Appeals Court Rules Against USPS in FOIA Request Case

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today issued an opinion in CARLSON v. UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE:

Douglas F. Carlson, an attorney  and  self-professed postal watchdog appealed the United States District Court for the Northern District of California’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States Postal Service (USPS) in Carlson’s action under the Freedom of Information Act. Carlson sought public disclosure of the names, addresses, telephone numbers, regular business hours and final collection times for outgoing mail for every United States post office. The district court determined that the records sought were exempt from FOIA disclosure as “information of a commercial nature, . . . which under good business practice would not be publicly disclosed.”  The appeals court ruled that the requested records are not “information of a commercial nature,” and reversed the district court’s ruling.

In its ruling the court stated:
Thus, under the Postal Reorganization Act  USPS is a government entity, not a business, which provides a service, mail delivery, to the public. Post offices are a primary means of public access to mail service. Basic information concerning these access points, such as the location of post offices and their phone number, hours of operation and time of mail pick-up is not information that is commercial in nature.

See Full opinion

Archive: Among his discoveries: In order to meet schedules, the Postal Service began collecting mail two hours earlier than its own guidelines allowed in most of Contra Costa County.

The same thing happened in Daly City, where Saturday collections were moved back from 4 p.m. to noon, cutting service by four hours.

The Postal Service had similar service cutbacks in New York, Chicago and other places. One reason for it, Carlson thought, was that postal managers got paid bonuses for meeting performance standards. To meet them, and get the bonuses, they changed the schedules for collecting mail, so that they met the standards by subtly cutting service.

It was as if an airline made sure the 5 o’clock plane was on time by taking off at 3 o’clock. That way, the plane would never be late.

“They are playing a game,” Carlson said, “and the customers are the losers.”