B-153836, MAY 25, 1964, 43 COMP. GEN. 744

B-153836: May 25, 1964

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- IS LIMITED TO THE POWERS EXPRESSLY CONFERRED BY STATUTE. PROCEEDINGS WERE INITIATED BY THE DISTRICT OF COLOMBIA FOR THE ADMINISTRATION OF HER ESTATE WHICH INVOLVES A NET SURPLUS OF APPROXIMATELY $36. ALLEGING THEY WERE FIRST COUSINS ONCE REMOVED OF THE INTESTATE. THE ESCHEAT OF AN ESTATE TO THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA IS PROVIDED FOR IN D.C. WHICH IS AS FOLLOWS: IF THERE BE NO WIDOW OR WIDOWER OR RELATIONS OF THE INTERSTATE WITHIN THE FIFTH DEGREE. THE CORPORATION COUNSEL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA IS OF THE OPINION. IS AS FOLLOWS: UPON A REPORT BY THE CORPORATION COUNSEL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA SHOWING IN DETAIL THE JUST AND TRUE AMOUNT AND CONDITION OF ANY CLAIM OR SUIT WHICH THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA MAY ON JULY 31.

B-153836, MAY 25, 1964, 43 COMP. GEN. 744

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA - ESCHEAT OF RESIDENTS ESTATES - CLAIMS AN OFFICER IN COMPROMISE BY FOREIGN CLAIMANTS ALLEGING A RELATIONSHIP, DIFFICULT TO PROVE, WITH A RESIDENT OF THE DISTRICT OF OF COLUMBIA WHO DIED INTESTATE, TO SHARE ONE HALF OF A $36,000 ESTATE IN SATISFACTION OF THE DISTRICT'S STATUTORY RIGHT OF ESCHEAT (D.C. CODE 1961, SECTION 18-717) MAY NOT BE ACCEPTED, THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA BEING WITHOUT AUTHORITY TO ENTER INTO COMPROMISE AGREEMENTS EXCEEDING THE $10,000 LIMITATION IMPOSED BY D.C. CODE 1961, SECTION 1-906, IN VIEW OF THE FACT THAT THE BOARD--- A CREATURE OF STATUTE--- IS LIMITED TO THE POWERS EXPRESSLY CONFERRED BY STATUTE; THEREFORE, THE AUTHORITY TO COMPROMISE A CLAIM, EVEN ONE OF ESCHEAT, STEMMING SOLELY FROM SECTION 1- 906, THE OFFER TO COMPROMISE SETTLEMENT OF THE DECENDENT'S ESTATE INVOLVING AN AMOUNT IN EXCESS OF THE $10,000 LIMITATION IMPOSED ON THE COMPROMISE OF CLAIMS MAY NOT BE ACCEPTED.

TO THE PRESIDENT, BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, MAY 25, 1964:

WE REFER TO YOUR LETTER OF MARCH 26, 1964, CONCERNING THE AUTHORITY OF THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, TO SETTLE BY COMPROMISE THE QUESTION OF THE ESCHEAT OF THE ESTATE OF VICTORIA SEYDLER, WHO DIED INTESTATE MARCH 19, 1961, IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.

VICTORIA SEYDLER DIED LEAVING NO KNOWN HEIRS OR NEXT OF KIN. PROCEEDINGS WERE INITIATED BY THE DISTRICT OF COLOMBIA FOR THE ADMINISTRATION OF HER ESTATE WHICH INVOLVES A NET SURPLUS OF APPROXIMATELY $36,000. THEREAFTER ELEVEN PERSONS RESIDING IN GERMANY, REPRESENTED BY LOCAL COUNSEL, ASSERTED A CLAIM TO THE ESTATE, ALLEGING THEY WERE FIRST COUSINS ONCE REMOVED OF THE INTESTATE. THE ALLEGED RELATIONSHIP WOULD ENTITLE SUCH PERSONS TO THE ESTATE AND PRECLUDE ESCHEATMENT TO THE DISTRICT. THE ESCHEAT OF AN ESTATE TO THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA IS PROVIDED FOR IN D.C. CODE 1961, SECTION 18- 717, WHICH IS AS FOLLOWS:

IF THERE BE NO WIDOW OR WIDOWER OR RELATIONS OF THE INTERSTATE WITHIN THE FIFTH DEGREE, WHICH SHALL BE RECKONED BY COUNTING DOWN FROM THE COMMON ANCESTOR TO THE MORE REMOTE, THE SURPLUS OF REAL AND PERSONAL PROPERTY SHALL ESCHEAT TO THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA TO BE USED BY THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE POOR.

IN VIEW OF THE DIFFICULTIES AND EXTRAORDINARY EXPENSES OF RESOLVING THE QUESTION OF THE ALLEGED RELATIONSHIP OF THE FOREIGN CLAIMANTS TO THE DECEDENT, AN OFFER IN COMPROMISE HAS BEEN RECEIVED FOR THE DISTRIBUTION OF ONE HALF OF THE ESTATE, APPROXIMATELY $18,000 TO THE ALLEGED RELATIONS OF THE INTESTATE AND THE REMAINING HALF TO THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA IN SATISFACTION OF ITS STATUTORY RIGHT OF ESCHEAT.

THE CORPORATION COUNSEL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA IS OF THE OPINION, IN THE LIGHT OF INFORMATION PRESENTLY AVAILABLE, THAT ACCEPTANCE OF THE OFFER WOULD BE IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA; BUT DOUBT EXISTS AS TO THE AUTHORITY OF THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS TO COMPROMISE THIS CLAIM, PARTICULARLY AS THE STATUTORY PROVISION FOR COMPROMISE HAS A $10,000 LIMITATION. THAT PROVISION, D.C. CODE 1961, SECTION 1-906, IS AS FOLLOWS:

UPON A REPORT BY THE CORPORATION COUNSEL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA SHOWING IN DETAIL THE JUST AND TRUE AMOUNT AND CONDITION OF ANY CLAIM OR SUIT WHICH THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA MAY ON JULY 31, 1951, OR THEREAFTER HAVE AGAINST ANY PERSON, FIRM, ASSOCIATION, OR CORPORATION, AND THE TERMS UPON WHICH THE SAME MAY BE COMPROMISED, AND STATING THAT IN HIS OPINION A COMPROMISE OF SUCH CLAIM OR SUIT WOULD BE FOR THE BEST INTEREST OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, BE, AND THEY HEREBY ARE, AUTHORIZED TO COMPROMISE SUCH CLAIM OR SUIT ACCORDINGLY: PROVIDED, HOWEVER, THAT NO CLAIM OR SUIT SO COMPROMISED SHALL BE REDUCED BY AN AMOUNT GREATER THAN $10,000: AND PROVIDED FURTHER, THAT THIS SECTION SHALL NOT APPLY TO CLAIMS OR SUITS FOR TAXES OR SPECIAL ASSESSMENTS.

SECTION 1-906, D.C. CODE, IS AN AMENDMENT OF JULY 31, 1951 (65 STAT. 131), TO THE ACT OF FEBRUARY 11, 1929 (45 STAT. 1160), ENTITLED "AN ACT AUTHORIZING THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA TO SETTLE CLAIMS AND SUITS AGAINST THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.' AS ORIGINALLY ENACTED, AND AS INDICATED BY ITS TITLE, THE ACT OF 1929 ONLY AUTHORIZED THE SETTLEMENT OF CLAIMS OR SUITS AGAINST THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. THE AMENDMENT OF 1951, LIKE THE ORIGINAL ACT OF 1929, IS A GRANT OF POWER AND NOT A MERE LIMITATION ON OTHERWISE EXISTING AUTHORITY VESTED IN THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. "THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS IS A CREATURE OF STATUTE. ITS JURISDICTION IS LIMITED TO THE POWERS EXPRESSLY CONFERRED UPON IT BY STATUTE.' HAZARD V. BLESSING, 55 APP.D.C. 114, 2 F.2D 916 (1924). SEE, ALSO, BARRETT V. YOUNG, 134 F.SUPP. 106 (1951).

THE AUTHORITY OF THE COMMISSIONERS TO ENTER INTO AN AGREEMENT TO ARBITRATE A CLAIM AGAINST THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA WAS INVOLVED IN DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA V. BAILEY, 171 U.S. 161 (1898). THE SUPREME COURT STATED,"THE SOLUTION OF THIS INQUIRY REQUIRES A BRIEF EXAMINATION OF THE STATUTES, FROM WHICH ALONE THE POWERS OF THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE DISTRICT ARE DERIVED: " AND AFTER CONSIDERING THE VARIOUS STATUTORY ENACTMENTS RELATING TO THE GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, INCLUDING THE PRESENT ORGANIC ACT (APPROVED JUNE 11, 1878, 20 STAT. 102), THE COURT CONCLUDED THE COMMISSIONERS WERE WITHOUT AUTHORITY TO ENTER INTO SUCH AN AGREEMENT. IN DOING SO THE COURT REMARKED:

RECURRING TO THE STATUTES RELATING TO THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, IT IS CLEAR FROM THEIR FACE THAT THESE OFFICERS ARE WITHOUT GENERAL POWER TO CONTRACT DEBTS, OR TO ADJUST AND PAY THE SAME; THAT, ON THE CONTRARY, THE STATUTES EXPRESSLY DEPRIVE THEM OF SUCH POWER, AND LIMIT THE SCOPE OF THEIR AUTHORITY TO THE MERE EXECUTION OF CONTRACTS PREVIOUSLY SANCTIONED BY CONGRESS OR WHICH THEY ARE AUTHORIZED TO MAKE BY EXPRESS STATUTORY AUTHORITY. THE NECESSARY OPERATION OF THESE PROVISIONS OF THE STATUTES IS TO CAUSE THE DISTRICT COMMISSIONERS TO BE MERELY ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICERS WITH MINISTERIAL POWERS ONLY. THE SUM OF THE MUNICIPAL POWERS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA IS NEITHER VESTED IN NOR EXERCISED BY THE DISTRICT COMMISSIONERS. THEY ARE, ON THE CONTRARY, VESTED IN THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES, ACTING PRO HAC VICE AS THE LEGISLATIVE BODY OF THE DISTRICT, AND THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE DISTRICT DISCHARGE THE FUNCTIONS OF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICIALS.

IN SUPPORT OF THE BILL, S. 3581, 70TH CONGRESS, WHICH BECAME THE ACT OF FEBRUARY 11, 1929, THE COMMISSIONERS SUBMITTED AN OPINION DATED DECEMBER 13, 1927, OF THE THEN CORPORATION COUNSEL, ENTITLED "REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONERS AS TO THEIR POWER TO COMPROMISE AND SETTLE CLAIMS.' THE OPINION OF THE CORPORATION COUNSEL, AFTER POINTING OUT THAT COMPROMISE AGREEMENTS MAY INVOLVE (1) CLAIMS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AGAINST OTHERS AND (2) CLAIMS AGAINST THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, STATED GENERALLY:

I FIND NOTHING IN THE ACT ITSELF (THE ORGANIC ACT OF 1878) WHICH GIVES AUTHORITY TO THE COMMISSIONERS TO ENTER INTO COMPROMISE AGREEMENTS, NOR DO I FIND ANYTHING IN THE ACT FROM WHICH SUCH AUTHORITY MAY REASONABLY BE INFERRED. CONGRESS HAS BEEN VERY JEALOUS OF ITS POWERS AND THE COURTS HAVE CONSTRUED THOSE POWERS WHICH HAVE BEEN GIVEN TO THE COMMISSIONERS WITHIN NARROW LIMITS. OUR COURT OF APPEALS HAS SPOKEN CLEARLY TO THIS CONSTRUCTION.

HE CONCLUDED THE COMMISSIONERS WERE WITHOUT AUTHORITY TO ENTER INTO COMPROMISE AGREEMENTS; AND AS TO AGREEMENTS INVOLVING CLAIMS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AGAINST OTHERS SPECIFICALLY STATED:

THERE BEING THEN NO EXPRESS AUTHORITY AND NO AUTHORITY FROM WHICH SUCH AUTHORITY MAY BE REASONABLY IMPLIED, I AM OF OPINION THAT COMMISSIONERS HAVE NO POWER TO ENTER INTO COMPROMISE AGREEMENTS, AND THEREFORE I CAN ANSWER THE FIRST QUESTION INTO WHICH I HAVE SUBDIVIDED YOUR QUERY BY SAYING THAT YOU HAVE NO POWER TO RELEASE CLAIMS HELD BY THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA BY COMPROMISE SETTLEMENT, IN THE ABSENCE OF APPROVAL BY CONGRESS.

TO PROVIDE FOR THE SETTLEMENT OF CLAIMS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA THE 1929 ACT WAS AMENDED. SEE H.REPT.NO. 721, 82ND CONG., 1ST SESSION. THE MONETARY LIMITATION ON THE AUTHORITY GRANTED WAS THE RESULT OF A PRESIDENTIAL VETO OF AN EARLIER BILL OF SIMILAR CHARACTER (H.R. 6834, 76TH CONGRESS) AS IT LACKED A MONETARY LIMITATION. NEITHER THE LANGUAGE NOR THE HISTORY OF THE 1951 AMENDMENT, SECTION 1-906, D.C. CODE, LENDS ANY SUPPORT TO A SEVERING OF THE AUTHORITY GRANTED FROM THE LIMITATION PLACED THEREON, OR TO VIEWING THE AUTHORITY AND THE LIMITATION AS OTHER THAN COEXTENSIVE.

IT IS SUGGESTED THAT THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA IN ASSERTING ITS STATUTORY RIGHT TO THE SURPLUS PROPERTY OF THE ESTATE OF VICTORIA SEYDLER, UNDER SECTION 18-717, D.C. CODE, DOES NOT HAVE A " ,CLAIM" IN THE ORDINARY SENSE, BUT RATHER A DEFEASIBLE RIGHT TO RECEIVE THE BALANCE OF THIS ESTATE BY VIRTUE OF ITS STATUS AS A STATUTORY DISTRIBUTEE.' IN THAT CONNECTION OUR ATTENTION HAS BEEN INVITED TO FRAZIER V. KUTZ, 139 F.2D 380, INVOLVING THE QUESTION OF THE JURISDICTION OF THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA SITTING AS A COURT OF PROBATE TO MAKE A FINDING OF THE ABSENCE OF STATUTORY HEIRS AND TO DISTRIBUTE, IN ACCORDANCE WITH SECTION 18 717, D.C. CODE, THE SURPLUS PROPERTY OF AN INTESTATE TO THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. OUR ATTENTION WAS SPECIFICALLY INVITED TO THE PARAGRAPH OF THE OPINION WHICH CONTAINS THE STATEMENT: "THE POSITION OF THE DISTRICT, THEREFORE, IN SUCH A PROCEEDING AS THIS IS NOT THAT OF AN ADVERSE CLAIMANT.' IN STATING THE DISTRICT WAS NOT AN ADVERSE CLAIMANT THE COURT WAS POINTING OUT THAT THE STATUS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA IN THE PROBATE PROCEEDING WAS "LIKE THAT OF A PERSON CLAIMING AS HEIR" AND NOT THAT OF A STRANGER CLAIMING TITLE TO PROPERTY ADVERSELY TO THE ESTATE SO AS TO DEPRIVE THE PROBATE COURT OF JURISDICTION. IN THE IMMEDIATELY PRECEDING PARAGRAPH THE COURT STATED: "WE HAVE HELD AS TO THE JURISDICTION OF THE PROBATE COURT THAT IT HAS NONE TO DECIDE DISPUTES CONCERNING TITLE TO OR POSSESSION OF PROPERTY AS BETWEEN THE EXECUTOR OR ADMINISTRATOR ON THE ONE HAND AND STRANGERS CLAIMING ADVERSELY ON THE OTHER.' THE COURT WENT ON TO HOLD THAT THE PROBATE COURT COULD TAKE COGNIZANCE OF THE STATUTORY RIGHT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AS DISTRIBUTEE UNDER THE JURISDICTIONAL PROVISION "TO HEAR, EXAMINE, AND DECREE UPON ALL * * * CLAIMS * * * BETWEEN EXECUTORS AND ADMINISTRATORS AND LEGATEES, OR PERSONS ENTITLED TO A DISTRIBUTIVE SHARE OF AN INTESTATE ESTATE * * *.' WHILE A DISTINCTION MAY BE MADE FOR CERTAIN PURPOSES BETWEEN THE CLAIM OF A STATUTORY DISTRIBUTEE AND THAT OF AN ADVERSE CLAIMANT OR OF A CREDITOR OF THE ESTATE, A VALID BASIS FOR SUCH A DISTINCTION IS NOT APPARENT WITH REFERENCE TO THE QUESTION OF THE EXISTENCE OF AUTHORITY TO ENTER INTO A COMPROMISE AGREEMENT.

WHILE WE APPRECIATE THAT ADMINISTRATIVE CONSIDERATIONS MAKE IT DESIRABLE TO ACCEPT THE OFFER OF COMPROMISE WHICH HAS BEEN MADE IN THIS CASE, WE NEVERTHELESS MUST INFORM YOU THAT WE ARE OF THE OPINION THAT THE AUTHORITY OF THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS TO COMPROMISE A CLAIM, EVEN ONE OF ESCHEAT, STEMS SOLELY FROM THE AMENDMENT OF 1951, SECTION 1-906, D.C. CODE, AND THEREFORE THE PRESENT OFFER, WHICH IS BEYOND THE LIMITATION OF THAT SECTION, MAY NOT BE ACCEPTED.