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AGO 1950 No. 299 - July 11, 1950
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington


Veterans Administration doctors may be appointed deputy health officers to examine patients with communicable diseases.County health officers may quarantine patients in veterans hospitals.

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                                                                    July 11, 1950

Honorable Albert N. Bradford
Prosecuting Attorney
Walla Walla County
Walla Walla, Washington                                                                                                          Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 299

Dear Sir:

            This is in answer to your letter of May 10, 1950, requesting our opinion on the following questions:

            1.         May a county health officer quarantine a patient in a Veterans Administration Hospital?

            2.         May county health officer deputize federal public doctors for the purpose of quarantining a patient in a Veterans Hospital?

            3.         If a patient is removed from a Veterans Hospital under a "disciplinary discharge", could he be found guilty of breaking quarantine?

            Our conclusions may be summarized as follows:

            1. The county has jurisdiction to quarantine contagious persons.  Jurisdiction of the county health officer in a veterans' hospital depends on the approval of the federal government.

            2. There is no objection to the deputization of Veterans Administration doctors for the purpose of examination prior to imposing a quarantine.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            3. Ejection of a quarantined patient for disciplinary reasons would not of itself constitute breaking quarantine.

            4. Quarantined patients who leave or are ejected from veterans' hospitals may be forcibly isolated until they indicate a willingness to cooperate with the authorities.


            The problem of whether a county health officer has any jurisdiction within a federal Veterans Administration is a difficult one.  InSink v. Reese, 19 Ohio 316 [[19 Ohio St. 316]], a veterans' hospital was held to fall within the scope of Article I, section 8, clause 17 of the United States Constitution, which reads as follows:

            "To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings; and

            "* * *"

            Chapter 126, Laws of 1939 (Rem. Rev. Stat. 8108) is a general statute giving legislative consent to all federal acquisitions of land within the state by the United States, reserving jurisdiction and authority not inconsistent with jurisdiction by the United States.


            InRyan v. State, 188 Wash. 115, 61 P. (2d) 1276, our Supreme Court held that, in the absence of any contrary federal law or objection by the United States, the state retains such jurisdiction as does not interfere with the intended use of the land by the United States.  Two very recent cases,Miller v. Hickory Grove School District, 162 Kans. 528, 178 P. (2d) 214; andWaldrip v. Commonwealth, 189 Va. 365, 53 S.E. 14, hold that the state may continue to exercise jurisdiction with the consent of the federal government.  Therefore, it is our opinion that in view of the government's express invitation to the health authorities to  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] enter and exercise quarantine power, the Veterans Hospital is within state jurisdiction for that purpose, at least until there is some objection by the federal government.

            The procedure necessary to place a person under quarantine is governed by section 3, chapter 85, Laws of 1907 (Rem. Rev. Stat. 6094) which reads in part as follows:

            "* * * Every health officer shall have the power to remove to and restrain in a pesthouse or isolation hospital, or to quarantine or isolate, any person sick with any dangerous, contagious or infectious disease until such sick person shall have thoroughly recovered and been disinfected:  Provided, that no person shall be removed to or restrained in a pesthouse or isolation hospital until such person has been examined by the health officer or a medical deputy.  He shall also quarantine, isolate, restrain, vaccinate or disinfect any person or persons exposed to any dangerous contagious or infectious disease in such manner and for such time as he may deem best or the state board of health may direct.  * * *"

            It is clear from the above that no quarantine can be effective unless the patient has been examined by the health officer or his deputy and found to be infectious.

            We can find no objection to the appointment of a Veterans Administration doctor as deputy health officer for the purpose specified, but it must be noted that many such doctors are not licensed to practice in the State of Washington.  Only a doctor holding a valid Washington license may be appointed a deputy health officer.

            Whether conduct by a patient leading to his "disciplinary rdsf,f=agocharge" would constitute breaking quarantine depends on the circumstances.  It is easy to imagine a case in which a patient's attitude would clearly indicate that his sole desire was to break the quarantine.  On the other hand, a "disciplinary discharge" might be imposed for some infraction of the rules, despite the patient's desire to remain in the hospital and observe the quarantine.  Circumstances in each case must dictate the answer  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] to this question.

            The following suggested plan may be of some help to you in solving your problem.  This plan does not involve prosecution for breaking quarantine, which we do not believe of much benefit in protecting the public.

            Infectious patients should be quarantined in the Veterans Hospital as outlined above.  The county health officer and the hospital authorities should be able to work out an effective system by which quarantined patients who incur "disciplinary discharges" are turned over to the sheriff for detention in an isolation hospital.  When they indicate a desire to cooperate such patients could be returned to the Veterans Hospital.  Any quarantined patients found outside quarantine limits could similarly be arrested and detained.

            This procedure, of course, would depend on close cooperation between the county officials and hospital authorities.  It would afford ample protection to the public and would certainly implement hospital discipline by putting real teeth in the "disciplinary discharge" threat.

            Enclosed is a copy of our opinion to the prosecuting attorney of Lewis County, rendered November 28, 1944, on the general subject of forcible detention of infectious tuberculosis patients.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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