Opinion 91-31


This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.


MUNICIPAL FUNDS - Town Charges (costs of rabies treatment for individual injured within the town)

PUBLIC HEALTH LAW, §§2140, 2144, 2145: A town is not legally obligated under Public Health Law, §2144 to reimburse a private hospital for expenses incurred in the treatment of an individual who was injured by a rabid animal within the town in the absence of a current certification of the existence of rabies by the State Health Commissioner pursuant to Public Health Law, §2140 and authorization by the local health officer to incur such expenses.

You ask whether a town is required by statute to pay bills submitted by a private hospital for treatment of an individual who had come into contact with a rabid animal within the town. We assume that the town is a local health district (see Public Health Law, §§2[1][c], 302[2], 341).

Public Health Law, §2140 provides that whenever the disease of rabies exists in any county or the vicinity thereof and the New York State Commissioner of Health so certifies to the health officer of the county or any local health district contained therein, it is the duty of the health officer immediately to provide the public with notice of the existence of the disease. Until the Commissioner certifies that rabies no longer exists in the county, section 2140 generally prohibits persons owning or having custody of a dog within the county from permitting a dog not actively immunized from rabies to be at large. In addition, pursuant to section 2142, any dog found at large in violation of section 2140 may be seized and confined or killed.

Public Health Law, §2145 also provides for certification by the State Commissioner of Health in connection with the existence of rabies within a county. Pursuant to section 2145, upon the adoption of a resolution by the county governing board declaring that the health and welfare of the people of the county requires compulsory anti-rabies vaccination of all dogs within the county, the Commissioner may certify that "such condition exists" and require, with certain exceptions, that all dogs in that county, six months of age or over, be vaccinated against rabies.

As to the town's responsibility to pay for the cost of treating a person who has been in contact with a rabid animal, Public Health Law, §2144 provides that, "(u)pon certification of the existence of the disease known as rabies, as provided in section 2140 ..." (emphasis added), the local health officer is authorized to incur the service and expense necessary in the suppression of rabies. In previous opinions, we have concluded that this authorization is sufficiently broad to encompass costs and expenses incurred in the treatment of rabies for the purpose of suppressing the disease (11 Opns St Comp, 1955, p 250; 2 Opns St Comp, 1946, p 133; 1 Opns St Comp, 1945, p 189). Claims for such service and expense, approved by the local health officer, must be paid by the chief fiscal officer of the local health district without further audit.

Based upon the language in sections 2140 and 2144, this Office has also previously expressed the opinion that the cost of administering rabies treatment is a local health district charge only if the State Health Commissioner has certified, pursuant to section 2140, the existence of rabies in the local health district and the expense is incurred at the direction of the local health officer for the purpose of suppressing rabies (11 Opns St Comp, supra; 2 Opns St Comp, supra; 1 Opns St Comp, supra). We have further stated that authorization for the local health officer to incur the service and expenses necessary in the suppression of rabies remains applicable until it is certified that rabies no longer exists in the local health district (1 Opns St Comp, 1945, supra).

Section 2144 expressly refers to a certification by the Commissioner under section 2140. Further, the certification under section 2145 is for the limited purpose of implementing compulsory anti-rabies vaccination of dogs. Therefore, it is our opinion that a certification of the State Commissioner of Health pursuant to Public Health Law, §2140, rather than pursuant to section 2145, is a prerequisite to any obligation to pay under section 2144.

You have advised that the last certification of the existence of rabies within the county, pursuant to Public Health Law, §2140, was terminated in 1963 and there has been no certifications under section 2140 since that time. The Commissioner, however, did certify in 1986, under Public Health Law, §2145, that the health and welfare of the people of the county required compulsory, anti-rabies vaccination of all dogs, within the county, six months old and over. We are informed that the latter certification has not been withdrawn. Accordingly, since it appears that there is presently no certification under section 2140, it is our opinion that the town is not legally obligated under section 2144 to pay the bills submitted by the hospital in this instance even if the expense were incurred at the instance of the town health officer. Further, we are aware of no other statute which imposes an obligation to pay these charges upon the town.

August 13, 1991
Joseph P. Clark, Esq., Town Attorney
Town of Caton