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UNITED STATES v. STUART ET AL.

decided: February 28, 1989.

UNITED STATES
v.
STUART ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Brennan, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and White, Marshall, Blackmun, and Stevens, JJ., joined, and in all but Part II-C of which O'Connor and Kennedy, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which O'Connor, J., joined, post, p. 370. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 371.

Author: Brennan

[ 489 U.S. Page 355]

 JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Articles XIX and XXI of the Convention between the United States and Canada Respecting Double Taxation, Mar. 4, 1942, 56 Stat. 1405-1406, T. S. No. 983, oblige the United States, upon request and consistent with United States revenue laws, to obtain and convey information to Canadian authorities to assist them in determining a Canadian taxpayer's income tax liability. The question presented is whether the United States Internal Revenue Service may issue an administrative summons pursuant to a request by Canadian authorities

[ 489 U.S. Page 356]

     only if it first determines that the Canadian tax investigation has not reached a stage analogous to a domestic tax investigation's referral to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. We hold that neither the 1942 Convention nor domestic legislation imposes this precondition to issuance of an administrative summons. So long as the summons meets statutory requirements and is issued in good faith, as we defined that term in United States v. Powell, 379 U.S. 48, 57-58 (1964), compliance is required, whether or not the Canadian tax investigation is directed toward criminal prosecution under Canadian law.

I

Respondents are Canadian citizens and residents who maintained bank accounts with the Northwestern Commercial Bank in Bellingham, Washington. In attempting to ascertain their Canadian income tax liability for 1980, 1981, and 1982, the Canadian Department of National Revenue (Revenue Canada) asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in January 1984 to secure and provide pertinent bank records. Revenue Canada made its requests pursuant to Articles XIX and XXI of the 1942 Convention.*fn1 The IRS Director of Foreign

[ 489 U.S. Page 357]

     Operations -- the "competent authority" under Article XIX -- concluded that Revenue Canada's requests fell within the scope of the Convention and that it would be appropriate for the United States to honor them. App. 27-28. Specifically, he found that "the requested information is not within the possession of the Internal Revenue Service or the Canadian tax authorities; that the requested information may be relevant to a determination of the correct tax liability of [respondents] under Canadian law; and that the same type of information can be obtained by tax authorities under Canadian law." Id., at 28. Thus, on April 2, 1984, the IRS served on Northwestern Commercial Bank administrative summonses for the requested information.

At respondents' behest, the bank refused to comply. In accordance with 26 U. S. C. § 7609(b)(2), respondents petitioned the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington to quash the summonses. Only one of their claims is before us. Respondents contended that because the IRS may not issue a summons to further its investigation of a United States taxpayer when a Justice Department referral is in effect, 26 U. S. C. § 7602(c), and because Revenue Canada's investigation of each of them was, in the words of the IRS Director of Foreign Operations, "a criminal investigation, preliminary stage," App. 28, United States law proscribed the use of a summons to obtain information for Canadian authorities regarding respondents' American bank accounts. The Magistrate who held a consolidated hearing on respondents' claims rejected this argument. Without addressing their contention that the IRS may not issue a summons pursuant to a request by Revenue Canada once a Canadian tax investigation has reached a stage equivalent to a Justice Department referral for criminal prosecution, the

[ 489 U.S. Page 358]

     Magistrate found that, even if respondents' legal claims were assumed to have merit, they had failed to carry their burden of showing that the Canadian authorities' investigation had advanced that far. App. to Pet. for Cert. 31a. Upon considering the Magistrate's report and respondents' objections to it, the District Court ordered the bank to comply with the summonses. Id., at 25a-26a, 34a-35a.

After the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stayed the enforcement orders pending appeal, a divided panel of the court reversed. 813 F.2d 243 (1987). The Ninth Circuit held that a summons issued pursuant to a request under the 1942 Convention, like one issued as part of a domestic tax investigation, will be enforced only if it was issued in good faith. The Court of Appeals further stated that the elements of good faith we described in United States v. Powell, supra, at 57-58, are not exhaustive; rather, in light of our subsequent decision in United States v. LaSalle National Bank, 437 U.S. 298 (1978), and Congress' enactment of what is now 26 U. S. C. § 7602 (c), good faith in domestic tax investigations also requires that the IRS not have referred the case to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. Finally, and most significantly for purposes of this litigation, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the IRS acts in good faith in complying with a request for information under the 1942 Convention only when Canadian authorities act in good faith in seeking IRS assistance, and that the good faith of Canadian authorities should be judged by the same standard applicable to the IRS when it conducts a domestic investigation. Hence, the Court of Appeals concluded, before the IRS may honor a request for information it must determine that Revenue Canada's investigation has not reached a stage analogous to a Justice Department referral by the IRS. In addition, the Court of Appeals said, "in order to establish its prima facie case by affidavit, the IRS must make an affirmative statement" that Canadian authorities are acting in good

[ 489 U.S. Page 359]

     faith and that their investigation has not yet reached that stage; the burden of proof on this point rests initially with the IRS rather than the taxpayer attempting to quash a summons, the court held, because the IRS "can consult with Canada's competent authority and can be expected to have greater familiarity with Canadian administrative procedures." 813 F.2d, at 250. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's decision because the affidavits submitted by the IRS failed to state that Revenue Canada's investigation of respondents had not yet reached a point analogous to an IRS referral to the Justice Department.

We granted certiorari, 485 U.S. 1033 (1988), to resolve a conflict between the Ninth Circuit's decision in this case and the Second Circuit's holding in United States v. Manufacturers & Traders Trust Co., 703 F.2d 47 (1983). We now reverse.

II

A

In United States v. Powell, supra, we rejected the claim that the IRS must show probable cause to obtain enforcement of an administrative summons issued in connection with a domestic tax investigation. See id., at 52-57. We held instead that the IRS need only demonstrate good faith in issuing the summons, which we defined as follows:

"[The IRS Commissioner] must show that the investigation will be conducted pursuant to a legitimate purpose, that the inquiry may be relevant to the purpose, that the information sought is not already within the Commissioner's possession, and that the administrative steps required by the Code have been followed -- in particular, that the 'Secretary or his delegate,' after investigation, has determined the further examination to be necessary and has notified the taxpayer in writing to that effect." Id., at 57-58.

[ 489 U.S. Page 360]

     Once the IRS has made such a showing, we stated, it is entitled to an enforcement order unless the taxpayer can show that the IRS is attempting to abuse the court's process. "Such an abuse would take place," we said, "if the summons had been issued for an improper purpose, such as to harass the taxpayer or to put pressure on him to settle a collateral dispute, or for any other purpose reflecting on the good faith of the particular investigation." Id., at 58. See also United States v. Bisceglia, 420 U.S. 141, 146 (1975). The taxpayer carries the burden of proving an abuse of the court's process. 379 U.S., at 58.

Leaving aside the question whether the 1942 Convention, in conjunction with 26 U. S. C. § 7602(c), narrows the class of legitimate purposes for which the IRS may issue an administrative summons, the affidavits the IRS submitted in respondents' cases plainly satisfied the requirements of good faith we set forth in Powell and have repeatedly reaffirmed. See, e. g., Tiffany Fine Arts, Inc. v. United States, 469 U.S. 310, 321 (1985); United States v. Arthur Young & Co., 465 U.S. 805, 813, n. 10 (1984). The IRS Director of Foreign Operations stated under oath that the information sought was not within the possession of American or Canadian tax authorities, that it might be relevant to the computation of respondents' Canadian tax liabilities, and that the same type of information could be obtained by Canadian authorities under Canadian law. App. 28. He further noted that the "[e]xchanged information may only be disclosed as required in the normal administrative or judicial process operative in the administration of the tax system of the requesting country," and that improper use of exchanged information would be protested. Ibid. In addition, the IRS issued its summonses in conformity with applicable statutes and duly informed respondents of their issuance. In their petitions to quash, respondents nowhere alleged that the IRS was trying to use the District Court's process for some improper purpose, such as harassment or the acquisition of

[ 489 U.S. Page 361]

     bargaining power in connection with some collateral dispute. See id., at 18-20. Nor does it appear that they later sought to prove abuse of process. Unless 26 U. S. C. § 7602(c) or the 1942 Convention imposes more stringent requirements on the enforcement of the administrative summonses issued in this ...


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