United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Douglass brought a small claims action against the United
States Postal Service in Miami Superior Court I for breach of
contract, alleging that the USPS refused to send him money
owed on an insurance claim. According to that court's
case summary, the notice of Mr. Douglass's claim and
notice to appear were sent to “USPS Insurance
Claim” at an address in St. Louis via certified mail.
The USPS didn't appear at the hearing and the Miami
Superior Court entered a default judgment against the USPS
for the full amount requested, plus interest and costs.
Stamps on the notice of claim the USPS filed in this court
indicate that the notice of claim arrived at the USPS Law
Department in Chicago almost two months after the default
judgment was entered.
USPS removed the case to this court, which has jurisdiction
over actions against the USPS. 39 U.S.C. § 409(a). The
USPS now asks this court to vacate the default judgment,
Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(4), and dismiss the suit, Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b). The USPS certified that its motion and brief were sent
to Mr. Douglass via first-class mail, but Mr. Douglass
didn't respond to it.
Motion to Vacate
USPS argues that the default judgment should be vacated
because the USPS was improperly served, and so the Miami
Superior Court didn't have personal jurisdiction. The
court may relieve the USPS of a final judgment if that
judgment is void. Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b). “[A] judgment is
void as to any party who was not adequately served.”
Relational, LLC v. Hodges, 627 F.3d 668, 671 (7th
USPS should have been served as one would serve the United
States government. Generally, federal procedure doesn't
apply until removal occurs, Fed.R.Civ.P. 81(c), so the court
should look to state rules to judge pre-removal service of
process. Price v. Wyeth Holdings Corp., 505 F.3d
624, 628 (7th Cir. 2007). But a federal statute dictates how
to serve the USPS, and that federal statute requires service
in the same way one would serve the United States under the
Federal Rules. 39 U.S.C. § 409(b) (“[T]he
provisions of title 28 relating to service of process . . .
in suits in which the United States . . . [is a] part[y], and
the rules of procedure adopted under title 28 for suits in
which the United States . . . [is a] part[y], shall apply in
like manner to suits in which the Postal Service . . . [is a]
Federal Rules require that a copy of the summons and
complaint be sent by registered or certified mail to the
United States attorney's office for the district where
the action is brought and to the Attorney General in
Washington, D.C. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(i)(1). USPS regulations also
provide for the USPS's general counsel to receive
process. 39 C.F.R. § 2.2. Mr. Douglass doesn't seem
to have taken either route. By the time the court documents
reached the USPS Law Department, the Miami Superior Court had
already entered its default judgment.
proper service of the USPS, the Miami Superior Court lacked
personal jurisdiction over it, and so the default judgment
against the USPS is void. Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b); Relational,
LLC v. Hodges, 627 F.3d 668, 671 (7th Cir. 2010);
Rabiolo v. Weinstein, 357 F.2d 167, 168 (7th Cir.
Motion to Dismiss
USPS asks the court to dismiss Mr. Douglass's suit for
lack of personal jurisdiction, insufficient process,
insufficient service of process, and failure to state a
claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b). Insufficient service of process
can be enough on its own to dismiss, even though the USPS
obviously knows about the suit. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(5);
McMasters v. United States, 260 F.3d 814, 817 (7th
Cir. 2001). But the court will give Mr. Douglass time to
correct his error and to send notice to the right party
before dismissing. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m).
United States government, including the USPS, may only be
sued if it consents to be sued. Dolan v. U.S. Postal
Serv., 546 U.S. 481, 484 (2006). The USPS argues that
this case should be dismissed because it falls under an
exception to the waiver of sovereign immunity in the Federal
Tort Claims Act. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
are two routes to analyze the USPS's sovereign immunity.
First, “the Postal Reorganization Act generally waives
the immunity of the Postal Service from suit by giving it the
power to ‘sue and be sued in its official
name.'” Id. (quoting 39 U.S.C. §
401(1)). This general waiver should be construed expansively.
U.S. Postal Serv. v. Flamingo Indus., 540 U.S. 736,
tort claims, the Federal Tort Claims Act governs the
USPS's immunity. 39 U.S.C. § 409(c); 28 U.S.C.
§§ 2671-2680. Claims cognizable under the FTCA
should be construed under the FTCA alone. See 28
U.S.C. § 2679(a). The FTCA provides a broad waiver of
sovereign immunity: “The United States shall be liable
. . . in the same manner and to the same extent as a private
individual under like circumstances.” 28 U.S.C. §
2674. There's an exception to the FTCA's waiver of
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 USPS argues that
Mr. Douglass's claim falls into this exception to the
FTCA's waiver of sovereign immunity, and so his claim is
glaring problem with this argument is that the FTCA only
applies to tort claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 2674
(“The United States shall be liable, respecting the
provisions of this title relating to tort claims . .
. .”) (emphasis added). The USPS doesn't argue why
the listed exceptions to the FTCA's waiver would apply to
a suit grounded in contract. Mr. Douglass's only claim is
for breach of contract for not receiving payment on an
insurance claim. The FTCA doesn't impact his suit, which
stands firmly under the USPS's general power “to
sue and be sued.” Cf. Anderson v. U.S. ...