Pennsylvania v. DeJoy

Decision Date28 September 2020
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 20-4096
Citation490 F.Supp.3d 833
Parties Commonwealth of PENNSYLVANIA, et al. v. Louis DEJOY in His Official Capacity as United States Postmaster General, et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Brendan Downes, Kathleen M. Konopka, Office of the Attorney General, Washington, DC, David C. Kravitz, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, Boston, MA, Jacob B. Boyer, Michael J. Fischer, Ryan Blake Smith, Aimee D. Thomson, Stephen R. Kovatis, Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, Philadelphia, PA, Susan P. Herman, Maine Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, ME, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Anthony P. O'Brien, Office of the Attorney General, Sacramento, CA, Jasleen Singh, California Department of Justice, Los Angeles, CA, Lisa Catherine Ehrlich, California Dept. of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, San Francisco, CA, Ryan Blake Smith, Aimee D. Thomson, PA Office of Attorney General, Philadelphia, PA, for State of California.

Vanessa L. Kassab, Delaware Dept. of Justice, Wilmington, DE, Aimee D. Thomson, PA Office of Attorney General, Philadelphia, PA, for State of Delaware.

Aimee D. Thomson, PA Office of Attorney General, Philadelphia, PA, for District of Columbia, State of Maine, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, State of North Carolina.

Kuntal V. Cholera, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Louis DeJoy, Robert M. Duncan.

Kuntal V. Cholera, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, Eric D. Gill, U.S. Attorney's Office, Philadelphia, PA, for United States Postal Service.


Gerald Austin McHugh, United States District Judge This is an action brought by six states and the District of Columbia to enjoin certain changes made by the United States Postal Service in the leadup to the November 3, 2020 election. As an initial matter, it is useful to highlight that as a public agency, the Postal Service must abide by the procedures enacted by Congress when it created the modern Postal Service via the Postal Reorganization Act ("PRA") in 1970, and again when it amended the PRA by passing the Postal Enhancement and Accountability Act ("PAEA") in 2006. Congress required that the Postal Service seek an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission (hereafter, "the Commission") and that a public hearing be held prior to making significant, nationwide changes. 39 U.S.C. § 3661. This structure formally balances the Postal Service's need to make "businesslike" decisions with its role as an agency that provides an indispensable service to the American public. See H.R. Rep. No. 109-66, at 42 (2005).

The Postal Service must also meet substantive requirements, including that it provide "adequate and efficient postal services," 39 U.S.C § 403(a), and that it "give the highest consideration to the requirement for the most expeditious collection, transportation, and delivery of important letter mail." 39 U.S.C. § 101(e).

At issue in this case is whether the Postal Service violated the law and acted beyond its authority when it restricted extra and late trips by trucks and letter carriers and instituted overtime restrictions. Such changes could have profound consequences for the administration of state agencies in ordinary times. In a pandemic, states are even more reliant on the mail, especially when it comes to administering elections. This Court has been called upon to exercise jurisdiction and provide redress—namely, that the Postal Service reverse the changes it has made and abide by the statutorily-required process, which includes review and input from both the Commission and the public.

Plaintiffs and the Postal Service agree that the Postal Service undertook a major new initiative following Louis DeJoy's installation as Postmaster General. Both sides also agree that the Postal Service did not seek an advisory opinion and that no public hearing occurred before the Postal Service implemented these changes in July 2020. Against that background, Plaintiffs have produced compelling evidence from Defendants themselves, indicating that there has been a pronounced increase in mail delays across the country since the implementation of these changes. And the Postal Service insists that it is rolling back the changes and improving performance.

Nonetheless, the Postal Service raises several procedural arguments as to why this Court may not hear this case in the first place. It further contends that even if this Court has jurisdiction, the changes do not rise to a level that requires the input of the Commission or the public.

Having examined the facts, along with the text, structure, and legislative history of the PRA and the PAEA, and having also accorded some level of deference to the Postal Service's interpretation of the statute, I conclude that jurisdiction exists. Furthermore, as users of the mail who rely on the Postal Service's historic commitment to a policy of "every piece, every day,"1 Plaintiffs have been harmed in various and meaningful ways by these changes, as discussed below.

The Postal Service is a critical agency that preceded the birth of the nation itself, one of a few agencies that the Constitution explicitly authorized. U.S. Const. art. I, § 8. Congress has described it as "a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States...." 39 U.S.C. § 101(a). Its ability to fulfill its mission during a presidential election taking place in the midst of a public health crisis is vital. The record in this case strongly supports the conclusion that irreparable harm will result unless its ability to operate is assured. I will therefore grant injunctive relief.

I. The Relevant Factual Background and Procedural History

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, states have sought to facilitate mail-in voting, and a record number of voters are expected to cast mail-in ballots. In twenty-eight states, plaintiffs may apply for and cast a mail-in ballot for any reason. See Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1. Nine states will send mail-in ballots to all eligible voters. Id. Voters in six other states may also request a mail-in ballot for reasons related to COVID-19. Id. As a result of these efforts and voters’ fears about contracting COVID-19 while voting in person, states are already seeing record numbers of requests for mail-in ballots.2

The ability of the Postal Service to deliver the Election Mail and other essential post in a timely fashion has recently been called into question. On June 15, 2020, Louis DeJoy began his tenure as the 75th Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer. Compl. ¶ 155. Prior to his term, DeJoy had no experience working at the Postal Service. Id. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Postal Service met its service standards for First-Class Mail roughly 92 percent of the time. See Q4 To-Date Service Performance For Market Dominant Products, Courtroom Exhibit Ex. 54-16. In April, service performance declined to 90 percent, before climbing again in May to 92 percent. Id. Approximately one month after Postmaster DeJoy began his tenure, service dropped precipitously and fell to 85 percent on July 11, 2020. Id. By August 8, 2020 service performance fell to 81.47 percent, far lower than at any other time during the pandemic. Id.

A. Procedural History

Prompted by fears of Postal Service delays and the administration of elections, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the State of California, the State of Delaware, the District of Columbia, the State of Maine, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the State of North Carolina filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief on August 21, 2020 against Postmaster DeJoy, Robert Duncan, who serves as Chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors,3 and the United States Postal Service.

Plaintiffs claim that the Postal Service has unlawfully implemented policy changes regarding transportation schedules, letter carriers, and the use of overtime. Compl. ¶ 2. Specifically, they allege that the Postal Service has been "prohibiting late or extra trips by postal workers that are often necessary to keep the mail moving forward in the mail stream; requiring carriers to adhere rigidly to start and stop times regardless of whether all mail for their route has arrived or been delivered; and limiting the use of overtime." Id. at ¶ 3. Plaintiffs further argue that these policy changes caused a significant drop in service and continue to contribute to delays.

The states have further claimed that Postal Service officials "also intend to change the Postal Service's longstanding practice of prioritizing Election Mail ahead of the November 2020 election." Pls. Mot. Prelim. Inj. ¶ 1, ECF No. 18.

Plaintiffs include four causes of action within their Complaint:

Count I: The states contend that Defendants acted beyond their statutory authority, and in violation of section 3661 of the PRA, 39 U.S.C. § 3661, when they made national changes to postal services without submitting a proposal to the Postal Regulatory Commission. See Compl. ¶ 222-227. In PlaintiffsMotion for a Preliminary Injunction, the states also allege that Defendants"contemplated changes to the processing of Election Mail ... are subject to section 3661 ’s procedural requirements" and that the Postal Service must issue a proposal to the Commission before making these changes. Mem. Law. Supp. Pls. Mot. Prelim. Inj. 34-35, ECF No. 18-1.

Count II: Plaintiffs also claim that DefendantsJuly 2020 policy changes and their intention to abandon the practice of giving Election Mail the highest priority exceed Defendants’ authority under sections 101 and 403 of the PRA. Compl. ¶ 228-236. The Postal Service must "plan, develop, promote, and provide adequate and efficient postal services at fair and reasonable rates and fees." 39 U.S.C § 403(a). The Postal Service must also "give the highest consideration to the requirement for the most expeditious collection, transportation, and delivery of important letter mail." 39 U.S.C. § 101(...

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6 cases
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    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • August 25, 2021
    ...November 2020 election, where a record number of mail-in votes were expected to be cast. Id. ¶ 195; see Pennsylvania v. DeJoy , 490 F. Supp. 3d 833, 855 (E.D. Pa. 2020), order clarified , No. CV 20-4096, 2020 WL 6580462 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 9, 2020) (in granting a preliminary injunction in Septem......
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