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Bob Ferguson

AGO 1951 No. 5 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


Chapter 231, Laws of 1951 is retroactive and exempts veterans' bonuses from garnishment irregardless of the date such writ was served.

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                                                                    April 4, 1951

Honorable Cliff Yelle
State Auditor
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                     Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 5

Attention:  F. D. Keister

Dear Sir:

            We have your letter of March 26, 1951 requesting our opinion on the following question:

            Does chapter 231, Laws of 1951, exempting the Veterans' bonus from garnishment, apply to the writs of garnishment served upon your office prior to the effective date of this law?

            Our conclusion may be summarized as follows:

            Chapter 231, Laws of 1951 is retroactive and exempts veterans' bonuses from garnishment regardless of the date such writs were served.


            Whether a statute operates retrospectively as well as prospectively is dependent upon the intent of the legislature.  The rule is set out in 50 Am.Jur. 501, and reads as follows:

            "Particular statutes or amendments are sometimes construed to have a retrospective effect, and even to apply to proceedings pending at the time of the enactment.  A retrospective operation is given  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] to a statute or amendment where the intent that it should so operate clearly appears from a consideration of the act as a whole, or from the terms thereof which unqualifiedly give the statute a retrospective operation, or imperatively require such a construction, or negative the idea that it is to apply only to future cases.  The rule that statutes or amendments are to be given a prospective operation merely, like all other rules of interpretation, is only resorted to to give effect to the presumed and reasonably probable intention of the legislature, when the terms of the statute or amendment do not of themselves make the intention certain or clear, and cannot be invoked to change or defeat the intention when it is made obvious or manifest by the terms of the statute or amendment.  If it is unmistakable that an act was intended to operate retrospectively, that intention is controlling as to interpretation of the statute, even though it is not expressly so stated, and even though it thereby becomes invalid because it conflicts with constitutional prohibitions of retrospective legislation, the impairment of contracts, or the disturbing of vested rights.  * * *"

            The Washington court had occasion to pass upon legislation which explicitly directed that it was to be retroactive in In Re Fotheringham's Estate, 183 Wash. 579, 49 P. (2d) 480.  TheEn Banc. decision of the court sustained the retroactive provision of the statute there involved and in the course of its decision stated at page 585:

            "In view of the clear and explicit language of § 124, there can be no question as to its meaning or effect, if the section be held to be valid.  It is apparent that the section is retrospective in its view and retroactive in its effect.  * * *"

            and at page 586 the court stated:

            "It is undoubtedly the rule in this state that retroactive statutes are generally regarded with disfavor, and unless it clearly appears  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] that such was the legislative intent, the court will not give the statute a retroactive effect, where to do so would impair existing rights.  Bruenn v. North Yakima School Dist. No. 7, 101 Wash. 374, 172 Pac. 569.

            "But neither of the conditions upon which that rule rests is present here.  In the first place, the legislature has clearly expressed its intent that the statute shall operate retroactively.  In the second place, the statute does not impair existing rights of the legatees and devisees, because what rights they have are subject to the right of the state to impose inheritance taxes.  * * *"

            and in holding that the retrospective operation of a law is dependent upon the intent of the legislature, the court stated at page 588:

            "The legislature having the power, and, pursuant thereto, having explicitly declared its intention, to pass an inheritance tax law which should have a retroactive effect, it only remains to give effect to what the legislature has prescribed."

            Chapter 231, Laws of 1951, provides as follows:

            "Section 1. There is hereby added to Chapter 73.32 of the Revised Code of Washington, derived from Chapter 180, Laws of 1949, a new section to read as follows:

            "All sums paid as bonuses under this chapter shall, when received, be the separate property of the person entitled thereto and shall not be subject to assignment.  All bonuses herein provided for shall be exempt from garnishment, attachment or other legal process, except that whenever an application for the bonus shall have been filed with the state auditor, a court, in any case involving the support of minor children,  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] may direct the payment by the state auditor into the registry of the court for such disposition as the court may determine of the amount due or any portion thereof.

            "Sec. 2. This act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety and shall take effect immediately."

            The language of this statute appears clear, that:

            "* * *All bonuses herein provided for shall be exempt from garnishment, * * *" (Emphasis supplied)

            Thus, the legislature intended, and the statute must have, a retroactive effect.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General