Wednesday, March 01, 2006

SCOTUS Holds USPS Tort Immunity Extends Only to Harms Primarily Identified With Transporting Mail

Recently, in Dolan v. U.S. Postal Service --- S.Ct. ----, 2006 WL 397935 (Feb. 22, 2006), the Supreme Court held, per Justice Kennedy, that the U.S. Postal Service's tort immunity extends only to harms primarily identified with transporting mail. Here's an excerpt from the Syllabus:

The FTCA . . . waives sovereign immunity in certain cases involving negligence committed by federal employees in the course of their employment, 28 U.S.C. §1346(b)(1). . . . However, the sovereign immunity bar remains as to, inter alia, “[a]ny claim arising out of the loss, miscarriage, or negligent transmission of letters or postal matter.” §2680(b).

. . .

This Court assumes that under the applicable state law a person injured by tripping over a package or bundle negligently left by a private party would have a cause of action for damages. The question is whether §2860(b)’s exception preserves sovereign immunity in such a case. . . . It is more likely that Congress intended to retain immunity only for injuries arising because mail either fails to arrive or arrives late, in damaged condition, or at the wrong address, since such harms are primarily identified with the Postal Service’s function of transporting mail. The Government claims that, given the Postal Service’s vast operations, Congress must have intended to insulate delivery-related torts from liability, but §2680(b)’s specificity indicates otherwise. Had Congress intended to preserve immunity for all delivery-related torts, it could have used sweeping language similar to that used in other FTCA exceptions, e.g., §2860(i).


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