CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY OF CALIFORNIA, Petitioner
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE.
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued Oct. 5, 1987.
Decided Nov. 10, 1987.
Action was brought under the Freedom of Information Act to compel disclosure
of certain information by the IRS. The United States District Court for the
District of Columbia, 569 F.Supp. 1165, denied relief. The United States
Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, 792 F.Supp. 146 and 792
F.2d 153, vacated and remanded. The Supreme Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist,
held that mere redaction by identifying data will not, by virtue of the Haskell
amendment, take material out of the definition of return information, which is
required to be kept confidential.
 INTERNAL REVENUE
Mere redaction of data identifying the taxpayer will not, by virtue of the
Haskell amendment allowing disclosure of data in a form which cannot be
directly associated with a particular taxpayer, take the material out of the
definition of "return information" which may not be disclosed by the Internal
Revenue Service. 26 U.S.C.A. s 6103(b)(2).
If confidentiality provision of the Internal Revenue Code forbids the
disclosure of material, it may not be produced in response to a request under
the Freedom of Information Act. 26 U.S.C.A. s 6103; 5 U.S.C.A. s
 INTERNAL REVENUE
Nonidentifying data in income tax return does not cease to be "return
information" at all for purposes of confidentiality provision. 26
U.S.C.A. s 6103.
See publication Words and Phrases for other judicial constructions and
 INTERNAL REVENUE
One of the major purposes of 1976 revision of Internal Revenue Code
confidentiality provision was to tighten restrictions on the use of return
information by entities other than the Internal Revenue Service. 26
U.S.C.A. s 6103.
FN* The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has
been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the
reader. See United States v. Detroit Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337, 26
S.Ct. 282, 287, 50 L.Ed. 499.
*9 Section 6103(a) of the Internal Revenue Code provides that tax
returns and "return information" shall be confidential and shall not be
disclosed except as authorized. "Return information" is defined in
s 6103(b)(2) to include a taxpayer's identity, the nature, source, or amount
of his income, payments, receipts, deductions, exemptions, credits, assets,
liabilities, net worth, tax liability, tax withheld, deficiencies,
overassessments, tax payments, or any other data with respect to a return or to
the determination of the existence or amount of liability. However,
s 6103(b)(2) also contains the proviso, known as the Haskell Amendment,
that "return information" does not include data "in a form" which cannot be
associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular
taxpayer. Upon the Internal Revenue Service's slow response to petitioner's
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the production of numerous
records containing information relating to it, petitioner filed suit in Federal
District Court to compel release of the materials. The court held that the IRS
had correctly limited its search for and disclosure of the requested materials,
and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the Haskell Amendment's "in a
form" phrase contemplates agency reformulation of return information into a
statistical study or some other composite product and not merely the deletion
of the taxpayer's name and other identifying data.
Held: The Haskell Amendment does not exempt from s 6103(b)(2)'s definition
of confidential "return information" material in IRS files which can be
redacted to delete those parts which would identify a particular taxpayer. If
the mere removal of identifying details sufficed to put the information "in a
form" envisioned by the Amendment, the remainder of the protected categories of
information included in s 6103(b)(2) would often be irrelevant, and the "in
a form" phrase would itself be extremely awkward, confusing, and unnecessary.
Petitioner's contrary construction of the Amendment is likewise belied by other
provisions of s 6103 which set forth various exceptions to the general rule
of confidentiality and recognize that "return information" remains such even
when it does not identify a particular taxpayer. Moreover, the legislative
history also refutes petitioner's construction, since allowing the disclosure
of *10 otherwise confidential return information merely by the redaction of
identifying details would undercut s 6103's primary purpose of limiting
access to tax filings. In fact, the Amendment was simply intended to permit
continuation of the IRS's practice of releasing statistical studies and
compilations that do not identify particular taxpayers. Thus, since deletion
of identifying data would not make otherwise protected return information
discloseable, there is no merit to petitioner's contention that respondent has
an FOIA duty to undertake such redaction. Pp. 273-276.
253 U.S.App.D.C. 85, 792 F.2d 153, affirmed.
REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other
Members joined, except BRENNAN and SCALIA, JJ., who took no part in the
consideration or decision of the case.
**272 Michael Lee Hertzberg argued the causefor petitioner. With him on the
briefs were Eric M. Lieberman and Ellen J. Winner.
Deputy Solicitor General Lauber argued the cause for respondent. With him on
the brief were Solicitor General Fried, Acting Assistant Attorney General Mann,
and Alan I. Horowitz.*
* David C. Vladeck and Alan B. Morrison filed a brief for Professor John L.
Neufeld et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.
John A. Powell, Stephen K. Strong, and David F. Stobaugh filed a brief for the
American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae.
Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
 Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code 26 U.S.C. s 6103, lays
down a general rule that "returns" and "return information" as defined therein
shall be confidential. "Return information" is elaborately defined in
s 6103(b)(2); immediately after that definition appears the following
proviso, known as the Haskell Amendment:
"[B]ut such term does not include data in a form which cannot be associated
with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer."
Petitioner Church of Scientology of California, seeking disclosure under the
Freedom of Information Act, contends that *11 the Haskell Amendment excepts
from the definition of "return information" all material in the files of the
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) which can be redacted to delete those parts
which would identify a particular taxpayer. Respondent IRS in opposition
argues that the mere redaction of identifying data will not, by virtue of the
Haskell Amendment, take the material out of the definition of "return
information." We agree with the IRS.
Petitioner filed a request with respondent under the Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. s 552, for the production of numerous documents. Among
the materials sought by petitioner were "[c]opies of all information relating
to or containing the names of, Scientology, Church of Scientology, any specific
Scientology church or entity identified by containing the words Scientology,
Hubbard and/or Dianetics in their names, L. Ron Hubbard or Mary Sue Hubbard in
the form of written record, correspondence, document, memorandum, form,
computor [sic] tape, computor [sic] program **273 or microfilm, which is
contained in" an extensive list of respondent's case files and data systems.
FOIA Request Dated May 16, 1980, App. 20a-27a. Petitioner also requested
similar information from the offices and personal areas of a number of
 Dissatisfied by the slow response to its request, petitioner filed suit
in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to compel
release of the materials. In the District Court the parties agreed--as they
continue to agree here--that s 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code is the sort
of statute referred to by the FOIA in 5 U.S.C. s 552(b)(3) relating to
matters that are "specifically exempted from disclosure by statute ..."; thus,
if s 6103 forbids the disclosure of material, it may not be produced in
response to a request under the FOIA. Respondent argued that many of the
records were protected as "returns" or "return information" under s 6103.
Section 6103(a) provides that "[r]eturns and return information shall be
confidential" and shall not be *12 disclosed "except as authorized by this
title." A "return" is defined in s 6103(b)(1) as "any tax or information
return, declaration of estimated tax, or claim for refund" including supporting
schedules, attachments, and lists. Section 6103(b)(2) then supplies a more
extensive definition of "return information," which includes:
"[A] taxpayer's identity, the nature, source, or amount of his income,
payments, receipts, deductions, exemptions, credits, assets, liabilities, net
worth, tax liability, tax withheld, deficiencies, over-assessments, or tax
payments, whether the taxpayer's return was, is being, or will be examined or
subject to other investigation or processing, or any other data, received by,
recorded by, prepared by, furnished to, or collected by the Secretary with
respect to a return or with respect to the determination of the existence, or
possible existence, of liability (or the amount thereof) of any person under
this title for any tax, penalty, interest, fine, forfeiture, or other
imposition, or offense...."
After providing this detailed explanation of confidential "return
information," s 6103(b)(2), as previously noted, continues: "but such term
does not include data in a form which cannot be associated with, or otherwise
identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer." This last clause--
the Haskell Amendment--was proposed as a floor amendment by Senator Haskell of
Colorado and was adopted by a voice vote during the debate on the 1976
amendments to the Internal Revenue Code.
The District Court, after an in camera review of representative documents,
held that respondent had correctly limited its search for and disclosure of
materials requested by petitioner. 569 F.Supp. 1165 (D.D.C.1983).
Petitioner appealed that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia Circuit. Following briefing and argument before a three-
judge panel, the Court of Appeals *13 sua sponte undertook en banc review of
the meaning of the Haskell Amendment and the modification it works upon
s 6103(b)(2). The Court of Appeals concluded that, by using the words "in a
form," Congress contemplated "not merely the deletion of an identifying name or
symbol on a document that contains return information, but agency reformulation
of the return information into a statistical study or some other composite
product...." 253 U.S.App.D.C. 85, 92, 792 F.2d 153, 160 (1986) (emphasis in
original). Thus, the court held, before respondent may produce documents
otherwise protected, the Haskell Amendment requires that some modification have
occurred in the form of the data contained in the documents. "[M]ere deletion
of the taxpayer's name or other identifying data is not enough, since that
would render the reformulation requirement entirely duplicative of the
nonidentification requirement." [FN1] Id., at 95, 792 F.2d, at 163.
FN1. The decision of the District of Columbia Circuit was thus in
substantial agreement with the Seventh Circuit's opinion in King v. IRS,
688 F.2d 488 (1982), and the Eleventh Circuit's determination in Currie
v. IRS, 704 F.2d 523 (1983). The Seventh Circuit concluded in King
that s 6103 "protects from disclosure all nonamalgamated items listed in
subsection (b)(2)(A), and that the Haskell Amendment provides only for the
disclosure of statistical tabulations which are not associated with or do
not identify particular taxpayers." 688 F.2d, at 493. Similarly, in
Currie the Eleventh Circuit held that the Haskell Amendment does not
obligate the IRS, in a suit under the FOIA, to delete identifying material
from documents and release what would otherwise be return information.
704 F.2d, at 531-532.
The Ninth Circuit, however, reached a different result in Long v. IRS,
596 F.2d 362 (1979), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 917, 100 S.Ct. 1851, 64
L.Ed.2d 271 (1980). In Long, the court found that the Haskell Amendment
removes from the category of protected return information any documents
that do not identify a particular taxpayer once names, addresses, and
similar details are deleted. See 596 F.2d, at 367-369.
**274 We granted certiorari, 479 U.S. 1063, 107 S.Ct. 947, 93 L.Ed.2d
996 (1987), to consider the scope of the Haskell Amendment and its relation to
the *14 confidentiality provisions of ss 6103(a) and (b). [FN2]
Petitioner believes that the Haskell Amendment makes significantly greater
inroads on the definition of "return information" than did the Court of
Appeals. It makes two interrelated contentions: first, that the Haskell
Amendment removes from the classification of "return information" all data
which do not identify a particular taxpayer, and, second, that 5 U.S.C. s
552(b)--requiring that "[a]ny reasonably segregable portion" of a record be
provided to a requester after deletion of the portions which are exempt--
compels respondent to redact "return information" in its files where possible
so as to bring that material within the terms of the Haskell Amendment. We
reject both of these arguments.
FN2. The original panel applied the en banc decision to the search and
disclosure undertaken by respondent. See 253 U.S.App.D.C. 78, 792 F.2d
146 (1986). Although many of the requested documents were protected as
"return information," the panel found that the District Court had erred in
accepting respondent's blanket assertion that all information responsive to
petitioner's request in files unrelated to petitioner's California branch
was exempt from disclosure. The panel remanded the case to District Court
with instructions that respondent conduct a new search for information
about the third parties identified by petitioner and justify any
withholding of the information under the FOIA or s 6103. See id., at
84-85, 792 F.2d, at 152-153.
We are told by the IRS that, as a practical matter, "return information" might
include the report of an audit examination, internal IRS correspondence
concerning a taxpayer's claim, or a notice of deficiency issued by the IRS
proposing an increase in the taxpayer's assessment. Tr. of Oral Arg. 24-25.
Petitioner asserts that the segregation requirement of the FOIA, s 552(b),
directs respondent to remove the identifiers from such documents as these and
that, once the materials are purged of such identifiers, they must be disclosed
because they no longer constitute return information described in
We find no support for petitioner's arguments in either the language of
s 6103 or in its legislative history. In addition to *15 the returns
themselves, which are protected from disclosure by s 6103(b)(1),
s 6103(b)(2) contains an elaborate description of the sorts of information
related to returns that respondent is compelled to keep confidential. If the
mere removal of identifying details from return information sufficed to put the
information "in a form" envisioned by the Haskell Amendment, the remainder of
the categories included in s 6103(b)(2) would often be irrelevant. The
entire section could have been prefaced by the simple instruction to respondent
that the elimination of identifiers would shift related tax data outside the
realm of protected return information. Respondent would then first determine
whether the information could be redacted so as not to identify a taxpayer;
only if it could not would the extensive list of materials that constitute
"return information" become pertinent. And if petitioner correctly interprets
the intent of the Haskell Amendment, Congress' drafting was awkward in the
extreme. The Amendment exempts "data **275 in a form " (emphasis added) that
cannot be associated with or otherwise identify a particular taxpayer. A much
more natural phrasing would omit the confusing and unnecessary words "in a
form" and refer simply to data.
 Other provisions of s 6103 likewise belie petitioner's construction
of the Haskell Amendment. Subsections (c) through (o ) of s 6103 set forth
various exceptions to the general rule that returns and return information are
confidential and not to be disclosed. These subsections provide that in some
circumstances, and with special safeguards, returns and return information can
be made available to congressional committees, the President, state tax
officials, and other federal agencies. The subsections also recognize that
"return information" remains such even when it does not identify a particular
taxpayer. Subsections 6103(f)(1), (2), and (4), for example, allow the release
of returns and return information to congressional committees, but distinguish
between return information that identifies a taxpayer and return information
that does not. Subsection (f) is thus inconsistent with petitioner's *16
theory that nonidentifying data cease to be return information at all.
 The legislative history of the Tax Reform Act of 1976, Pub.L. 94-455, 90
Stat. 1520, of which the amendments to s 6103 are a part, also indicates
that Congress did not intend the statute to allow the disclosure of otherwise
confidential return information merely by the redaction of identifying
details. One of the major purposes in revising s 6103 was to tighten the
restrictions on the use of return information by entities other than
respondent. See S.Rep. No. 94-938, p. 318 (1976), U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News
1976, pp. 2897, 3747 ("[R]eturns and return information should generally be
treated as confidential and not subject to disclosure except in those limited
situations delineated in the newly amended section 6103"). Petitioner's
suggestion that the Haskell Amendment was intended to modify the restrictions
of s 6103 by making all nonidentifying return information eligible for
disclosure would mean that the Amendment was designed to undercut the
legislation's primary purpose of limiting access to tax filings.
The circumstances under which the Haskell Amendment was adopted make us
reluctant to credit it with this expansive purpose. During debate on the
Senate floor, Senator Haskell proposed that s 6103(b)(2) be amended to make
clear that return information "does not include data in a form which cannot be
associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular
taxpayer." He then added this explanation of his proposal:
"[T]he purpose of this amendment is to insure that statistical studies and
other compilations of data now prepared by the Internal Revenue Service and
disclosed by it to outside parties will continue to be subject to disclosure to
the extent allowed under present law. Thus the Internal Revenue Service can
continue to release for research purposes statistical studies and compilations
of data, such as the tax model, which do not identify individual taxpayers.
*17 "The definition of 'return information' was intended to neither
enhance nor diminish access now obtainable under the Freedom of Information Act
to statistical studies and compilations of data by the Internal Revenue
Service. Thus, the addition by the Internal Revenue Service of easily
deletable identifying information to the type of statistical study or
compilation of data which, under its current practice, has [sic] been subject
to disclosure, will not prevent disclosure of such study or compilation under
the newly amended s 6103. In such an instance, the identifying information
would be deleted and disclosure of the statistical study or compilation of data
be made." 122 Cong.Rec. 24012 (1976).
After these remarks, the floor manager of the legislation, Senator Long, added
that he would "be happy to take this amendment to **276 conference. It might
not be entirely necessary, but it might serve a good purpose." The Haskell
Amendment was then passed by voice vote in the Senate and became part of the
We find it difficult to believe that Congress in this manner adopted an
amendment which would work such an alteration to the basic thrust of the draft
bill amending s 6103. The Senate's purpose in revising s 6103 was, as we
have noted, to impose greater restrictions on the disclosure of tax data; a
change in the proposed draft permitting disclosure of all return information
after deletion of material identifying a particular taxpayer would have, it
seems to us, at a minimum engendered some debate in the Senate and resulted in
a rollcall vote. More importantly, Senator Haskell's remarks clearly indicate
that he did not mean to revise s 6103(b)(2) in this fashion. He refers only
to statistical studies and compilations, and gives no intimation that his
amendment would require respondent to remove identifying details from material
as it exists in its files in order to comply with its requirement. All in all,
we think this is a case where common sense suggests, by analogy to Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle's "dog that *18 didn't bark," that an amendment having the
effect petitioner ascribes to it would have been differently described by its
sponsor, and not nearly as readily accepted by the floor manager of the bill.
We thus hold that, as with a return itself, removal of identification from
return information would not deprive it of protection under s 6103(b).
Since such deletion would not make otherwise protected return information
discloseable, respondent has no duty under the FOIA to undertake such
redaction. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is accordingly
Justices BRENNAN and SCALIA took no part in the consideration or decision of