First Circuit bars suit alleging US postal employee stole campaign mail

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] on Wednesday ruled [opinion text] that the United States Postal Service (USPS) [official website] was entitled to immunity in a lawsuit alleging that a postal employee had interfered with the delivery of a political opponent's campaign fliers ahead of a municipal election. The court held that such conduct was covered by a postal-matter exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act [text], which provides that the USPS is immune from "[a]ny claim arising out of the loss, miscarriage, or negligent transmission of letters or postal matters." In affirming the district court's decision, a three-judge panel wrote in an unsigned opinion:

[C]ases holding that theft of mail is a "loss" for purposes of § 2680(b) directly undermine [plaintiff's] position, since theft is of course a form of intentional misconduct. We think it entirely reasonable to say, as these cases have, that mail that is stolen by a postal employee is thereby "lost" from the postal system.
The First Circuit cited a 2006 US Supreme Court case [Dolan v. USPS text; JURIST report] holding that the postal-matter exception generally preserves immunity 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."

The case arose in November 2005, when Joseph Kelly Levasseur ran for re-election to an alderman's seat in Manchester, New Hampshire [official website]. As part of his campaign, he hired a publishing company to produce pamphlets to be mailed to voters. The pamphlets were never delivered, and Levasseur lost the election by 70 votes. Levasseur alleged that David McCloskey, a USPS employee and campaign volunteer for Levasseur's opponent, either stole or hid the pamphlets to prevent them from reaching voters. After the USPS denied his administrative claim, Levasseur filed a complaint in US District Court for the District of New Hampshire [official website], which dismissed the lawsuit [opinion, PDF] last year as barred by the postal-matter exception.


 

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