Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1952 No. 378 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


Upon receipt of proof of sheriff's sale on execution of judgment on chattel lien the director shall issue certificate of ownership to the purchaser at said sale unless restrained by order of the superior court of Thurston County.

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                                                                 August 13, 1952

Honorable Della Urquhart
Director of Licenses
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 378

Dear Madam:

            We acknowledge receipt of your request of June 25, 1952, for an opinion of this office on the following questions:

            "When a vehicle is sold under execution of a judgment or by chattel lien foreclosure through the sheriff, or by a garage owner for a storage lien, and information is received in this office of an outstanding lien of record, will we accept a restraining order from a court of law other than Thurston County Superior Court?

            "Without a restraining order, would we be obliged to hold up the application filed by the purchaser for transfer of ownership until the outstanding lien had been cleared?"

            Our conclusions are stated as follows:

            No order grated restraining the director of licenses from making transfer of ownership to the purchaser under sheriff's sale pursuant to execution of a judgment or lien foreclosure by any court other than the superior court of  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] Thurston County validly restrains the department of licenses or the director thereof.

            Without a valid restraining order the director of licenses is required to issue new certificates of ownership and of registration to the purchaser under the sheriff's sale showing such purchaser has legal ownership or as the registered owner when there is an outstanding chattel mortgage against such vehicle in which case the mortgagee will be legal owner, and the purchaser the registered owner.


            Chapter 46.12 RCW sets out the law on the licensing of motor vehicles under the supervision and control of the director of licenses whereby certificates of ownership and license registration, both issued by the director, are provided for.  RCW 46.12.130 providing for transfer of ownership and issuance of a certificate therefor by operation of law provides as follows:

            "Certificates of ownership when assigned and returned to the director, together with subsequently assigned reissues thereof, shall be retained by the director and appropriately filed and indexed so that at all times it will be possible to trace ownership to the vehicle designated therein.

            "When the ownership of a vehicle passes by operation of law, the person thus acquiring ownership shall upon furnishing satisfactory proof to the director of his ownership, procure the issuance of a certificate of ownership to the vehicle, regardless of whether a certificate of ownership has ever been issued:  Provided, That in all cases of application for the reissue of certificates of ownership or certificates of license registration, or either, by reason of transfer of legal ownership or registered ownership by operation of law, the director shall give written notice thereof to both the legal owner and the registered owner, by mail, postage prepaid, at his or their last given address, which notice shall require the surrender of certificates of ownership or license registration, or both, within ten days from the date of posting the letter.  In the event that the certificates, or either of them, have  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] not been surrendered to the director within ten days from and after the date of posting the letter, the certificates or either of them shall become void and the director shall pass upon the application without regard for the outstanding certificates or either of them,unless restrained from so doing."  (Emphasis supplied)

            (Note the portion underlined by us referring to the director being restrained.)

            RCW 46.12.160 provides in part:

            "If the director determines at any time that an applicant for certificate of ownership or for a certificate of license registration for a vehicle is not entitled thereto, he may refuse to issue such certificate or to license the vehicle and he may, for like reason, after notice, and in the exercise of discretion, cancel license registration already acquired or any outstanding certificate or ownership.  The notice shall be served personally or by registered mail.  * * *"

            Nowhere, however, are there any statutory provisions requiring the director to issue a certificate showing interests of lien holders such as claimants under repairmen's, materialmen's or storage liens.  In fact, according toMcLaughlin v. Zarbell, 29 Wn. (2d) 817, 190 P. (2d) 114, such lien claimant is not required to file such lien with the director of licenses.  Since only the registered owner [equitable owner of the vehicle] and legal owner [chattel mortgagee or conditional sales vendor] are provided for in the above cited statutes, there appears to be no authority in the director to acknowledge the existence of any other liens on said certificates; and it follows that the director, upon being supplied with proof of sheriff's sale on execution of a judgment or chattel lien foreclosure shall issue a new certificate of ownership showing the purchaser at the sale as the new legal owner.  If there is a chattel mortgage on the records and presently in effect the mortgagee shall continue on the certificate as legal owner since a sheriff's sale passes only the interest of the owner debtor and does not invalidate any prior security title of the conditional sales vendor or chattel mortgagee.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            If, however, before issuance of such certificate the superior court of Thurston County grants a restraining order against the director no certificate shall be issued until ordered to do so by said court.  You will note that the legislature anticipated that the director might be restrained but there is nothing in the act which would intimate that the law placing exclusive venue in the Thurston County superior court on suits against the state [with certain exceptions not important here] was not in full force and effect.  Therefore, in order validly to restrain the director, the state and the director as licensing agent thereof, must be named as parties defendant in the action (see RCW 7.40.020, et seq.) and in order to secure the necessary venue said action must be filed in accordance with RCW 4.92.010, requiring filing in the Thurston County superior court only, and a restraining order from any other superior court would not be operative upon the state and for its official agents such as the director of licenses.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General