South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Cannot Sue Postal Service for Negligent Placement of Mailboxes

Appeals court held that the Postal Service, as part of the government, was due sovereign immunity, and could not be sued for negligent placement of mailboxes at an intersection that blocked the view of oncoming traffic and was related to an accident.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Federal Tort Claims Act; Sovereign Immunity; Postal Service

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Riley stopped at an intersection to turn on to a highway. Mailboxes obscured his view; he began to move onto the highway, thinking it clear, but was broadsided by a truck and suffered serious injuries. Before that accident, the county sheriff and residents had complained to the Postmaster about the location of mailboxes because they blocked the view of the highway for drivers. The Postmaster refused to move the boxes. After Riley was injured and there were more complaints; the Postmaster approved the move. Riley sued the United States, contending the U.S. Postal Service was negligent for placement of the mailboxes. The district court found the sovereign immunity applied, so it lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and dismissed the suit. Riley appealed.


Affirmed. The United States is immune from suit unless it consents. The Federal Tort Claims Act spells out when the government may be sued in tort. Postal Service employees exercised discretion in determining the placement of mailboxes along the road at an intersection. That discretionary function exemption immunized the Postal Service from actions brought regarding their placement. Such determinations may not be second guessed. The fact that the placement of the mailboxes was not consistent with safety standards of the Federal Highway Administration does not change the result, as its rules are considered guidance, not mandatory.


Riley v. U.S., 486 F.3d 1030 (8th Cir., 2007)

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