Law of Cards: If the Post Office Loses Your Cards, You're Out of Luck

Law of Cards: If the Post Office Loses Your Cards, You’re Out of Luck

In view of a recent trading card case, the phrase "you can't fight city hall" should be re-coined as "you can't fight the Post Office."

Take the story of Anthony Johnson. In July 2009, a guest of Johnson's allegedly stole some rather expensive items from his home. Then, without Johnson's consent, that person placed those items into two boxes and mailed them via the United States Postal Service (USPS) to her home in California.

Those items included expensive jewelry, watches and:

  • 1938 Joe DiMaggio card in mint condition worth $25,000,
  • 1951 Mickey Mantle card worth $25,000,
  • 1952 Mickey Mantle card, signed and in mint condition worth $50,000,
  • 1967 Hank Aaron card, signed and in mint condition worth $15,000 and
  • 1952 Cookie Lavagetto card worth $50,000

Yeah, some pretty pricey packages.

Upon learning of the theft, Johnson notified the USPS, which then intercepted the packages before they were delivered.

Both packages became parts of two separate lawsuits. The first package alerted a drug-sniffing dog, and the contents were forfeited to the government. This started a first lawsuit, but because this is Law of Cards and not Law of Drug Sniffing Dogs, we're not going into that one.

The second, more relevant, package was also searched and held by the USPS. Johnson alleges this package originally had all of the above items in it. The USPS, however, claims that it didn't have any of those items.

Johnson then brought a lawsuit against the USPS, alleging that it lost those items after it seized the package.

Unfortunately for Johnson, the USPS is a tough organization to sue because it enjoys sovereign immunity.

Legal translation: Under the concept of "sovereign immunity," the United States cannot be sued without its consent. The USPS is part of the federal government and, therefore, it's an immune sovereign also. In particular, the USPS cannot be sued for "[a]ny claim arising out of the loss, miscarriage, or negligent transmission of letters or postal matter.”

Legal translation of legal translation: Basically, if something gets lost in the mail and it's not insured, you're out of luck

Because of the USPS's immunity, Johnson's case was dismissed.

Johnson appealed, and argued that his lawsuit avoided sovereign immunity because the items were allegedly lost after the package was intercepted. Technically then, the package was no longer in the possession of the USPS for "delivery." It was something else. And, therefore, sovereign immunity didn't apply.

Yeah, that argument didn't work. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision, and poor Mr. Johnson is out of luck.

What's the take home?

You're not going to be able to take on the Post Office if it loses your stuff. If you're worried about something getting lost in the mail, insure it.

More importantly, if you're going to steal someone's cards and mail them to your home address, be courteous and use Federal Express or some other private courier. They don't enjoy sovereign immunity.

The information provided in Paul Lesko's "Law of Cards" column is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered in the sports industry. This information is not intended to create any legal relationship between Paul Lesko, the Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd LLC or any attorney and the user. Neither the transmission nor receipt of these website materials will create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the readers.

The views expressed in the "Law of Cards" column are solely those of the author and are not affiliated with the Simmons Law Firm. You should not act or rely on any information in the "Law of Cards" column without seeking the advice of an attorney. The determination of whether you need legal services and your choice of a lawyer are very important matters that should not be based on websites or advertisements.

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Paul Lesko is a shareholder at Simmons Hanly Conroy and the chair of its Intellectual Property Department (http://www.simmonsfirm.com). Don’t hold the fact that Paul is a lawyer against him, he’s also a rabid baseball and college basketball fan, and an avid baseball card collector. Paul can be found on Twitter @Paul_Lesko and Google+.

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