506 U.S. 9 (1992), 91-946, Church of Scientology of California v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 91-946
Citation:506 U.S. 9, 113 S.Ct. 447, 121 L.Ed.2d 313, 61 U.S.L.W. 4003
Party Name:Church of Scientology of California v. United States
Case Date:November 16, 1992
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 9

506 U.S. 9 (1992)

113 S.Ct. 447, 121 L.Ed.2d 313, 61 U.S.L.W. 4003

Church of Scientology of California


United States

No. 91-946

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 16, 1992

Argued Oct. 6, 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 [113 S.Ct. 448] 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

Page 10

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.

STEVENS, J., lead opinion

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,[1] 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]

Page 11

After the Clerk [113 S.Ct. 449] was served with an IRS summons, he permitted IRS agents to examine and make copies of the tapes. Thereafter, in a federal action initiated by the Church in the Central District of California, the District Court entered a temporary restraining order directing the IRS to file its copies of the tapes, and all related notes, with the federal court.[3] Those copies were subsequently returned to the Clerk of the state court.

On January 18, 1985, the IRS commenced this proceeding by filing a petition to enforce the summons that had previously been served on the state court Clerk.[4] The Church intervened and opposed production of the tapes on the ground that they were protected by the attorney-client privilege. After protracted proceedings, including review in this Court, see United States v. Zolin, 491 U.S. 554 (1989), on April 15, 1991, the District Court entered an order enforcing compliance with the summons. The Church filed a timely notice of appeal and unsuccessfully sought a stay of that order. While the appeal was pending, copies of the tapes were delivered to the IRS. Thereafter, the Court of Appeals ordered the Church to show cause why its appeal

Page 12

should not be dismissed as moot. After briefing on the mootness issue, the Court dismissed the appeal. It explained:

Because it is undisputed that the tapes have been turned over to the IRS in compliance with the summons enforcement order, no controversy exists presently, and this appeal is moot.

United States v. Zolin, No. CV 85-0440-HLH (CA9, Sept. 10, 1991).

We granted the Church's petition for certiorari to consider the narrow question whether the appeal was properly dismissed as moot. 503 U.S. 905 (1992).


It has long been settled that a federal court has no authority

to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it.

Mills v. Green, 159 U.S. 651, 653 (1895). See also Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 401 (1975); North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246 (1971). For that reason, if an event occurs while a case is pending...

To continue reading