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Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1951 No. 186 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


A fourth class town is included in a statute dealing with cities of any class.

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                                                                December 5, 1951

Honorable Julia Butler Hansen
Cathlamet, Washington                                                                                                   Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 186

Dear Mrs. Hansen:

            Receipt is acknowledged of your letter of November 17, 1951, in which you request our opinion upon the question:

            "Where legislation defines 'city' as meaning 'any city of any class,' are towns included in the definition and, therefore, are they within the scope of the legislation?"

            It is our conclusion that legislation referring to any city of any class also applies to towns.


            In your letter of request reference is made to the immediate problem of the town of Kalama which has made a declaration of need for a housing authority to function pursuant to chapter 23, Laws of 1939 (Rem. Rev. Stat. § 6889-1 to § 6889-26).  The housing authority statute applies to cities which are defined in the act as follows:

            "'City' shall mean any city of any class.  * * *"

            Kalama is a fourth class town.  It is covered by the statute only if the definition is broad enough to refer to towns.  By statute municipal corporations are divided into four classes.  Section XI of the Laws of 1890 (Rem. Rev. Stat. § 8932) provides:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "Municipal corporations are divided into cities and towns; cities are divided into three classes:  first, second, and third."

            In spite of this reference to cities and towns separately, the legislature, over a period of many years, has used the terms "city" and "town," interchangeably in legislation.  Your letter points out some forty-four instances of statutes using these terms interchangeably.  Also, your letter points out that in the case of State ex rel. Stimson Mill v. Harbor Line Commissioners, 4 Wash. 6, our Supreme Court held that the word "city" contained in the original section 1, Article XV of the Constitution applied to fourth class towns.  The only case which has come to our attention in which our Supreme Court has made a distinction between cities and towns in regard to legislation having reference to cities, isState ex rel. Czerny v. Superior Court, 70 Wash. 592, 127 Pac. 207.  There the court had before it a statute reading:

            "'The persons signing such a petition shall state their post office address, the name of the precinct in which they reside, and in case the subscriber be a resident of a city, the street and house number, if any, of his residence * * *'"

            The court there held that the legislature used the term "city" advisedly having in mind the fact that towns are small places and that street addresses are not necessary.  In our opinion the court in that case merely held that the whole surrounding circumstances were such as to indicate that the legislature intended to refer only to such municipal corporations as were included within the technical term "cities."  This case has never been cited subsequently, and, we believe, is no authority generally to indicate legislation dealing with cities does not apply to towns.  The practice of the legislature in using the terms indiscriminately is demonstrated by the fact that there is virtually no legislation on most of the important subjects specifically referring to towns.

            The failure to legislate specifically for towns convinces us that the legislature included them in its legislation relative to cities.

            In summary, it is our opinion that the legislature generally includes fourth class towns, as well as cities of the first, second and third classes, when it uses the language "cities of any class."

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General