A dissatisfied U.S. Postal Service customer filed an appeal with the Postal Service Board of Contract Appeals, seeking $50,000 in damages resulting from the Postal Service’s failure to deliver a Priority Mail package.
The appellant contended that it had a contract with the Postal Service, which was breached when the Postal Service failed to deliver the package. But the appellant’s cleverness wasn’t enough to prevail: the Board held that it lacked jurisdiction over the appeal.
The case of Triumph Donnelly Studios LLC v. United States Postal Service, PSBCA No. 6683 (2017) began in August 2016, when Triumph Donnelly mailed a package from South Carolina to California using Priority Mail. The package was never delivered, and the Postal Service admitted that the package was lost.
The Postal Service automatically insures most Priority Mail packages in the amount of $50. Triumph filed a claim for this amount, and was reimbursed by the Postal Service.
But Triumph wasn’t satisfied with a mere $50. Triumph filed a claim with the Postal Service’s National Tort Center seeking $50,000. The National Tort Center denied Triumph’s claim and a subsequent request for reconsideration. The National Tort Center advised Triumph that its decision was final, and that Triumph’s next legal option would be to file suit in federal district court.
Instead, Triumph filed an appeal with the Board, arguing that the Postal Service breached a contract when it lost the Priority Mail package. The Postal Service asked the Board to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
The Board held that the Contract Disputes Act applies to the Postal Service. Under the CDA, a Board of Contract Appeals has jurisdiction over “any express or implied contract . . . made by an executive agency for (1) the procurement of property, other than real property in being; (2) the procurement of services; (3) the procurement of construction, alteration, repair or maintenance of real property; or (4) the disposal of personal property.”
The Board wrote that its jurisdiction is limited “to the four contract types” identified in the CDA. More specifically, the CDA “does not apply to a contract under which the government provides a service.”
Here, the Board determined, “[b]ecause the alleged contractual relationship between the Postal Service and Triumph Donnelly would be just such a contract for the government to provide a service, we hold that it is not covered by the CDA.” The Board concluded: “[s]imply put, we do not have jurisdiction to decide disputes between the Postal Service and its customers involving delivery of the mail.”
The Board dismissed the appeal.
Sadly, the PSBCA’s decision doesn’t answer an obvious question: what the heck was in that Priority Mail package, anyway? Cold cash? Ultra-rare Nintendo games? The possibilities are endless, and perhaps raw speculation is more fun than an answer.
The Triumph Donnelly case is interesting because of its facts, but it also demonstrates an important point of law: the jurisdiction of a Board of Contract Appeals is limited by the CDA to specific matters–and excludes cases in which the government provides a service.