Justice Stevens, delivered the opinion of the Court.
Two tapes recording conversations between officials of the Church of Scientology (Church) and their attorneys in July 1980 have been the principal bone of contention in this, and two earlier, legal proceedings.
In an action filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court,
In 1984, in connection with an investigation of the tax returns of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sought access to the Church documents in the state-court Clerk's possession.
On January 18, 1985, the IRS commenced this proceeding by filing a petition to enforce the summons that had previously been served on the state-court Clerk.
We granted the Church's petition for certiorari to consider the narrow question whether the appeal was properly dismissed as moot. 503 U.S. 905 (1992).
It has long been settled that a federal court has no authority "to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it." Mills v. Green, 159 U.S. 651, 653 (1895). See also Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 401 (1975); North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246 (1971). For that reason, if an event occurs while a case is pending on appeal that makes it impossible for the court to grant "any effectual relief whatever" to a prevailing party, the appeal must be dismissed. Mills, 159 U. S., at 653. In this case, after the Church took its appeal from the April 15 order, in compliance with that order copies of the tapes were delivered to the IRS. The Government contends that it was thereafter impossible for the Court of Appeals to grant the Church any effectual relief. We disagree.
While a court may not be able to return the parties to the status quo ante — there is nothing a court can do to withdraw all knowledge or information that IRS agents may have acquired by examination of the tapes—a court can fashion some form of meaningful relief in circumstances such as
We think the Government misconceives the inquiry in this case. The Government may or may not be right that under §§ 7402(b) and 7604(a) the jurisdiction of the district court is limited to those matters directly related to whether or not the summons should be enforced. Indeed, the scope of the district court's jurisdiction under those provisions was the issue over which this Court deadlocked in United States v. Zolin, 491 U.S. 554 (1989).
We recognize that several Courts of Appeals have accepted the Government's argument in IRS enforcement proceedings,
We therefore conclude that the appeal was improperly dismissed as moot. In so concluding we express no opinion on the merits of the Church's argument that the Government did not establish an adequate evidentiary basis to support the District Court's determination that the tapes fell within the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege. Nor do we express any opinion about the res judicata contention advanced in the Government's brief in opposition to the petition for certiorari. Brief for United States in Opposition
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
"For the purpose of ascertaining the correctness of any return, making a return where none has been made, determining the liability of any person for any internal revenue tax or the liability at law or in equity of any transferee or fiduciary of any person in respect of any internal revenue tax, or collecting any such liability, the Secretary is authorized—
"(1)To examine any books, papers, records, or other data which may be relevant or material to such inquiry." 26 U. S. C. § 7602(a).
"If any person is summoned under the internal revenue laws to appear, to testify, or to produce books, papers, or other data, the district court of the United States for the district in which such person resides or may be found shall have jurisdiction by appropriate process to compel such attendance, testimony, or production of books, papers, or other data."
Section 7604(a) is virtually identical to § 7402(b) except that the word "records" appears in § 7604(a).
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
There is no merit to the Government's contention that the FTC cases are distinguishable in that they involve adjudicative, as opposed to investigative, subpoenas. While Gibson Products involved an adjudicative subpoena, Invention Submission, Casey, and Atlantic Richfield all involved investigative subpoenas.
"Any of the district courts of the United States . . . may, in case of contumacy or refusal to obey a subpoena issued to any person, partnership, or corporation issue an order requiring such person, partnership, or corporation . . . to produce documentary evidence if so ordered . . . ." 38 Stat. 722, as amended, 15 U. S. C. § 49.
In the words of Professor Handler:
"Section 7602 of the Internal Revenue Code authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury or his delegate to summon taxpayers or other witnesses to testify and to produce relevant and material documents. Section 9 of the FTC Act grants the same power to the Commission. Should a recipient of a summons or subpoena refuse to comply, both statutes afford the same enforcement procedures. In neither case is the administrative subpoena self-executing: obedience can be obtained only by court order. In addition, both statutes, which are in pari materia, make it a criminal offense to `neglect' to appear or to produce subpoenaed documents." 63 Mich. L. Rev., at 91 (footnotes omitted).
There is a distinction in the law between the enforcement of discovery orders directed at parties and the enforcement of discovery orders directed at disinterested third parties, but that distinction derives from concerns regarding finality, not mootness. As a general rule, a district court's order enforcing a discovery request is not a "final order" subject to appellate review. A party that seeks to present an objection to a discovery order immediately to a court of appeals must refuse compliance, be held in contempt, and then appeal the contempt order. See United States v. Ryan, 402 U.S. 530 (1971). However, under the so-called Perlman doctrine, see Perlman v. United States, 247 U.S. 7 (1918), a discovery order directed at a disinterested third party is treated as an immediately appealable final order because the third party presumably lacks a sufficient stake in the proceeding to risk contempt by refusing compliance. Ibid. See generally 15B C. Wright, A. Miller, & E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3914.23, pp. 156-167 (2d ed. 1992). This distinction has no bearing on this case because a district court order enforcing an IRS summons is an appealable final order. See Reisman v. Caplin, 375 U.S. 440 (1964). There is no "third-party exception" because there is no general rule barring immediate appeal of IRS summons enforcement orders.