Picture this: you run a business and one of your customers sues you in small claims court. The judge throws the case out. What do you do next? Celebrate? Not if you’re the US Postal Service.
When a customer’s insurance claim was thrown out by the District of Columbia small claims court for “improper service”, the customer asked the judge to reinstate the claim. That request, according to DC District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, is one that “ordinarily poses a high hurdle and is rarely successfully mounted”. So all the USPS had to do was oppose the reinstatement, and the issue would likely have ended right there.
But the USPS didn’t do that- instead it literally decided to make a federal case out of it. Judge Jackson, the DC District Court judge assigned the case, tells the bizarre story:
…for reasons that have yet to be adequately explained, the Postal Service decided to make a federal case out of this. On May 23, 2013, despite having already secured near-final dismissal of this matter, the Postal Service inexplicably snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by filing a notice of removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1), and thereby shifting the plaintiff’s motion for reinstatement of the complaint—and presumably the entire case—into federal court.
Judge Jackson was mystified by the USPS action, and gave the agency an opportunity to reconsider, having
reached the inescapable conclusion that a reevaluation of the agency’s removal determination, or at least some explanation, was required. Consequently, on June 4, 2013, this Court issued an order to show cause, ostensibly to ask the Postal Service to explain “why the Court has jurisdiction over this matter” and “why a motion to reinstate a dismissed complaint is a live controversy for the purposes of removal,” but primarily to provide the Postal Service with ample opportunity revisit its decision to remove to federal court a meager-money claim that the state court had already all-but-resolved in the agency’s favor.
But the USPS lawyers didn’t take the hint:
Without a hint of irony, the Postal Service argues that “Defendant’s removal of Plaintiff’s motion to reinstate Plaintiff’s [dismissed] complaint was proper.” Without acknowledging in any way the oddity of a victorious state-court defendant insisting that a plaintiff’s motion to reopen the dismissed case be litigated in federal court at a cost far greater than the claimed benefit, the Postal Service vigorously maintains that the agency properly removed the plaintiff’s reinstatement request in this case for two reasons: first, because “the USPS, a federal agency, was improperly sued in state court,” and, second, because the plaintiff’s motion for reinstatement “constitutes a removable ‘civil action’ under 28 U.S.C. § 1442(d)(1).”
In regard to the first point, the agency has provided no authority for the contention that it had been “improperly” sued in small claims court, nor is there any record of the agency having made that argument to the state court judge. Nevertheless, even assuming that the Postal Service cannot be sued in small claims court as the agency now suggests, the state court’s dismissal of the case at issue here surely cured that legal defect. One would think that the Postal Service would have been content to rest on that purportedly fitting end to the potentially misdirected action, but the agency here has done precisely the opposite: it eschewed the opportunity to proclaim its purported immunity and thereby put a stop to this matter once and for all, and instead singlehandedly resuscitated plaintiff’s near-dead case by giving it new life in a fresh federal forum through the filing of a notice of removal.
In the end the Judge accepted the USPS argument that it had the right to request removal of the case to federal court, while still baffled as to why it would want to do so:
Like the proverbial scientist who dutifully documents the trees but can’t quite envision the forest, the Postal Service firmly presses its contention that each of the statutory requisites for removal, construed broadly as appropriate, are fully satisfied here (id. at 2-3) without providing any clues as to a broader and more fundamental question: why did the agency determine that removal to federal court (even if valid) was appropriately invoked under the circumstances presented in this case?
The Judge also granted a USPS request for more time to prepare its case, pointedly suggesting that with the additional time “both parties will have an opportunity to assess fully their respective positions going forward in regard to this matter”.
We would only add that when you have an insurance claim denied by the USPS, rather than calling a lawyer, you might be better off getting in touch with the news media!