Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 80 C 3006 -- Thomas R. McMillen, Judge.
Pell, Circuit Judge, Fairchild, Senior Circuit Judge, and Gordon, District Judge.*fn**
This is an appeal from the District Court's grant of summary judgment ordering the Internal Revenue Service to disclose eight redacted documents to the plaintiff under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (1976) (FOIA). The question presented is whether the District Court erred in holding that the documents must be released to the plaintiff after the deletion of taxpayer-identifying material. The I.R.S. contends that the court erred in its interpretation of the term "return information," as defined in I.R.C. § 6103(b) (2), when it ordered that the documents were disclosable after the deletion of such material; and further contends that the provisions of section 6103 embody the exclusive standard for releasing return information, without regard to the provisions of the FOIA.
This litigation arises from three FOIA requests the plaintiff made upon the I.R.S. in 1978 and 1979. Those requests sought data, memoranda, and background information relating to or commenting on certain revenue rulings and regulations which had been issued by the Service on various subjects, including classification of utility trucks; treatment of expenditures for repair, maintenance, rehabilitation or improvement of property; and changes in methods of depreciation. The I.R.S. eventually released some, but not all, of the requested documents. The plaintiff thereafter filed suit seeking access to the remaining 102 documents.
The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The I.R.S. claimed that most of the documents sought were exempt under FOIA § 552(b) (5), and that the eight documents at issue here were exempt under I.R.C. § 6103, or alternatively, FOIA § 552(b) (3). The District Court found sixty-eight of the documents exempt in their entirety under FOIA section (b) (5), but ordered that thirty-four of the documents, including the eight now at issue, be released either in whole or in part. The I.R.S. appealed only from that portion of the order relating to the eight documents for which exemption was claimed under I.R.C. § 6103, and has released all the others to the plaintiff.*fn1 The eight documents at issue in this appeal consist of:
(a) two taxpayer protests of I.R.S. agents' audit reports;
(b) a transmittal letter and a portion of an audit;
(c) a form setting forth adjustments to a taxpayer's return and the reasons therefor;
(d) a form stating a specific taxpayer's liability by period, the amount of adjustments and the reasons therefor;
(e) two I.R.S. intra-office memoranda requesting information on a specific taxpayer; and
(f) a letter from the I.R.S. to a taxpayer asking the taxpayer to alter its method of accounting.
We turn first to the determination of the proper definition of the term "return information," as used in I.R.C. § 6103(b) (2), and then to consideration of the extent to which the documents at issue here fall within that definition.
Section 6103(b) (2) of the Internal Revenue Code provides:
(2) Return information. -- The term "return information" means --
(A) 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, 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, and
(B) any part of any written determination or any background file document relating to such written determination (as such terms are defined in section 6110(b)) which is not ...