Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1958 No. 193 - May 8 1958
Attorney General John J. O'Connell



A county committee on school district organization may transfer territory from one school district to another when such territory is situated within the boundaries of a military reservation over which the U. S. has assumed exclusive jurisdiction.

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                                                                    May 8, 1958

Honorable John G. McCutcheon
Prosecuting Attorney
Pierce County Court House
Tacoma, Washington                                                                                      Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 193

Dear Sir:

            This is in answer to your request for an opinion relating to school district organization.  We paraphrase your question as follows:

            May the Pierce County Committee on School District Organization transfer territory from one school district to another school district when such territory is situated within the boundaries of the Ft. Lewis Military Reservation?

            We answer your question in the affirmative.


            RCW 28.57.160 specifically provides that boundaries of existing school districts may be altered

            ". . . by the transfer of territory from one district to  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] another district, . . . but only if such territory is contiguous to the district to which it is transferred . . ."

            It is clear from the above statute that the transfer contemplated by your question can be effected unless some prohibition exists under federal or state law.

            InConcessions Company v. Morris, 109 Wash. 46, 186 Pac. 655, our Supreme Court discussed the question of federal and state jurisdiction over the territory now known as the Ft. Lewis Military Reservation.  The court concluded:

            ". . . It seems to us that the answer to this is clear, and that such property [property situated on the military reservation] iswithout the state in both a jurisdictional and territorial sense, for, as we have seen by the constitution of the United States, and the act of the legislature of this state, both the military reservation itself and the jurisdiction and legislation over it have been granted to the United States, and thereby there has been created an independent sovereignty the territory of which is surrounded by the state of Washington, but over which the state of Washington has no jurisdiction.  A territory has been created which resembles that of the District of Columbia, the only reservation being that the state of Washington can serve civil and criminal process therein on actions arising outside the reservation."  (p. 51) (Language in brackets added for clarity.)

            The language used by the court indicates that the military reservation is not a part of the state of Washington and, therefore, not a part of a municipal corporation of this state.  We feel, however, that the broad language used by the court must be restricted in view of cases subsequently decided by the United States Supreme Court and the courts of other states.

            In the case ofHoward v. Commissioners of Louisville, 344 U.S. 624, 97 L.Ed. 617, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the validity of the annexation by the City of Louisville of an ordinance plant over which the United States had assumed exclusive jurisdiction with the consent of the state.  The  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] court stated:

            ". . . When the United States, with the consent of Kentucky, acquired the property upon which the Ordinance Plant is located, the property did not cease to be a part of Kentucky.  The geographical structure of Kentucky remained the same.  In rearranging the structural divisions of the Commonwealth, in accordance with state law, the area became a part of the City of Louisville, just as it remained a part of the County of Jefferson and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  A state may conform its municipal structures to its own plan, so long as the state does not interfere with the exercise of jurisdiction within the federal area by the United States. . . .A change of municipal boundaries did not interfere in the least with the jurisdiction of the United States within the area or with its use or disposition of the property.  The fiction of a state within a state can have no validity to prevent the state from exercising its power over the federal area within its boundaries, so long as there is no interference with the jurisdiction asserted by the Federal Government.  The sovereign rights in this dual relationship are not antagonistic.  Accommodation and cooperation are their aim.  It is friction, not fiction, to which we must give heed."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            To the same effect seeCity of Wichita Falls v. Bowen, 143 Tex. 45, 182 S.W. (2d) 695;County of Norfolk v. City of Portsmith, 186 Va. 1032, 45 S.E. (2d) 136.  For a discussion of the general question of jurisdiction over land within a military reservation, see John N. Rupp. Jurisdiction Over Lands Owned by the United States Within the State of Washington, 14 Wash. Law Rev. 1 (1939) [[14 Wash. L. Rev. 1]].

            Our conclusion based on the above cases is that the fact that the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over the area within the boundaries of the Ft. Lewis Military Reservation does not prevent the county committee on school district organization from adjusting school district boundaries within the military reservation.  Such an adjustment itself does not interfere with the jurisdiction of the United States within the area.

            We need only determine whether or not the state statutes prohibit such a transfer of territory.  RCW 28.58.210, last amended in 1945, provides that any child of school age who is otherwise eligible, residing within the boundaries of a military reservation, may attend school in any district contiguous to a military reservation without payment of tuition.  This statute is merely a recognition  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] of the fact that property within a military reservation may not in fact be within the boundaries of any school district.  It does not imply that in all cases a military reservation must be outside the boundaries of a school district.

            Chapter 28.57 RCW, relating to school district organization, was passed in 1947 and has since been amended in some particulars.  We have examined this chapter and find nothing which expressly or by implication indicates that the county committee may not adjust boundaries of school districts within the Ft. Lewis Military Reservation.

            We trust this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General