United States v. Zolin

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Kino Community Hospital

DOCKET NO.: 88-40
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 491 US 554 (1989)
ARGUED: Mar 20, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 21, 1989

Alan I. Horowitz - on behalf of the Petitioner
Michael Lee Hertzberg - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Zolin

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 20, 1989 in United States v. Zolin

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 88-40, United States against Frank Zolin.

Mr. Horowitz, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Alan I. Horowitz:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This summons enforcement case presents two distinct issues.

First, the authority of the district court to place a condition on its enforcement order requiring the IRS to return to the court for prior approval of certain uses of a summon material.

And, second, the correctness of the standard applied by the court of appeals in ruling upon Respondents' claim of attorney/client privilege for one of the summoned documents.

I will turn my attention initially and primarily to the first question, which has major implications for the effective conduct of IRS investigations generally.

Respondents here oppose the enforcement of the IRS' summons on the ground that it was not issued in good faith.

Specifically, they alleged that the IRS was seeking the summoned documents not for use in its own tax investigation of Ron Hubbard but for the purpose of furnishing the documents to the Department of Justice for use in the defense of a civil damage suit that had been brought against federal officials by the Church of Scientology.

After a hearing, the district court emphatically rejected these allegations and ordered the summons enforced.

In its order, the court stated, and I quote from page 27(a) at the Appendix to the Petition,

"The Church has failed to raise any doubt of the good faith of the IRS in pursuing this summons enforcement proceeding. "

And the court went on to state that the agent did not issue the summons for an improper or collateral purpose.

At the hearing, the court was even more explicit.

And, again, I quote from page 45 of the Joint Appendix.

"There is not an iota of evidence that this summons is being prosecuted for any reason other than to gather information for the ongoing investigation. "

Nevertheless, faced with continued entreaties by Respondents' counsel that the IRS' aim in fact was to turn over the summon material to the Justice Department, and also with the government's statement that it had no such intention, the court sua sponte placed a condition on its enforcement order.

Namely, the court held that the summoned material could not be disclosed to any other government agency without a prior order of the court.

And the court went on to suggest at the hearing that it would issue such an order if the government could demonstrate that the proposed disclosure complied with the confidentiality rules of Section 6103.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Horowitz--

--Mr. Horowitz, how did that order interfere with the IRS' ability to gather information about its own tax investigation?

I... you know, I had a little difficulty understanding how the government is hurt by that kind of order.

Alan I. Horowitz:

Well, we recognize, Justice O'Connor, that this particular restriction that was entered in this case is a narrow one and it's fairly benign, in fact, because the government didn't plan to turn over any information, to the Justice Department.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Yes, So the IRS wasn't hindered at all by that--

Alan I. Horowitz:

The probabilities were--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--as far as I can see it.

Alan I. Horowitz:

--that on the facts of this case... so it would never have occasion to go to the court and nothing would happen.

But... but it is our contention that the general principle that underlies the district court's, the only way in which its order can be supported by authority, and the principle that was explicitly adopted by the court of appeals is in fact the broad one that has the potential to be extremely damaging to IRS investigations.

John Paul Stevens:

Mr. Horowitz, let me interrupt you too.

You stress that the district court said there is not an iota of evidence of bad faith, harassment, or anything of that kind.