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Civil Resource Manual

202. Laches

As Mr. Justice Story said:

The general principle is, that laches is not imputable to the government; and this maxim is founded, not in the notion of extraordinary prerogative, but upon a great public policy. The government can transact its business only through its agents; and its fiscal operations are so various, and its agents so numerous and scattered, that the utmost vigilance would not save the public from the most serious losses, if the doctrine of laches can be applied to its transactions.

United States v. Kirkpatrick, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat) 720, 735 (1824). See also Gaussen v. United States, 97 U.S. 584, 590 (1878); German Bank v. United States, 148 U.S. 573, 579 (1893); United States v. Verdier, 164 U.S. 213, 219 (1896); United States v. Mack, 295 U.S. 480, 489 (1935). Similarly, the United States is not bound by state statutes of limitation. United States v. Summerlin, 310 U.S. 414 (1940); United States v. Merrick Sponsor Corp., 421 F.2d 1076 (2d Cir. 1970).