United States Attorney General Opinion, January 17, 1900
23 U.S. Op. Atty. Gen. 18
SECRETARY OF TREASURY--COMPROMISE OF JUDGMENT.
 The Secretary of the Treasury has no power, under section
Revised Statutes, to compromise a final judgment in favor of the
which is clearly collectible. That section only authorizes a
compromise of a
claim which is in some way doubtful.
The SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY.
I have given careful consideration to the question raised by
of September 29, transmitting the papers relating to 'a compromise
offer' of the
sureties on the bond of Fred W. Smith, as receiver of public moneys
Ariz., and requesting my opinion as to your power to compromise a
judgment under section 3469, Revised Statutes.
 Smith was receiver of public moneys in Arizons from 1887
to 1889, when
he was removed, and suit brought against him and the sureties on
his bond for
moneys received received for land from settlers for which he failed
to the Government. In the Arizona court judgment was recovered
against Smith and
the sureties on his bond for nearly $6,000. This judgment was
affirmed by the
supreme court of the Territory, and ultimately by the Supreme Court
of the United
States in the case of Smith v. United States (170 U. S., 372).
It is conceded that this final judgment can be collected from
but a so-called compromise offer is submitted and urged on the
ground that it
would work a hardship to enforce the collection of the entire
amount of the
judgment. The grounds of hardship were presented to the courts as
a defense to
the suit, and are set forth in the statement and opinion of the
(170 U. S., 372). The only question presented to me is whether a
in favor of the United States, which is collectible, can be
section 3469 of the Revised Statutes, which reads as follows:
'Upon a report by a district attorney, or any
or agent having charge of any claim in favor of the United States,
detail the condition of such claim, and the terms upon which the
same may be
compromised, and recommending that it be compromised upon the terms
and upon the recommendation of the Solicitor of the Treasury, the
the Treasury is authorized to compromise such claim accordingly.
provisions of this section shall not apply to any claim arising
under the postal
In an opinion rendered by Solicitor-General Maxwell and
Attorney- General Olney, the authority conferred by this section
was thus limited
and defined (21 Opin., 51):
'The section does not authorize the Secretary of the
to remit or release moneys due to the United States and clearly
to 'compromise,' which implies a claim of doubtful recovery or
'In the case which you submit there is nothing to
'compromise,'  for
the right of recovery and the amount have been finally adjudged by
the court of
last resort, and the property is said to be sufficient to satisfy
An attempt was subsequently made to secure a modification of
but without success, Attorney-General Harmon saying (21 Opin., 264,
'I am, however, clearly of the opinion that the
given is correct. The construction given to the statute accorded
with that of
Mr. Evarts (12 Opin., 543) and with that of Mr. Devens and Mr.
Opin., 617). If the opinion of Mr. McVeagh (17 Opin., 213) is to
as holding that a claim may be compromised when there is no doubt
of its entire
and ready collectibility, I am unable to concur with it. It
appears to ignore
the clear distinction between the compromise of a doubtful case and
of a penalty, forfeiture, or disability. (Rev. Stats., secs. 3461,
former power, as said by Mr. Evarts in the opinion above cited, is
fiscal one. The latter is in the nature of a pardoning power.
(The Laura, 114
U. S., 411, 413-414.)'
No reasons have been advanced or suggest themselves justifying
a change of
the construction placed upon this section by my predecessors. A
an adjustment or settlement by mutual concessions. The claim must
in some way be
doubtful. There must be room for the 'play of give and take.' For
the statement from the attorney in charge 'showing in detail the
such claim, and the terms upon which the same may be compromised,'
In the case of a collectible judgment there is no room for 'give
and take,' no
basis for a compromise; the concession is all on the one side, the
side of the
Government, which remits in place of compromising.
JOHN K. RICHARDS,
JOHN W. GRIGGS.