Wednesday, June 8, 2005
The D.C. Circuit yesterday affirmed a district court decision in favor of the government in a lawsuit brought by Tax Analysts seeking to obtain a closing agreement and other documents pertaining to the exempt status of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). The decision in Tax Analysts v. Internal Revenue Service and Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc., No. 04-5304 (D.C. Cir. June 7, 2005), ends Tax Analysts' seven-year quest to force disclosure of the closing agreement reached between the IRS and CBN that settled disputes concerning CBN's political activity. Tax Analysts also sought various other documents, including CBN's Form 1023 exemption application. The D.C. Circuit stated that "[w]e readily defer" to the IRS's interpretation of §§ 6103 & 6104 and Reg. § 301.6104(a)-1(e) & -1(i)(6) :
[B]ecause this is the agency’s interpretation of its own regulation, we grant the agency great deference: “under well-recognized precedent, we can reject the Secretary’s interpretation only if ‘it is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.’” The proffered interpretation is neither inconsistent with the text nor plainly erroneous. We readily defer to the agency....
Tax Analysts’s demand for further inquiry into the substance of the documents would, if granted, turn FOIA on its head, awarding Appellant in discovery the very remedy for which it seeks to prevail in the suit. The courts must not grant FOIA plaintiffs discovery that would be “tantamount to granting the final relief sought.” Under the limited requirements of FOIA and Sections 6103 and 6104 of the Internal Revenue Code, the IRS has met its burden, and we therefore affirm the District Court’s grant of summary judgment.
The District Court had dismissed Tax Analysts' action against both the IRS and CBN. In an earlier decision, Tax Analysts v. Internal Revenue Service, 214 F.3d 179 (D.C. Cir. 2000), the D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case against CBN.