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Ames v. United States Postal Service

December 21, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, U.S. District Judge


Plaintiff pro se, Marvin Ames, filed this "straight-forward breach of contract case" (Pl. Opp. Br. at 4) against the U.S. Postal Service on August 5, 2005, seeking indemnification for a pair of earrings lost in the mail en route to French Polynesia on January 26, 2004.*fn1 The matter is currently before the Court upon the motion for summary judgment by Defendant United States Postal Service ("Defendant" or "USPS"). Because the explicit terms of the contract between Mr. Ames and Defendant denies insurance coverage for jewelry sent to French Polynesia, Plaintiff's breach of contract claim must be denied as a matter of law and Defendant's motion will be granted.*fn2


Although the record does not indicate when, it is undisputed that at some time prior to January 13, 2004, Plaintiff purchased a pair of Tahitian cultured pearl earrings from the Polynesian Office of Expertise and Commercialization of Tahiti Cultured Pearls in Bora-Bora. Apparently, though, Mr. Ames was not satisfied with his purchase and complained, via a series of letters and e-mails, to OPEC. In response, Pierre Lérigé, General Manager of OPEC, advised Plaintiff to return the earrings to OPEC in French Polynesia, at which time his bank account would be credited the full purchase price. On January 26, 2004, several days after Mr. Ames received OPEC's response, Plaintiff went to the United States Post Office in Cherry Hill, New Jersey to mail the earrings.

According to Plaintiff, the postal clerk advised him, after consulting the U.S. Postal Service's International Mail Manual ("IMM"), that the IMM prohibits the mailing of jewelry to French Polynesia.*fn3 The postal clerk was correct. According to the IMM's Individual Country Listing for French Polynesia, precious stones and jewelry are nonmailable items. IMM ¶ 131.32. According to the relevant controlling provisions of the IMM, indemnity payments for insured nonmailable parcels will not be paid in the event of a claims loss. IMM ¶ 932c. The burden remains on the mailer to ensure compliance with international and individual country rules and regulations for mailability. IMM ¶ 131.4.

Despite the foregoing, the postal clerk accepted Plaintiff's parcel for mailing and allowed him to purchase, for $12.60, $1015.00 worth of insurance coverage for the earrings. According to Mr. Ames, the clerk informed Plaintiff that she accepted the package and permitted him to purchase the insurance coverage despite the IMM's explicit prohibition, because "the earrings were manufactured in French Polynesia and were being returned at the written request of the manufacturer."*fn4 (Compl.; Pl. Opp. Br. at 5.) The postal clerk then issued Mr. Ames an insured mail receipt for his parcel (# VE 199 553 901 US). (Def. Ex. 2.) The back of the receipt states:

Insurance [for international shipments] is provided only in accordance with . . . the International Mail Manual (IMM). The . . . IMM set[s] forth the specific types of losses that are covered, the limitations on coverage, terms of insurance, and conditions of payment. Copies of the . . . IMM are available for inspection at any post office.

The parcel was mailed and later arrived to French Polynesia. The contents of the package, however, were absent.

Subsequently, on or about April 6, 2004, Mr. Ames submitted an indemnification claim to the USPS. By letter dated August 2, 2004, Plaintiff was notified that his claim was denied. The letter informed Plaintiff that the package he sent was prohibited by French Polynesia under the IMM. Then, on March 4, 2005, Plaintiff mailed a letter to the Postmaster General concerning the denial of coverage. By letter dated March 25, 2005, Margaret Falwell, USPS Program Manager, International Indemnity Claims, responded to Plaintiff's inquiry, explaining in detail the reasons for the denial of coverage.

On August 5, 2005, Plaintiff commenced this action pro se in Superior Court, New Jersey, seeking indemnification for the insured value of the earrings under a breach of contract theory. Defendant removed the action to this Court on September 12, 2005. On September 15, 2005, Defendant filed the instant motion.


Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).*fn5 In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact, the court must view the evidence in favor of the non-moving party by extending any reasonable favorable inference to that party; in other words, "the nonmoving party's evidence 'is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [that party's] favor.'" Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 250; Brewer v. Quaker State Oil Refining Corp., 72 F.3d 326, 329-30 (3d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted).


This is a claim for breach of contract. (Compl.) The terms of the contract, incorporated by reference in the insured mail receipt, are unambiguous. They state that the mailing of jewelry to French Polynesia is prohibited and, thus, that indemnity payments for such insured nonmailable parcels will not be paid in the event of a claims loss. To resolve any doubt, Mr. Ames concedes that the postal clerk actually informed him "that the IMM prohibited the mailing of jewelry to French Polynesia . . . ." (Compl.) "Thus, Plaintiff was provided with information that there would be no indemnity for the type[] of article[] he wished to send. Defendant['s] refusal to pay on Plaintiff's claim is in ...

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