Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Eagle Trust Fund v. United States Postal Service

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 4, 2019

EAGLE TRUST FUND, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Over the course of fifty years, conservative political activist Phyllis M. Schlafly created numerous “educational, advocacy, and policy groups, ” each of which she branded with an “Eagle”-themed name. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 20, ¶¶ 30, 31.) Among those entities are plaintiffs Eagle Trust Fund (“ETF”) and Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund (“EFE-LDF”), as well as non-party Eagle Forum. (See Id. ¶¶ 2-3, 6, 31.) Each of Schlafly's “Eagle” organizations traditionally received its mail through one central post-office box in Alton, Illinois; significantly, much of this mail was addressed to some variation of “Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum, ” without regard to the particular “Eagle” entity the correspondence actually concerned. (See Postal Service Initial Decision (“Initial Dec.”), Ex. A to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 17-1, at 4.)[1]This centralized landing spot for the various entities' correspondence changed in 2016, when the organization known as Eagle Forum veered from the flock under new leadership (due to a legal dispute), and submitted a “change of address” form to the United States Postal Service (“USPS”). (Id. at 6.) Plaintiffs ETF and EFE-LDF have now combined with John Schlafly-Phyllis Schlafly's son, who serves as a trustee or officer of ETF and EFE-LDF-to file the instant lawsuit against USPS. (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2-4.) Plaintiffs claim that ETF's and EFE-LDF's mail matter is being improperly diverted to Eagle Forum's new address, and they request reversal of an administrative ruling upholding USPS's decision to honor Eagle Forum's change-of-address request. (See Id. ¶ 1.)

         Before this Court at present is USPS's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' first amended complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6). (See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.' Mot.”), ECF No. 21.) Because Plaintiffs' complaint does not identify a cause of action and otherwise fails to state a claim for the purpose of Rule 12(b)(6), as explained below, USPS's motion will be GRANTED, and Plaintiffs' action will be DISMISSED without prejudice. A separate Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will follow.

         I.

         BACKGROUND [2]

         A. Basic Facts

         Phyllis Schlafly began leasing P.O. Box 618 in Alton, Illinois in 1967, the same year that she created Eagle Trust Fund. (See Initial Dec. at 4.) Most, if not all, of her Eagle-themed organizations received mail at that P.O. Box for almost fifty years, and as mentioned above, said correspondence was typically addressed to some variation of “Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum[.]” (Id.) This centralization of the different organizations' mail matter was not inherently problematic because “[a]ll of Mrs. Schlafly's Eagle entities functioned in consonance” (Am. Compl. ¶ 32), and Eagle Trust Fund provided “back-office management, bookkeeping, and mail services for the other organizations” (Initial Dec. at 5). Thus, Eagle Trust Fund employees sorted and distributed the mail that was delivered to P.O. Box 618 (and a related street address) for all of the “Eagle” entities, including Eagle Forum. (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 32, 38.)

         In 2016, members of the organization known as Eagle Forum clashed with Phyllis Schlafly, “based in part on their holding political and social positions dissonant with Mrs. Schlafly and the other Eagle entities.” (Id. ¶ 33.) According to the amended complaint, six Eagle Forum directors “secretly agreed among themselves to try to take control” of Eagle Forum and “to remove Phyllis Schlafly and John Schlafly from their longstanding authority over [Eagle Forum's] accounts and assets.” (Id. ¶¶ 33, 34.) As a result, Mrs. Schlafly “formally and expressly revok[ed] any and all existing licenses that [Eagle Forum] held to use her name, image, and likeness, as well as any intellectual property under her control.” (Id. ¶ 36.) Ultimately, an Illinois state court designated new, acting leadership for the Eagle Forum organization. (See id. ¶ 37; Initial Dec. at 5-6.)

         Soon thereafter, Eagle Forum's new leadership filed a change-of-address request form with USPS, thereby asking that any and all mail that was addressed to “Eagle Forum” at P.O. Box 618 and the related street address be forwarded to Eagle Forum's new place of business. (See Am. Compl. ¶ 38; Initial Dec. at 6.) As a trustee of ETF and an officer and director of EFE-LDF (see Am. Compl. ¶ 4), John Schlafly opposed Eagle Forum's change-of-address request, leading to the administrative proceedings that underlie the instant mail dispute. (See Initial Dec. at 6); see also 39 C.F.R. Part 965 (governing “Proceedings Relative to Mail Disputes”).

         On September 15, 2017, an Administrative Judge issued USPS's Initial Decision regarding the mail-matter conflict. (See Initial Dec. at 3); see also 39 C.F.R. § 965.11.The Administrative Judge addressed the question of “how mail addressed to Eagle Forum at P.O. Box 618 and 322 State Street should be delivered” (Initial Dec. at 6), and eventually concluded that “Eagle Forum-and not Eagle Trust [Fund] or Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund-should control delivery of mail addressed to Eagle Forum” (id. at 8).[3] In so finding, the Administrative Judge analyzed

two key concepts . . . . First, as it applies to all mail disputes, the sender's intent is paramount. Second, when a mail dispute concerns how mail to an organization should be delivered, the mail must be delivered under the order of the organization's president or equivalent official.

(Id. at 7 (internal citations omitted).)

         As to the question of the sender's intent, the Administrative Judge found that “[t]he parties agree that [the disputed] mail addressed to Eagle Forum can actually be intended for any of Mrs. Schlafly's organizations, including Eagle Trust [Fund], Eagle Forum, and Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund[.]” (Id.) “Because of th[e] complex organizational web [of Eagle-themed organizations receiving mail at the same address], the sender's intent for items addressed to Eagle Forum is difficult, if not impossible, to determine.” (Id. at 7-8.) Thus, the Administrative Judge concluded that it “becomes necessary to look elsewhere for the evidence necessary to decide how the mail should be delivered.” (Id. at 8.)

         Turning to the second component of his inquiry, the Administrative Judge found that “there is no dispute that Eunie Smith is currently the acting president of Eagle Forum, entitling her to direct delivery of mail addressed to Eagle Forum.” (Id.) Although John Schlafly had argued that “Eagle Forum really means Eagle Trust [Fund] or Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund[, ]” and that “the term Eagle Forum encompasses the entire Schlafly network, all of which falls under Eagle Trust [Fund, ]” the Administrative Judge concluded that “[t]hese arguments fail because the Domestic Mail Manual, which sets out the procedures for mail delivery by the Postal Service, provides that an addressee controls the delivery of its mail, and that in the absence of a contrary order the mail is delivered as addressed.” (Id. (emphasis omitted) (citation omitted).) “To allow either [ETF or EFE-LDF] to control delivery of mail addressed to Eagle Forum would conflict with the plain meaning” of USPS regulations. (Id. at 8-9); see also 39 C.F.R. § 211.2(a)(2) (establishing that “[t]he regulations of the Postal Service consist of[, ]” among other things, “[t]he Mailing Standards of the United States Postal Service, Domestic Mail Manual”). The Administrative Judge therefore determined that “all mail being held, or hereafter received, addressed to Eagle Forum at both P.O. Box 618, Alton, Illinois, and 322 State Street, Suite 301, Alton, Illinois, [should] be delivered as directed by Eunie Smith, the acting president of Eagle Forum.” (Initial Dec. at 9.)

         John Schlafly appealed the Administrative Judge's decision, see 39 C.F.R.§ 965.12, and a Judicial Officer (“JO”) affirmed. (See Postal Service Decision (“Dec.on Appeal”), Ex. B. to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 17-2, at 5 (concluding that, “[a]s the only mail here in dispute is that directed to Eagle Forum (or Eagle Forum, Attention: Phyllis Schlafly), and Eagle Forum has moved, it remains entitled to redirect such mail to its present address”).) John Schlafly argued “that the addressee in question-Eagle Forum-‘may not file a change-of-address order' under [section 507.2.1.5 of the Domestic Mail Manual] because the disputed mail was ‘originally addressed to the addressee at an organization, business, place of employment, or other affiliation'” (id. at 4 (emphasis added))[4]; however, the JO reasoned that

[b]y its own terms, the word ‘addressee' in [section] 507.2.1.5 means ‘an individual or a business entity,' not a combination of an individual or business entity to whom the mail piece is directed and the address to which it is directed. Indeed, [section] 507.2.1.5 deals with a situation in which mail is sent to ‘an organization, business, place of employment, or other affiliation' at which the individual or business entity to whom it is directed (the addressee) no longer conducts business or is employed. That is why the second sentence of [the provision] then allows the organization or business entity currently located at the physical address written on the piece of mail to ‘change the address (but not the addressee's name)' on that mail to allow it to be redirected to the addressee (that is, to the individual or business entity whose name appears on that piece of mail but who no longer is located at that physical address).

(Id. (emphasis in original).)

         The JO continued: “[h]ere, the mail in dispute is being sent to Eagle Forum at a physical address (P.O. Box 618 and 322 State Street), not to Eagle Forum at Eagle Trust Fund or another of the many organizations and business entities also located at that physical address.” (Id. (emphasis in original).) Thus, the JO determined that the Domestic Mail Manual provision that Schlafly sought to use to reverse the Administrative Judge's underlying decision “does not apply and does not prohibit the change of address sought by Eagle Forum.” (Id.; see also Id. at 5 (clarifying that “[u]nless the face of a piece of disputed mail indicates that it is directed to Eagle Forum and to another business entity, for purposes of these mail delivery regulations, only one addressee is involved” (emphasis in original)).) In short, the JO determined that, “if the words on a piece of mail identify only Eagle ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.