Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1952 No. 394 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


County sheriff can obtain car for the purpose of carrying out duties as elective official without consent of county commissioners if within the budget‑-sheriff not county liable for lack of emergency equipment on car‑-sheriff has responsibility to keep car ready for emergency use.

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                                                               September 4, 1952

Honorable John Panesko
Prosecuting Attorney
Lewis County
Chehalis, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 394

Dear Sir:

            We acknowledge receipt of your letter of July 2, 1952, requesting the opinion of this office on the following questions:

            1. Can the sheriff's office demand a car from the county car pool or hire a private car if none is available to carry out the duties of the sheriff's office as long as this is within the budget?

            2. Who is responsible in case there is an emergency and sufficient equipment is not available?

            3. If cars issued for emergency work must be kept in safe driving condition, who is responsible for seeing that this equipment is in a safe driving condition for emergency use?

            Our conclusions are as follows:

            1.         Yes.

            2.         The sheriff's office is responsible.

            3.         It is the responsibility of the sheriff.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]


            Section 1, chapter 37, Laws of 1927, RCW 36.16.030, provides as follows:

            "In every county there shall be elected from among the qualified voters of the county a county assessor, a county auditor, a county clerk, a county coroner, three county commissioners, a county prosecuting attorney, a county sheriff, a county superintendent of schools and a county treasurer: * * *."

            The Supreme Court of the State of Washington in State ex rel. Taylor v. Superior Court, 2 Wn. (2d) 575, 98 P. (2d) 985, in discussing the powers and duties of such officers said:

            "The respondent officers are independent elective officers and are not in any way subordinate to the county commissioners, but responsible only to the people of their county.

            "The individuals holding these offices are required by law to perform certain definite governmental duties.  It is a well recognized rule that a general grant of power or statutory direction to perform official duties, unaccompanied by definite directions as to how the power is to be exercised or the duty performed, implies the right and duty to employ the means and methods necessary to comply with the statutory requirements.  * * *"

            The county sheriff has mandatory duties to perform as outlined in section 2801, Code of 1881, RCW 36.28.010, which require the use of an automobile in many instances.  If the sheriff fails to perform these duties or unlawfully performs them, he is, by the expressed wording of this statute outlining his duties, liable on his bond.  The county itself is not so liable.  Therefore, it follows that in the instant case the sheriff is entitled to obtain the use of an automobile from the county pool or in the alternative to rent one, if this will not exceed the budget allowance made to the sheriff's office by the county commissioners.  See also in this regardState v. Major, 50 Wash. 355, 97 Pac. 249.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            This office is not acquainted with the needs of the sheriff's office of Lewis County for an additional automobile.  However, we note that the county commissioners are by statute the business managers of the county as defined by section 2687, Code of 1881, section (6) RCW 36.32.120.  InState v. Gleason, 182 Wash. 181, 45 P. (2d) 610, our Supreme Court held that the county commissioners could not be required to increase budgets of elective county officials where they did not act arbitrarily and capriciously.

            Before taking the action contemplated, it would be advisable for the sheriff to place his demand before the county commissioners outlining the need of an automobile to carry out the duties of his office, and ask for a hearing on the subject.

            The answer to question one expressly follows the enclosed opinion of this office of August 20, 1942, to the Division of Municipal Corporations.

            The sheriff's office in our opinion would be liable in the event of an emergency and sufficient equipment was not available.  This presupposes that the omission of such equipment would be provable nonfeasance conduct.  The county certainly would not be liable.  Section 2801, Code of 1881, RCW 36.28.010.

            The enumerated duties of the sheriff's office set out in RCW 36.28.010,supra, necessarily carry with it the duty to provide the means of carrying out these duties.  On this point the opinion of this office dated January 10, 1928, to the Prosecuting Attorney of Cowlitz County is enclosed for your information.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General