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Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill for the Relief of Mrs. Hannah Mac Powell.

September 07, 1957

I HAVE WITHHELD my approval of H. R. 1419 entitled "An Act for the relief of Mrs. Hannah Mac Powell."

The bill would authorize and direct the Secretary of the Treasury to pay, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, to Mrs. Hannah Mae Powell, 1950 East Lehigh Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the sum of $11,197.95 in full settlement of all claims of said Mrs. Hannah Mac Powell for refund of excise taxes and other expenses sustained as a result of the actions of the collector of internal revenue of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the years 1937, 1941, and 1942.

An examination by the Treasury Department of the facts in this case discloses that Mrs. Hannah Mac Powell has recovered by court action all taxes assessed and collected from her which were in dispute (plus interest), except $464.76 which was barred by the expiration of the statutory period of limitations. These taxes which were in dispute were manufacturers' excise taxes.

After recovery of the taxes, Mrs. Hannah Mac Powell instituted a damage suit against the former collector, both individually and as collector of internal revenue of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The district court rendered a judgment in favor of the former collector and denied damages to Mrs. Hannah Mac Powell. This judgment was later upheld by the court of appeals.

The bill, therefore, would give to Mrs. Hannah Mac Powell the sum of $11,197.95 as damages which were denied to her by the Federal district court and the court of appeals. The court of appeals in affirming the decision of the lower court stated (Powell v. Rothensies (C. A. 3d, 1950), 183 F. 2d 774, 775):

"* * * the evidence offered by the plaintiff herself conclusively establishes that at the time of the levy and seizure in question there were outstanding in the hands of the defendant two unpaid assessments against the plaintiff for manufacturer's excise taxes and that the warrant for distraint under which the levy and seizure were made was expressly based upon these two outstanding assessments, which with interest and penalty then amounted to $4,718.44. Under these circumstances it was within the scope of the defendant's ministerial duty to make the levy and collection here in controversy and he cannot be held answerable in damages for so doing. The trial judge, therefore, rightly directed a verdict for the defendant."

It would thus appear that the damages sustained by Mrs. Powell resulted from her failure to satisfy two unpaid assessments and that, in collecting the unpaid assessments, the former collector of internal revenue was acting within the scope of his ministerial duties.

H. R. 1419 would have a discriminatory effect, as it would afford to Mrs. Powell relief which had been denied her by the Federal courts and which would be denied all others in similar circumstances who do not have the benefit of special legislation. Furthermore, H. R. 1419 would create an undesirable precedent by allowing damages to be collected from the United States under these circumstances.

Under the circumstances, therefore, I am constrained to withhold my approval of the bill.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill for the Relief of Mrs. Hannah Mac Powell. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233549

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