Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1965 No. 57 -
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


Section 2, chapter 153, Laws of 1965, of the escrow agent registration act, exempts title insurance companies that engage in the escrow business from the provisions of the act but does not similarly exempt title companies.

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                                                               December 14, 1965

Honorable W. A. Gissberg
State Senator, 39th District
Route 1, Box 41
Lake Stevens, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 65-66 No. 57

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on a question which we have paraphrased as follows:

            Does § 2 of chapter 153, Laws of 1965 (the escrow agent registration act) which grants a blanket exemption to title insurance companies that engage in the escrow business, thereby grant the same exemption to title companies that engage in the escrow business?

            We answer your question in the negative.


            During its last regular session, the legislature enacted chapter 153, Laws of 1965, which provides for the registration and regulation of escrow companies and agents.  The law provides in part that it shall be unlawful for any person to engage in the escrow business unless he has registered with the director of motor vehicles.  A number of persons, however, are exempted from the act's provisions.  Among those exempted are title insurance companies.  Section 2 provides in part that:

            ". . . the registration requirements of this act shall not apply to:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "(1) Any person doing business under the law of this state . . . relating to . . . title insurance companies, . . ."

            It is an accepted principle of statutory construction that when a statute expressly refers to a person or persons, it is the intent of the legislature to exclude all other persons, i.e., expressio unius est exclusio alterius.  This principle, however, operates conversely where there is an exception to the statute.  In such cases, the expressed exclusion of one person or persons, means that the legislature intended to include all others, i.e., expressio unius est inclusio alterius.  See, Sutherland, Statutory Construction, § 49.15 (1943), and State ex rel. Port of Seattle v. Department of Public Service, 1 Wn.2d 102, 112, 95 P.2d 1007 (1939).

            Applying the above statutory construction rules to the present case, we must conclude that the legislature, when it expressly excluded title insurance companies and other persons, meant to include those persons which it did not mention such as title companies.

            An examination of the nature of the escrow agents registration act reinforces this conclusion.  The act is designed to impose certain regulations on persons engaged in the escrow business so as to protect the public.  The filing of character affidavits, of a fidelity bond, and in some cases of an assumed name certificate, illustrate this purpose.

            It is a general rule of statutory construction that statutes regulating activities in order to protect the public are construed broadly; and conversely that exceptions to such statutes are construed strictly.  See, Crawford, Statutory Construction, § 299 (1940); also, In re Monks Club, Inc., 64 Wn.2d 845, 849, 394 P.2d 804 (1964), and cases cited therein.

            This principle is designed to give the public the greatest possible protection.

            In the present case, the legislature specifically listed certain classes that it wanted to exempt, including title insurance companies.  The classes which the legislature exempted from the regulation of the escrow agent registration act are already under some form of regulation.  In the case of title insurance companies, that regulation is  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] contained in chapter 48.29 RCW.  Title companies are not under any regulation, and are in fact, excluded from the coverage of the act regulating title insurance companies.  See RCW   If we therefore apply the above‑cited principle of construing statutory exceptions strictly so as to give the public the greatest possible protection, we must conclude that title companies are not included in the exception, and cannot be given an exemption from the escrow agent registration act.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Both title companies and title insurance companies prepare, issue and certify the correctness of abstracts of title to property.  Similarly, both title companies and title insurance companies frequently act as escrow agents.  The two kinds of companies differ, however, in that only title insurance companies (which have fulfilled the financial responsibility criteria of the title insurance act [RCW 48.29]) [[chapter 48.29 RCW]], can directly issue title insurance.  While title companies frequently sell title insurance policies to their customers, this is only done under an agreement with a title insurance company, whereby the latter assumes full financial responsibility.