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Smith v. United States Postal Service Inspector General

February 16, 2007

EUGENE SMITH PLAINTIFF
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE INSPECTOR GENERAL, ET AL. DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan Webber Wright United States District Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff Eugene Smith ("Smith") brings this action against the Inspector General of the United States Postal Service ("USPS") and Norman Gilcrest, the local postmaster for Forrest City, Arkansas. Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss (docket entry #11). The time for responding has passed, and Smith has not filed a response. After careful consideration, and for the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion will be granted and this case will be dismissed with prejudice.

I.

Plaintiff alleges that the United States Post Office in Forrest City has hampered the delivery of his mail. He claims that Defendants have opened, diverted, and failed to deliver his mail, causing him to pay unspecified penalties. See docket entry #1, ¶¶ 8-11. Plaintiff also claims that Defendants have violated "U.S.C. 42" and the "Disability Act of 1990." Docket entry #1, ¶¶ 12-13. By way of relief, Plaintiff seeks $13,500,000 in restitution.

II.

Defendants move for dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, asserting that (1) Plaintiff's allegations are barred because the USPS retains sovereign immunity for claims involving the mishandling of mail, and (2) Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. The Court will address each argument separately.

Sovereign Immunity

As a threshold issue, the Court finds that Plaintiff brings his claims against the Inspector General and Gilcrest in their official capacities only. See Johnson v. Outboard Marine Corp. 172 F.3d 531, 535 (8th Cir. 1999)("[I]n order to sue a public official in his or her individual capacity, a plaintiff must expressly and unambiguously state so in the pleadings, otherwise, it will be assumed that the defendant is sued only in his or her official capacity."). Accordingly, Plaintiff brings suit against the USPS. See Buford v. Runyon, 160 F.3d 1199, 1203 (8th Cir. 1998).

Although the Postal Reorganization Act transformed the USPS into an independent establishment of the executive branch, see 39 U.S.C. § 201, empowered to sue and be sued in its official name, see 39 U.S.C. § 401(1), the Act also provides that the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") "shall apply to tort claims arising out the activities of the Postal Service." 39 U.S.C. § 409(c).*fn1 Important here, the FTCA contains a provision commonly called the "postal matter exception" that retains sovereign immunity for "any claim arising out of the loss, miscarriage, or negligent transmission of letters or postal matter." 28 U.S.C. § 2680(b).

The postal matter exception bars claims seeking redress for injuries "arising directly or consequentially, because mail either fails to arrive at all or arrives late, in damaged condition, or at the wrong address." Dolan v. U.S. Postal Service, 126 S.Ct. 1252, 1258 (2006). "Illustrative instances of the exception's operation, then would be personal or financial harms arising from non-delivery or late delivery of sensitive materials or information ( e.g., medicines or a mortgage foreclosure notice) or from negligent handling of a mailed parcel ( e.g., shattering of shipped china). Id.

The Court finds that Plaintiff's claims that he has suffered financial injury from the late delivery, diversion, and mishandling of his mail are barred under the postal matter exception, and the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to entertain his claims. Furthermore, although Plaintiff makes reference to "U.S.C. § 42" and "the Disability Act of 1990," he alleges no facts to support claims beyond the reach of the FTCA's postal matter exception. See Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985)("Although it is to be liberally construed, a pro se complaint must contain specific facts supporting its conclusions.").

Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

Defendants assert that, even assuming that Plaintiff's claim does not fall within the postal matter exception, Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, and his claim must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court agrees.

Before a party may bring suit under the FTCA, he must have "presented the claim to the appropriate Federal agency and [his] claim shall have been finally decided by the agency in writing." 28 U.S.C. ยง 2675(a). A claim is deemed denied by the agency if no response is received within six months. Id. "Because presentment is a jurisdictional requisite to suit under the FTCA, and jurisdiction is a threshold issue for the [Court] to decide, the [Court] may appropriately resolve legal and factual questions determinative of jurisdiction and may dismiss the case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) if the FTCA ...


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