UNITED STATES of America
Mary Sue HUBBARD, et al.
Appeal of CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY OF CALIFORNIA.
United States Court of Appeals,
District of Columbia Circuit.
Argued July 23, 1982.
Decided Aug. 10, 1982.
Appeal was taken in criminal cases from decisions of the United States
District Court for the District of Columbia, Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr., J., with
respect to motions seeking disclosure of documents seized from religious
group. The Court of Appeals held that the District Court should not bring
about disclosure of documents of religious group at request of Commissioner of
Internal Revenue, defendant in tax court action in which group sought tax
refund, or at request of party in pending lawsuits in federal district courts
in Boston and Los Angeles, the decision to disclose or not to disclose
should be made by tax court and such district courts and documents should
remain sealed until they had been received in such courts.
MacKinnon, Circuit Judge, filed concurring opinion.
In criminal cases, district court in District of Columbia should not bring
about disclosure of documents of religious group at request of Commissioner of
Internal Revenue, defendant in tax court action in which group sought tax
refund, or at request of party in pending lawsuits in federal district courts
in Boston and Los Angeles, decision to disclose or not to disclose should be
made by tax court and such district courts and documents should remain sealed
until they had been received in such courts.
*956 **330 Appeal from the United States District Court for the District
of Columbia (D.C. Criminal No. 78-401).
Michael Lee Hertzberg of the Bar of the New York Court of Appeals, pro hac
vice, by special leave of court, with whom Leonard B. Boudin, Eric M.
Lieberman, New York City, and Roger C. Spaeder, Washington, D. C., were on the
brief, for appellant.
Thomas Hoffman, Boston, Mass., of the Bar of the Supreme Judicial Court of
Massachusetts, pro hac vice, by special leave of court, for petitioner-appellee
Judith Hetherton, Asst. U. S. Atty., with whom Stanley S. Harris, U. S. Atty.,
and John A. Terry and Raymond Banoun, Asst. U. S. Attys., Washington, D. C.,
were on the brief, for appellee United States.
Before ROBINSON, Chief Judge, and MacKINNON and WALD, Circuit Judges.
Opinion PER CURIAM.
Concurring opinion filed by Circuit Judge MacKINNON.
In 1977, following issuance of a very comprehensive search warrant, the United
States Government seized several thousand documents from two Los Angeles
premises of the Church of Scientology of California (Scientology). To aid in a
criminal prosecution of several Scientologists, photocopies of a large subset
of these documents were placed in the hands of the clerk of the United States
District Court for the District of Columbia, under seal.[FN1] On the day
before entering guilty verdicts on a stipulated record, the district court
judge presiding over the criminal prosecutions of nine Scientologists unsealed
the court's copies of all of these documents, except for certain ones whose
originals had been returned to Scientology. Nine months later, we reversed,
holding that the district court should release generally only those documents
in which the public, or some member of the public, had a particularized
interest sufficient to overcome Scientology's privacy interest. United
States v. Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293 (D.C.Cir.1980). On remand, a different
district judge [FN2] found no particularized interests warranting disclosure.
We therefore ordered all of the documents in the district court's possession
resealed. United States v. Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293, 332-33
(D.C.Cir.1981) (supplemental opinion).
FN1. See generally United States v. Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293, 296-99 &
FN2. The original trial judge had recused himself.
During the nine months between the district court's unsealing order and our
reversal, the district court's copies of the documents were available for
public inspection and photocopying.[FN3] Scientology asked us to recall and
modify our mandate to seal the copies made during this nine-month period. We
denied Scientology's motion in an unpublished order on January 19, 1982, mainly
on the ground that it would be impractical to restrict third parties' use of
their copies of the documents.[FN4]
FN3. A motions panel of this court had denied a stay of the unsealing, the
court en banc had denied reconsideration, and Chief Justice Burger, as
Circuit Justice, had denied a stay.
FN4. The operative portion of our January 19 memorandum reads as follows:
Recall and modification of a mandate is guided by equitable
considerations. 7 J. Moore, Federal Practice P 60.19. Recall and
modification are limited to exceptional cases involving not just "good
cause" and a need to prevent injustice but falling within one of several
"special reason(s)." See Greater Boston Television Corporation v.
F.C.C., 463 F.2d 268, 275-80 (D.C.Cir.1971). This is not an exceptional
case warranting the exercise of our power. Scientology fears that without
additional protection from this court, private persons who have obtained
copies of the documents while they were improperly unsealed will be free to
use them as they please without judicial oversight of the kind involved in
the course of ordinary discovery procedures. The additional protection
sought is general, i.e., requiring return of all copies, enjoining their
future use, and making the sealing order effective nunc pro tunc back to
the time of the improper unsealing. Scientology itself cautions that we
ought not fashion a protective order deciding which documents are relevant
to or discoverable in litigation in the various courts throughout the
country. That caution is well taken; the various courts overseeing civil
actions in which the documents are or may be involved are best able to
oversee use of the copies made while the documents were improperly unsealed
as well as to supervise discovery. Further, the general prohibition
Scientology seeks here however would apply to unidentified non-litigants
who acted in good faith in obtaining the documents and whose actions would
now be governed by an order they had no meaningful opportunity to contest.
Any such general prohibition would not only extend the court's mandate to
unknowable limits but would realistically be unenforceable as well.
See also infra note 6.
We thus have made clear the status of two sets of copies of the seized
documents: those in the district court's possession are, *957 **331 for
the time being, [FN5] under seal; those in the possession of anyone but the
district court, the government, and Scientology may be freely disseminated.
[FN6] This appeal requires us to address for the first time [FN7] the status
of a third set of the documents: the originals still in the government's
hands. The district court concluded that the government's originals could be
produced, without seal, to parties having a need for them. We believe a more
moderate procedure will best accommodate the legitimate interests of the
parties before us, as well as the various courts that must consider these
documents. We therefore modify the district court's order.
FN5. Both Scientology and the government indicated at oral argument that
they expect at some point in the future to file motions to change the
status of the court's copies. We note that many circumstances have already
changed since we filed the Hubbard opinions in 1980 and 1981-the seizure of
the documents has been upheld against a fourth amendment attack, criminal
convictions have been obtained and affirmed, and the Supreme Court has
denied certiorari with respect to all but two of the defendants. See
generally United States v. Heldt, 668 F.2d 1238 (D.C.Cir.1981), cert.
denied, --- U.S. ----, 102 S.Ct. 1971, 72 L.Ed.2d 440 (1982). We do
not, of course, decide whether these changed circumstances would justify a
general unsealing of the documents at this time, for neither the district
court nor this court has been presented with a motion for such unsealing.
FN6. Scientology makes an argument that some people who copied the
district court's documents during their period of availability may not have
done so "in good faith" and are therefore outside the scope of our January
19 memorandum. See supra note 4. We disagree. Anyone who wished to
copy the documents during those nine months was totally free to do so; "bad
faith" in this context is a meaningless term. Nonlitigants (in the
criminal case below) who copied these documents are subject only to the
oversight of "courts overseeing civil actions in which the documents are or
may be involved." Id.
FN7. The oral argument in this appeal made clear that no one contends that
our Hubbard opinions addressed in terms the government's originals.
Scientology contends only that those opinions have logical implications for
the government's originals.
The Commissioner of Internal Revenue is defendant in an action in the Tax
Court in which Scientology is seeking a tax refund, claiming it should be
afforded tax-exempt status for 1970, 1971, and 1972. The Internal Revenue
Service (IRS) wishes to use part of one of the seized documents ("Exhibit FX")
in this litigation. The trial judge in the Tax Court, however, has declined to
admit the document into evidence without some indication from a court in this
jurisdiction that to do so would not violate Hubbard. The government thus
moved in the district court on January 13, 1982 that Exhibit FX be "certified"
to the Tax Court.[FN8]
FN8. The IRS has apparently long been in possession of Exhibit FX, having
obtained copies both from the United States Attorney or Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) for law-enforcement purposes, and from the district
court during the nine-month period of unsealing. The government's January
13 motion in the district court, therefore, pertained not to actual release
of anyone's copy of Exhibit FX, but to the Tax Court's use of the document.
Paulette Cooper is plaintiff in one tort action, and defendant in another,
against Scientology. She has copies of several hundred of the seized
documents, having made copies in the district court clerk's office
*958 **332 during the unsealed period. She wishes to use these documents
in her pending lawsuits, one in federal district court in Boston, the other
in federal district court in Los Angeles. She sought through ordinary
discovery to have Scientology confirm the authenticity of the documents in her
possession, but Scientology would only admit that they were true copies of the
documents returned to it by the FBI, suggesting that they might differ in some
way from the originals seized from Scientology. Ms. Cooper therefore sought to
depose the custodian of the original seized documents so that she could
authenticate her copies. She served a subpoena duces tecum on the United
States. The United States, in accord with a disposition agreement entered into
with the criminal defendants, [FN9] provided Scientology with ten days' notice
of its intention to comply with the subpoena, and Scientology promptly sought
from the district court here a protective order prohibiting disclosure of these
documents, or the deposition transcript, to the public.
FN9. The disposition agreement is discussed briefly in Hubbard, 650
F.2d at 300-01, and reprinted in full in United States v. Heldt, 668
F.2d 1238, 1286-88 (D.C.Cir.1981), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 102
S.Ct. 1971, 72 L.Ed.2d 440 (1982). The relevant paragraph, number 8, is
reprinted in id. at 1287. Scientology was not a party to the
disposition agreement, and we held in Hubbard, 650 F.2d at 319-20, that
its interests are distinct from those of the individual criminal
defendants. Scientology is, however, a third-party beneficiary of the
disposition agreement in this context.
On February 17, 1982, the district court ruled on the IRS' motion and
Scientology's motion. In a thoughtful analysis of our Hubbard opinion, the
that the original seized documents now in the hands of the government, as
well as all copies of the documents obtained by individuals during the nine
month unsealing, fall within the scope of the sealing order placed on the
documents by the Court of Appeals' decision in United States v. Hubbard, 650
F.2d 293 (D.C.Cir.1980). These documents, although not physically located
within the confines of the United States Courthouse, are nevertheless under
seal and may not be disseminated without first securing from this Court an
unsealing order specifically permitting such dissemination. This is true
whether the proposed dissemination would result in "wholesale public access" to
the documents or in a more limited disclosure of the documents.
Memorandum opinion at 5-6. The court went on to hold, however, that both the
IRS and Ms. Cooper had a particular need for the documents, so that
certification of Exhibit FX and Ms. Cooper's deposition, with its accompanying
documents, could go forward, so long as Exhibit FX and the deposition
transcript were placed under seal in the courts in which they were to be used.
[FN10] Id. at 7-10.
FN10. We understand the district court's finding that Ms. Cooper and the
IRS had a need for these documents to be undisputed. In any event, it is
Scientology neither sought reconsideration of nor took an appeal from the
February 17 ruling. The government, however, sought reconsideration and
modification of the opinion and order, and Ms. Cooper sought "clarification."
[FN11] In its twenty-two-page motion, the government complained at length that
the February 17 decision had the effect of retroactively making illegal
numerous disseminations of the documents that had already taken place within
the federal government. In a single paragraph, the government also argued that
there was no need for a seal on the Tax Court document because of the "strong
public policy in favor of full disclosure of evidence upon which a court relies
in rendering its decisions." R. 948 at 21 (citing Nixon v. Warner
Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 98 S.Ct. 1306, 55 L.Ed.2d 570 (1977);
Hubbard, 650 F.2d at 317-18 & n.96).[FN12] Ms. Cooper
*959 **333 attached to her motion copies of three letters in which counsel
for Scientology or Scientologists had advised Ms. Cooper and others that the
February 17 opinion required that they not disseminate their copies of the
documents, and further that they withdraw the copies attached to their
pleadings in pending litigation. Ms. Cooper's motion argued that this was an
unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech and that these documents were
already in the public domain. R. 949. Both the government and Ms. Cooper also
relied heavily on our January 19 memorandum, see supra note 4, which for
some reason had not come to the attention of the district judge when he ruled
on February 17.[FN13]
FN11. Times Publishing Company, a publisher of two Florida newspapers,
also sought to intervene and to have the district court modify its order.
The district court denied intervention, and Times Publishing Company has
FN12. "R." refers to the numbered documents in the district court record.
FN13. The record sheds no light on why this was so. It appears there may
have been some inadvertent breakdown in communications between our clerk's
office and the parties.
In another thoughtful opinion, the district judge on June 10 vacated his
February 17 order. In light of our January 19 memorandum, he held that "when
the Court of Appeals imposed the seal in United States v. Hubbard, supra, it
intended to seal only those documents actually located in the court files."
Memorandum opinion at 4. He therefore removed all restrictions on government
dissemination except those found in the disposition agreement, see supra p.
958 & note 9, removed all restrictions on private party dissemination, and
ordered that the certification of Exhibit FX and Ms. Cooper's depositions go
forward without the seals previously imposed.
Scientology appealed this ruling and sought a stay pending appeal from the
district court. The district court denied a stay, and Scientology then sought
an emergency stay from this court. We granted a temporary stay on July 14 and
on July 20 ordered that all briefing of the entire appeal be completed by July
22 and that oral argument take place on July 23.[FN14] We now decide the full
FN14. No one objected to this schedule.
In our opinion, this case presents exceedingly narrow issues. We need only
decide whether the district court in the District of Columbia should bring
about public disclosure, at the request of these parties, of the particular
documents at issue in this litigation. We believe it should not at this time.
The government's interest in certification of Exhibit FX to the Tax Court is
legitimate. Certification of Exhibit FX under seal fully satisfies that
interest. The further interest asserted by the government-public disclosure of
evidence upon which a court relies -may be satisfied by public disclosure when
and if the Tax Court in fact relies on Exhibit FX. A Tax Court decision to
disclose or not to disclose Exhibit FX will contravene neither the letter nor
the spirit of our Hubbard decision and our January 19 memorandum. In short,
the government's prodisclosure arguments and Scientology's antidisclosure
arguments should be addressed to the Tax Court judge. Our function is simply
to assure the Tax Court freedom to rule as it sees fit by ordering the
government's copy of Exhibit FX kept under seal unless and until the Tax Court
rules otherwise. In this connection it may exercise its sound judicial
discretion. It is not bound by the seal of the district court.
Similarly, Ms. Cooper's interest in authentication of her documents is
legitimate.[FN15] This interest is protected by taking the deposition and
placing it under seal. As counsel for Ms. Cooper admitted at oral argument,
his client has no interest in further dissemination. There may be others who
have an interest in obtaining access to *960 **334 the transcript of the
deposition, but they were not before the district court and are not before us.
Furthermore, should they eventually appear, their arguments should not be
addressed to us or to the district court here, but to the courts in which the
deposition transcript will be used. Our jurisdiction, it should be obvious,
does not extend to Boston or Los Angeles; we cannot, should not, and do not
restrict the district courts in those places from unsealing the deposition
transcript, or portions thereof, in accord with the usual principles governing
public access to the fruits of discovery,[FN16] and documents in the record of
court proceedings. Our jurisdiction does, of course, extend to the district
court here, and we hold that that court should have recognized the Boston and
Los Angeles courts' freedom to rule by ordering the deposition transcript kept
under seal unless and until they rule otherwise.
FN15. Scientology has raised a question as to whether copies of the
documents produced by the subpoena duces tecum may be attached to the
transcripts of the deposition taken by Ms. Cooper, or whether instead the
FBI agent producing them may only testify as to his visual comparison of
the originals and Ms. Cooper's copies. We think it clear that copies of
the documents may be attached, in furtherance of Ms. Cooper's legitimate
interest. Whether nothing, the transcript without attachments, or the
transcript with attachments is made public is a matter for determination by
the courts in which the transcript is used.
FN16. These principles, of course, largely depend on a balancing similar
to that we undertook in Hubbard, and these courts may well look to our
Hubbard opinion (with due regard to changed circumstances, see supra
note 5) for guidance. They are, however, clearly not bound by our Hubbard
We therefore hold that the seal on Exhibit FX and the deposition transcript is
retained until they have been received in the courts in which they are to be
used. Those courts may then rule on the status of such documents as they
consider proper. Two other points require brief elaboration. We affirm the
district court's June 10 order insofar as it removes restrictions on third-
party dissemination of the documents obtained during the unsealing period. The
June 10 order in this respect comports fully with our January 19 memorandum.
See also supra note 6. Also, we affirm the June 10 order insofar as it
removes any retroactive invalidation of intragovernmental dissemination of
those documents. No matter how broadly or narrowly our Hubbard opinion is
read, it certainly allows dissemination by the government "to appropriate law
enforcement agencies." Hubbard, 650 F.2d at 323.[FN17] The record reflects
that the government has done no more than give copies of the documents to such
FN17. In Hubbard we said that the district court could make copies
available to such agencies. Counsel for Scientology, however, does not
contend that the government is more restricted in this regard.
FN18. "(A)ppropriate law enforcement agencies," as we used that term in
Hubbard, encompasses agencies charged with enforcing both the criminal
and civil laws (including internal revenue laws). The public has a strong
interest in the enforcement of both. Cf. Hubbard, 650 F.2d at 323
("(A)ccess might be ... warranted ... where the remedies of grievously
injured and unknowing victims would be jeopardized if the documents never
entered the public domain".).
We remand this case to the district court. The district court shall modify
its June 10 order to require that Exhibit FX be kept under seal unless and
until the Tax Court orders otherwise. The district court shall also modify its
order to require that the transcript of the deposition taken by Paulette Cooper
of FBI Agent Varley be transmitted under seal to the United States District
Courts for the District of Massachusetts and for the Central District of
California. Once the transcript is in the possession of those courts, they may
rule on its status. In all other respects, the district court is affirmed.
MacKINNON, Circuit Judge (concurring).
I concur generally in the foregoing opinion but desire to comment
additionally. At oral argument appellant's counsel stated they were proceeding
on the theory that they could eventually obtain the return of all the original
evidentiary documents seized from the Church of Scientology (Scientology) which
were introduced as exhibits in the case. Implicit in this theory as advanced
was the assumption that the Government would also surrender all copies of the
exhibits. If the theory of Scientology eventuated, the evidentiary record in
this case would end up devoid of reliable substantiation. Scientology's theory
cannot *961 **335 prevail. The court must at all times retain a complete
and authoritative record.
It was further claimed at oral argument that our decision in United States
v. Wilson, 540 F.2d 1100 (D.C.Cir.1976), supports Scientology's position.
Having authored Wilson, which is apparently the leading case, I believe it
worthwhile to correct some misconceptions. We held in Wilson that a federal
district court possesses both the jurisdiction and duty "in a criminal case to
return to the defendant that property seized from him in the investigation but
which is not alleged to be stolen, contraband, or otherwise forfeitable, and
which is not needed, or is no longer needed, as evidence." Id. at 1101.
Wilson involved money, whereas here we are dealing with corporate records and
documents. There was no intent in Wilson to deal with other property.
Money, to which the Government has no further claim, is usually properly
returned to a defendant when the case is over and its evidentiary value, if
any, has been exhausted.
Corporate records and documents, however, are of a different character and
involve some different considerations. Generally when corporate business
records are admitted into evidence, if they are needed by the corporation for
its operations, copies are furnished and the practice is for the court to
exercise its discretion to allow the return of the originals to the
corporation. The originals need not be returned, however, if they are needed
by the court. After the case is finally completed the court may, in its
discretion, permit the substitution of copies for the originals. It is
important that the court's evidentiary record at all times be complete and
authoritative. This is particularly important in criminal cases where some
defendants attempt to attack their convictions many years after they became
final; an authoritative evidentiary record may be required to resolve issues.
Courts may also allow the government to retain seized documents and other
property not used at trial for investigations relating to other possible
criminal actions. Such was the conclusion of the Sixth Circuit in United
States v. Murphy, 413 F.2d 1129 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 896, 90
S.Ct. 195, 24 L.Ed.2d 174 (1969), where it stated:
The main point of appellants' argument in this regard was that they had the
right to the return of other property and documents which were seized by the
Government at the time of their arrest and were not exhibits in the case. This
property and the other documents were being held so that it could be determined
whether they were stolen from other institutions, and could be used as exhibits
in numerous subsequent actions commenced against appellant in different parts
of the country. But the withholding of this property from appellants resulted
in no error or prejudice to them in this case.
Id. at 1140. The reasoning of the Sixth Circuit appears to have particular
relevance here where additional criminal and civil actions have either been
commenced or may yet be instituted. Amidst the prospect or actuality of
subsequent litigation the integrity of seized documents that were admitted into
evidence in an earlier proceeding must be preserved against the contention that
any copies are not true and correct. Appellant here has already claimed that
copies of some documents are not correct copies of documents seized pursuant to
the search warrant. Under such circumstances the court in its discretion might
decide to retain the originals if appellants are unable to show a legitimate
business need for them. It is difficult to imagine what legitimate business
need appellants could show for the documents in question because they are not
ordinary business records but were seized because of their relevance to certain
criminal offenses which have resulted in convictions and sentences. It may be
that appellants are attempting to obstruct plaintiffs from obtaining evidence
necessary for some civil actions that are pending or might be brought against
Scientology or its officials.[FN1]
FN1. Counsel for Intervenor-Appellee Paulette Cooper at oral argument
mentioned his efforts to authenticate some of the documents that are
relevant to her pending civil litigation with Scientology. Cooper should
also consider whether such authentication might be accomplished by (1) the
inventory of the search that was filed with the court and (2) by any
additional notes or memoranda that the Government may have made
contemporaneously with the search.
The disposition to be made of evidentiary documents lies within the sound
discretion of the trial court which should be alert to *962 **336 preserve
an accurate and complete evidentiary record covering all proceedings and
As the Third Circuit held in United States v. Premises Known as 608 Taylor
Ave., 584 F.2d 1297 (3d Cir. 1978), a district court's determination of the
reasonableness of the retention of property should include "consideration of
the purposes for which the property is being held." Id. at 1304. The Third
Circuit further admonished that district courts should be "sensitive to the
need to balance the owner's interests and the often complex and varied
governmental interests in retaining evidence for trial." Id. The retention
of an authentic record should also figure in this equation. Only if the
Government's retention is unreasonable in light of all the circumstances should
the district court order the return of the seized property.