellate courts and require a similar analytical and drafting effort. Attorney General Opinions are not binding on the courts, but they are usually given careful consideration and respect.
As an alternative to issuing a “formal opinion”, a request for an Attorney General Opinion may be answered by an informal letter, sometimes called an “informal opinion”. This form of response to an opinion request is explained below under the heading “Are there alternatives to issuing formal opinions?”
Who is entitled to request an Attorney General Opinion?
- Members of the Washington State Legislature.
- Statewide elected officials.
- Appointed heads of state agencies, boards, or commissions.
- County prosecuting attorneys.
Who is not entitled to request an Attorney General Opinion?
- Private citizens.
- Federal officers and employees.
- Officers and employees of county, municipal, and other local governments (except county prosecuting attorneys).
- State agency employees.
What questions are appropriate and inappropriate for an Attorney General Opinion?
The most appropriate use for an Attorney General Opinion is to clarify the interpretation of statutes whose meaning is in dispute or doubt, or which appear to be inconsistent with other state laws. Questions concerning the validity of existing or proposed regulations (WACs) are also appropriate.
The following questions are ones for which an Attorney General Opinion would not be appropriate:
- Questions relating to issues in litigation.
- Questions relating to disputes between private parties.
- Questions seeking to resolve issues of fact or of policy rather than questions of law.
- Questions about the validity of a current state statute or asking whether the state would face liability under a current statute (questions about the validity of a proposed bill or law pending in the legislature, or about liability under such a bill, are acceptable).
- Questions unrelated to the duties and responsibilities of the officer making the request, or questions asked on behalf of persons not entitled to request an Attorney General’s Opinion.
- Questions seeking interpretation of purely federal or purely local laws.
How is an Attorney General Opinion requested?
After reviewing the above guidelines about what questions are and are not appropriate for Attorney General Opinions, a person authorized to request an opinion should submit a written request in letter form addressed to:
PO Box 40100
Olympia, Washington 98504-0100
Indicate any information that may be helpful, including relevant research, statutes, cases, prior opinions, agency rules, and legal memoranda.
Explain why the opinion is needed, how it relates to the requesterʼs duties, and the context in which the issue arises.
Note any special needs for expedited response to the request (request for an expedited response will be considered and accommodated to the extent reasonably feasible).
Are there alternatives to issuing formal opinions?
Yes. The office may issue an informal opinion, which can be produced more quickly and efficiently. Informal opinions are letters that present the considered legal analysis of the Assistant Attorneys General who write them. They also often reflect a consensus of the legal analysis of other staff involved in preparing the informal opinion. They are not personally approved by the Attorney General. The majority of legal advice given by the Attorney Generalʼs Office in response to requests for opinions consists of informal opinions. Formal opinions typically are reserved for highly important issues of broad public significance.
Informal opinions should not be described or cited as “Attorney General Opinions”, since only formal opinions represent the official view of the Attorney General. An informal opinion should be cited as a letter of the attorney who signed the opinion, with a notation of the date and the addressee.
How does the Attorney General process requests for opinions?
- The Attorney Generalʼs Office first determines whether an Attorney General Opinion is the appropriate form of response. A request may be declined if it does not meet the guidelines for an opinion. The response may take the form of an informal letter instead of an Attorney General Opinion, or a request may be referred to a staff attorney for consultation with the requester.
- Formal opinions involve a lengthy process of research and review. Each formal opinion is carefully drafted by the assigned attorney, reviewed by the Opinions Editor, at least one other Assistant Attorney General and, finally, the Attorney General. During the process, the opinion may be revised several times.
- Notice of pending formal opinion requests is published in the Washington State Register. Interested parties may submit information to the Attorney Generalʼs Office relating to pending opinion requests. If submitted in a timely manner, this material will be considered in preparing the opinion.
Where can I find copies of Attorney General Opinions?
- The initial requester will receive the original opinion in letter form. Once received, formal opinions are available to the public.
- Formal opinions are bound and published by the Attorney Generalʼs Office.
- Formal opinions filed since October 1949 are available on the Attorney Generalʼs website at: http://www.atg.wa.gov.
- Copies of formal and informal opinions may be requested by calling the Attorney Generalʼs Office at 360-753-6200 or by letter addressed to:
The Attorney General’s Office
Attn: Opinions Editor
PO Box 40100
Olympia, Washington 98504-0100
Copies of formal opinions filed since 1949 are also available on the Attorney General’s Web site.
Recently filed Supreme Court opinions and Appellate Court opinions (slip opinions) are available at: http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions.
Are all of the opinions posted to this web page current statements of law?
Not necessarily. Although our opinions give our best answer to the question we’re asked as of the date we publish the opinion, it is possible for the law to change, altering the validity of the opinion. The law may change because the Legislature amends the statute we referenced, or enacts a new statute, or a new court decision reaches a different conclusion than the one we reached in the opinion. If we receive a new opinion request on the same topic we might reexamine an older opinion to see if the law has changed, but we do not remove opinions from our website based on later changes in the law.
What are the duties of the Attorney General?
The Attorney General is the constitutional legal adviser to state officers. The specific duties of the office include:
- Representing the State of Washington in the courts in all cases in which the state is interested.
- Defending the state and its agencies and employees when acting in their official capacities.
- Providing advice and representation to state officers and state agencies regarding their duties and functions.
- Preparing written opinions on matters of public importance upon request from certain officers.
- Investigating and/or prosecuting criminal offenses at the request of a county prosecuting attorney or of the governor.
- Protecting the public interest by guarding against unfair trade practices and other harmful behavior through enforcement of consumer protection laws, the antitrust laws, and laws governing charitable trusts and solicitation.
- Proposing and supporting legislation to further the public interest and provide the state with clear, just, and enforceable laws.
For Further Information
Office of the Attorney General
PO Box 40100
Olympia, WA 98504-0100
Supreme Court Temple of Justice
PO Box 40929
Olympia, WA 98504-0929
State Law Librarian
Temple of Justice
PO Box 40751
Olympia, WA 98504-0751
Court of Appeals, State of Washington
One Union Square
600 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101-1176
950 Broadway Suite 300
Tacoma, WA 98402-4454
500 N Cedar Street
Spokane, WA 99201-1905
Locating Opinions on the world wide web
Formal opinions filed since October 1949 are available on the Attorney Generalʼs website at: http://www.atg.wa.gov
Recently filed Supreme Court opinions and Appellate Court opinions (slip opinions) are available online at http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/. Included are both published and unpublished slip opinions, which are maintained on-line for 90 days. All Supreme Court opinions are published.
The Attorney General’s Office has a policy of providing equal access to its services. If you need to receive the information in this brochure in an alternate format, please call (206) 464-6684.
The hearing impaired may call 1-800-833-6388 statewide.
Opinions Guide September 2015
Published by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.