A Duluth woman sued the U.S. Postal Service after a returned letter said her son in Iraq was dead. He wasn't.
An appeals court ruled Friday that a soldier's mother can't sue the U.S. Postal Service for mistakenly informing her that her son was dead.
Joan Najbar, a war protester from Duluth, sued the post office in December 2009 after a letter she had written to her son who was serving in Iraq was mistakenly returned to her with the word "DECEASED" stamped on the front of it.
Her son, Sam Eininger, was serving with the Minnesota National Guard in Iraq and was in fact alive. He has since left the military. The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion Friday that said the post office is only liable with claims arising from assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, libel, slander, misrepresentation, deceit or claims rising from interference with contract rights or for the loss, miscarriage or negligent sending of mail.
"As a general matter, the Postal Service has a duty to deliver letters to their intended recipients," a panel of judges wrote. "In most cases, such miscarriage will result in minimal injury to the sender, perhaps nothing more than the cost of another envelope or stamp. Other times, as here, the miscarriage and attendant reason therefor[e] may cause severe emotional distress. Nevertheless, that distress is the result of a miscarriage."
Najbar's lawyer, Jeff Eckland in Minneapolis, said Friday that the opinion was confusing because it contradicted an earlier ruling by a federal court that said the Postal Service had misrepresented Najbar's son's death.
"The Eighth Circuit adopted the very reasoning that the U.S. District Court had rejected," Eckland said. Eckland said he and Najbar are weighing their appeal options. "We continue to believe that someone in the government is responsible for this negligent act for which she has never received an apology."
A claim for $118,000 in damages that Najbar filed with the U.S. Postal Service in 2008 was twice denied. A letter from the Postal Service said its investigation found no negligence.
Najbar spread red fabric on the Capitol steps in St. Paul in a silent protest against the war in Iraq in December 2005.
Daarel Burnette II • 651-925-5032 Twitter: @DaarelStrib