Church of Scientology of Cal. v. United States
Annotate this Case
506 U.S. 9 (1992)
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OCTOBER TERM, 1992
CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY OF CALIFORNIA v.
UNITED STATES ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
No. 91-946. Argued October 6, 1992-Decided November 16, 1992
Pursuant to its jurisdiction under 26 U. S. C. §§ 7402(b) and 7604(a), the District Court ordered a state-court Clerk to comply with a summons issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the production of, inter alia, two tapes in the Clerk's custody recording conversations between officials of petitioner Church of Scientology (Church) and their attorneys. Although the Church filed a timely notice of appeal, its request for a stay of the summons enforcement order was unsuccessful, and copies of the tapes were delivered to the IRS while the appeal was pending. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal as moot, ruling that no controversy existed because the tapes had already been turned over to the IRS.
Held: Compliance with the summons enforcement order did not moot the Church's appeal. Delivery of the tapes to the IRS did not mandate dismissal by making it impossible for the Court of Appeals to grant the Church "any effectual relief." See Mills v. Green, 159 U. S. 651, 653. Although it is now too late to prevent, or to provide a fully satisfactory remedy for, the invasion of privacy that occurred when the IRS obtained the information on the tapes, the Court of Appeals does have power to effectuate a partial remedy by ordering the Government to return or destroy any copies of the tapes that it may possess. Even if the Government is right that under §§ 7402(b) and 7604(a) the jurisdiction of the district court is limited to those matters directly related to whether or not the summons should be enforced, the question presented here is whether there was jurisdiction in the appellate court to review the allegedly unlawful summons enforcement order. There is nothing in the Internal Revenue Code to suggest that Congress sought to preclude such review, and, indeed, this Court has expressly held that IRS summons enforcement orders are subject to appellate review. See Reisman v. Caplin, 375 U. S. 440,449. Although several Courts of Appeals have accepted the Government's argument in IRS enforcement proceedings, the force of that line of authority is matched by a similar array of decisions reaching a contrary conclusion in proceedings enforcing Federal Trade Commission discovery requests. There is no significant difference between the governing statutes that can explain the
10 CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY OF CAL. v. UNITED STATES
divergent interpretations, nor any reason to conclude that production of records relevant to a tax investigation should have mootness consequences that production of other business records does not have. Pp.12-18.
Vacated and remanded.
STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
Eric M. Lieberman argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were David B. Goldstein, Hillary Richard, and Michael Lee Hertzberg.
Deputy Solicitor General Wallace argued the cause for the respondents. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Acting Assistant Attorney General Griffin, Kent L. Jones, Charles E. Brookhart, and John A. Dudeck, Jr.
JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court. Two tapes recording conversations between officials of the Church of Scientology (Church) and their attorneys in July 1980 have been the principal bone of contention in this, and two earlier, legal proceedings.
In an action filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court,l the Church contended that the defendant had unlawfully acquired possession of the tapes. Pending resolution of that action, the state court ordered its Clerk to take custody of the tapes and certain other documents.
In 1984, in connection with an investigation of the tax returns of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sought access to the Church documents in the state-court Clerk's possession.2
1 Church of Scientology of California v. Armstrong, No. C420 153.
2 The Commissioner of Internal Revenue, as the delegate of the Secretary of the Treasury, has broad authority to examine the accuracy of federal tax returns. See generally Donaldson v. United States, 400 U. S. 517, 523-525 (1971). Section 7602(a) of the Internal Revenue Code authorizes the Secretary to summon any person to provide documents relevant to such an examination:
"For the purpose of ascertaining the correctness of any return, making a return where none has been made, determining the liability of any per-