Currier v. Henderson, No. C01-0156L.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Washington)
Writing for the CourtLasnik
PartiesCarl A. CURRIER, et al., Plaintiffs, v. William J. HENDERSON, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. C01-0156L.
Decision Date30 January 2002
190 F.Supp.2d 1221
Carl A. CURRIER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
William J. HENDERSON, et al., Defendants.
No. C01-0156L.
United States District Court, W.D. Washington at Seattle.
January 30, 2002.

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David B Girard, Casey Trupin, Columbia Legal Services, Seattle, Andrew W Ko, Columbia Legal Services, Everett, for Carl A Currier, David Bar, Willard Johnson, Seattle Housing and Resource Effort, a Washington non-profit corporation, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, plaintiffs.

Robert Maxwell Taylor, Alicia Wiltz Fenrick, U S Attorney's Office, Seattle, for William J Henderson, Postmaster General of the United States, individually and in his official capacity, Dale R Zinser, Seattle District Manager of the United States Postal Service, individually and in his official capacity, United States Postal Service, defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

LASNIK, District Judge.


This matter comes before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state claims upon which relief can be granted. For the following reasons, defendants' motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

This action was brought by Carl Currier ("Currier"), David Bar ("Bar") and Willard Johnson ("Johnson"), three homeless individuals in Seattle, and Seattle Housing and Resource Effort ("SHARE"), an advocacy group that advocates on behalf of the Seattle homeless. Defendants are former and current officials of the United States Postal Service ("Postal Service") and the Postal Service itself.

In May and June of 2000, the individual plaintiffs inquired about three services offered by the Postal Service: postal box rental, no-fee postal boxes and "General Delivery." As described in affidavits by

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officers of the Postal Service, postal boxes are available for a fee to customers who can identify their physical addresses. (Declaration of Robert L. Nelson ("Nelson Decl.") ¶ 9). Before October 9, 2001, homeless people who wanted to rent postal boxes could do so if they were personally known to the postmaster or box clerk, submitted identification such as a driver's license, or provided a verifiable point of contact such as a shelter or public service office. (Nelson Decl. ¶ 12.) Since October 9, 2001, the Postal Service has tightened the regulations to require that homeless people provide a verifiable point of contact to be eligible to rent a postal box even if they are known to the postmaster or provide the proper identification. (Factual Addendum to Federal Defendants's Mot. to Dismiss at 3.)

Certain customers are provided no-fee postal boxes under the "Group E Rate" program. (Nelson Decl. ¶ 10.) These are customers with physical addresses to whom the Postal Service does not provide carrier service for operational or policy reasons. For instance, the Postal Service could choose not to deliver to a house if the area is one of low density or if a person resides within a quarter mile of a rural post office. Such customers would be eligible for no-fee postal boxes. (Declaration of John Dorsey ("Dorsey Decl.") ¶ 5-14.) Group E Rate is not available in urban areas or large cities because the Postal Service delivers mail to all physical delivery points in such areas. Homeless people, as well as RV owners, merchant seamen, itinerant farm workers, construction workers who move with their work, persons living on a boat or traveling with a circus and people who camp in remote sites are ineligible for this service. (Dorsey Decl. ¶ 15.)

Finally, "General Delivery" service can be useful for a person who does not have a physical address. Such a person can receive mail addressed to his or her name, with the designation "General Delivery, [City Name]." The mail is held for pickup at a designated post office for 30 days. In any large city with multiple stations or branches, General Delivery is available at only one designated facility. Even though General Delivery is intended as a temporary means of getting mail, a person may receive General Delivery indefinitely. (Nelson Decl. ¶ 11.)

Plaintiffs allege that they encountered various forms of resistance when they tried to avail themselves of the above services. All were told they were ineligible for no-fee postal boxes and that they could get General Delivery service only at the Main Post Office at Third Avenue and Union Street in Seattle but nowhere else in the city. Bar and Currier were told that they could not get postal box service without providing a physical address and that they could get General Delivery service for only 30 days. Currier was not allowed to rent a postal box despite providing an identification card from a shelter. Johnson was allowed to apply for a postal box after he provided his driver's license. Most of the refusals faced by the plaintiffs are built into Postal Service regulations.

Plaintiffs allege violations of Postal Service regulations, the Postal Reorganization Act ("PRA"), Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), the First Amendment and the Equal Protection component of the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages.

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the claims against the individual officers, to dismiss the claims alleging violations of regulations and statutes on jurisdictional grounds and to dismiss the constitutional claims for plaintiffs' alleged failure to articulate them.

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ANALYSIS

A. CLAIMS AGAINST INDIVIDUAL DEFENDANTS

Defendants seek to dismiss claims against William Henderson ("Henderson"), the former Postmaster General, and Dale Zinser ("Zinser"), the Seattle Postal District Manager, in their individual and official capacities. Plaintiffs have not opposed dismissal of these defendants. There is no suggestion that Henderson and Dale were personally involved in any way in the alleged violations, which is a requirement in this Circuit. See Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir.1989). In similar circumstances, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has held that "actions of this sort should be brought only against the Postal Service itself." National Association of Postal Supervisors v. Postal Service, 602 F.2d 420, 423 n. 1 (D.C.Cir.1979).

This Court holds that claims against Henderson and Zinser shall be dismissed.

B. SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION OF THIS COURT

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Generally, "[i]t is incumbent upon the plaintiff properly to allege the jurisdictional facts, according to the nature of the case." McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 182, 56 S.Ct. 780, 80 L.Ed. 1135 (1936). In addition, claims against governmental entities such as the Postal Service need to cross the hurdle of sovereign immunity which these entities enjoy. See Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264, 19 U.S. 264, 411-12, 5 L.Ed. 257 (1821) (holding "that no suit can be commenced or prosecuted against the United States"); Franchise Tax Board of California v. Postal Service, 467 U.S. 512, 516-17, 104 S.Ct. 2549, 81 L.Ed.2d 446 (1984). Sovereign immunity can, however, be waived by Congress, allowing courts to assert jurisdiction over such claims. F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475, 114 S.Ct. 996, 127 L.Ed.2d 308 (1994). Here, plaintiffs have alleged that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 1331,1 28 U.S.C. § 1339,2 and 39 U.S.C. § 409(a).3

In asserting that this Court's jurisdiction over their claims is proper under 39 U.S.C. § 409(a), plaintiffs point to the language of the statute, which states that "the United States district courts shall have original but not exclusive jurisdiction over all actions brought by or against the Postal Service." 39 U.S.C. § 409(a). (Plaintiffs' Resp. to Defendants' Mot. to Dismiss ("Plaintiffs' Resp") at 5.)

As acknowledged by plaintiffs, the Ninth Circuit has held that the statute "does not confer subject matter jurisdiction." Janakes v. Postal Service, 768 F.2d 1091, 1093 (9th Cir.1985) (quoting Peoples Gas, Light & Coke Co. v. Postal Service, 658 F.2d 1182, 1189 (7th Cir.1981)). Plaintiffs urge this Court to ignore Janakes because the Ninth Circuit stated that the real purpose of 39 U.S.C. § 409(a) was to "remove[] the barriers of sovereign immunity." Janakes, 768 F.2d at 1093. Plaintiffs point to Franchise Tax, a Supreme

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Court case decided one year after Peoples Gas, in which the Court assumed that it was another statute, 39 U.S.C. § 401(1), that was the "statutory waiver of immunity." Franchise Tax, 467 U.S. at 517, 104 S.Ct. 2549.4 Given this inconsistency, plaintiffs urge this Court to read 39 U.S.C. § 409(a) as what it seems to be: a conferral of subject matter jurisdiction "in cases involving the Postal Service." (Plaintiffs' Resp. at 4.)

Despite the seeming inconsistency between the approaches of Janakes and Franchise Tax, the substance of the analysis suggested by each is similar. Under Janakes, which adopted without comment the holding in Peoples Gas, subject matter jurisdiction under 39 U.S.C. § 409(a) is proper only when a party can point to a substantive legal framework that creates the cause of action. See Peoples Gas, 658 F.2d at 1189. In the Janakes/Peoples Gas line of analysis, then, the focus is on finding a substantive legal framework, which, in turn, depends at least partially on Congressional intent. Id. at 1190.

Under the analysis suggested by Franchise Tax and other Supreme Court decisions, the emphasis is placed on whether sovereign immunity for a federal entity has been waived. In Franchise Tax, the Supreme Court considered the Postal Service's immunity waived under 39 U.S.C. § 401(1). See Franchise Tax, 467 U.S. at 519, 520, 104 S.Ct. 2549. However, the Court did not assume that immunity was waived without limits. In fact, the Court stated that "intent to waive immunity and the...

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4 practice notes
  • Currier v. Potter, No. 02-35232.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • August 12, 2004
    ...immunity, no substantive legal basis and no jurisdiction over claims asserted under Postal Service regulations." Currier v. Henderson, 190 F.Supp.2d 1221, 1227 (W.D.Wash.2002). The court also dismissed the claims brought under the APA, explaining that the PRA exempted the Postal Service fro......
  • Yellen v. U.S. Postal Serv., CIVIL NO. 12-00519 SOM-KSC
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Hawaii
    • October 31, 2012
    ...at the most convenient location; nor is there a right to receive a no-fee mailbox in which to receive mail." Currier v. Henderson, 190 F. Supp. 2d 1221, 1230 (W.D. Wash. 2002), aff'd sub nom. Currier v. Potter, 379 F.3d 716 (9th Cir. 2004). It is not enough for Yellen toPage 8allege that ot......
  • McDermott v. Potter, CASE NO. C13-2011-MJP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Washington)
    • September 11, 2014
    ...viable because the Postal Reorganization Act exempts judicial review under the APA of postal service activities. Currier v. Henderson, 190 F. Supp.2d 1221, 1225 (W.D. Wash., Jan. 30, 2002) (aff'd Currier v. Potter, 379 F.3d 716 (9th Cir. 2004)) Specifically, thePage 5PRA states that "no Fed......
  • Nat'l Post Office Collaborative v. Donahoe, Civil No. 3:13cv1406 (JBA)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • October 28, 2013
    ...to discharge the lis pendens on other grounds, this question will not be addressed by the Court. 4. But see Currier v. Henderson, 190 F. Supp. 2d 1221, 1229 (W.D. Wash. 2002), where the court held that it had jurisdiction over a claim under § 403(c) and the Constitution alleging "discrimina......
4 cases
  • Currier v. Potter, No. 02-35232.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • August 12, 2004
    ...immunity, no substantive legal basis and no jurisdiction over claims asserted under Postal Service regulations." Currier v. Henderson, 190 F.Supp.2d 1221, 1227 (W.D.Wash.2002). The court also dismissed the claims brought under the APA, explaining that the PRA exempted the Postal Service fro......
  • Yellen v. U.S. Postal Serv., CIVIL NO. 12-00519 SOM-KSC
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Hawaii
    • October 31, 2012
    ...at the most convenient location; nor is there a right to receive a no-fee mailbox in which to receive mail." Currier v. Henderson, 190 F. Supp. 2d 1221, 1230 (W.D. Wash. 2002), aff'd sub nom. Currier v. Potter, 379 F.3d 716 (9th Cir. 2004). It is not enough for Yellen toPage 8allege that ot......
  • McDermott v. Potter, CASE NO. C13-2011-MJP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Washington)
    • September 11, 2014
    ...viable because the Postal Reorganization Act exempts judicial review under the APA of postal service activities. Currier v. Henderson, 190 F. Supp.2d 1221, 1225 (W.D. Wash., Jan. 30, 2002) (aff'd Currier v. Potter, 379 F.3d 716 (9th Cir. 2004)) Specifically, thePage 5PRA states that "no Fed......
  • Nat'l Post Office Collaborative v. Donahoe, Civil No. 3:13cv1406 (JBA)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • October 28, 2013
    ...to discharge the lis pendens on other grounds, this question will not be addressed by the Court. 4. But see Currier v. Henderson, 190 F. Supp. 2d 1221, 1229 (W.D. Wash. 2002), where the court held that it had jurisdiction over a claim under § 403(c) and the Constitution alleging "discrimina......

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