United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
MARIANNE B. BOWLER, United States Magistrate Judge
case arises out of a fall plaintiff Bradley Marsh
(“plaintiff”) suffered the morning of February
12, 2013 while trying to mail a letter outside a United
States post office in Hanson, Massachusetts. Plaintiff seeks
recovery from the United States (“the
government”) under the Federal Tort Claims Act
(“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-2680,
on the basis that the government did not exercise reasonable
care to prevent an accumulation of snow and ice on a walkway
at the post office.In response to the one-count complaint of
negligence, the government's answer sets out that it
sufficiently met its duty to provide a reasonable standard of
care in maintaining the walkways.
addition to plaintiff, the following witnesses testified at a
bench trial before this court: Auberon Moustakes
(“Moustakes”), an 18 year old high school student
at the time; Karen McGill (“McGill”), the officer
in charge at the post office in February 2013; and Michael W.
McCue (“McCue”), the town administrator in the
Town of Hanson.
accident occurred at the Monponsett Post Office in Hanson,
Massachusetts. The parties agree that the post office is
“located at 935 Monponsett Street” in Hanson and
“controlled by the United States Postal Service.”
(Docket Entry ## 24, 31, ¶¶ 2). They also agree
that, “On or about February 12, 2013, ” the
property located at this address “was owned and/or
otherwise controlled by United States of America” and
that the “United States of America was operating a Post
Office” on the property. (Docket Entry ## 24, 31,
¶¶ 2). The remaining facts are disputed. This court
finds the following facts.
Monponsett Post Office is a rural post office that does not
provide delivery services. It serves a small community and
the building itself resembles a small, one story house. The
post office has post office boxes and provides retail
services such as providing postage and weighing packages.
Separate and apart from Moustakes and Gordan Andrews
(“Andrews”), who plowed the facility's two
parking lots, McGill was the only employee at the facility.
As the officer in charge, she was responsible for sorting
mail, operating the retail counter, tracking and ordering
inventory as well as snow and ice removal. More specifically,
she was responsible for clearing snow and ice from the
walkway where plaintiff fell at approximately 6:15 a.m. on
Tuesday, February 12, 2013. McGill was trained in keeping the
area clear and, having worked at the Monponsett Post Office
since 2000, was familiar with operations at the facility.
post office was open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday
through Friday and from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
The Hallifax Post Office, another post office in the area,
was a short distance away and had a mailbox which allowed
customers to drop off mail without leaving their cars.
Another post office near where plaintiff works had a mailbox
under an overhang and protected from the elements.
February 2013, the Monponsett Post Office had three walkways
and two parking lots. One walkway led to a back parking lot.
Each of the other two walkways allowed patrons to access a
large blue carrier collection box in front of the post
office. The two walkways formed a loop from the front door to
the collection box and to the side parking lot.
February 8 to 9, 2013, there was a blizzard which left more
than 20 inches of snow on the ground outside the post office.
The blizzard was so severe that a state of emergency was
declared in the area and the post office was closed on
Saturday, February 9, 2013. When McGill arrived at work at
8:00 a.m. on Monday, February 11, 2013 the post office was
without power. It had no heat, no lights, no electricity, no
computer service, and no landline telephone service. The
power outage remained throughout the day on February 11,
an 18 year old high school student at the time, shoveled and
cleared snow at the post office during the winter of 2013.
Each time he cleared the ice and shoveled the snow, the post
office paid him $25. He shoveled the paths on all of the
walkways to the post office twice on February 8, 2013 and
five separate times on February 10 and 11, 2013. Each time he
undertook the task, he laid salt and sand on all of the
walkways. On February 11, 2013, he shoveled, sanded, and
salted all of the walkways before the post office opened. He
did not return to shovel the walkways later in the day or
arrived for work at around 8:00 a.m. on February 11, 2013,
parked in the back parking lot, entered the building, put
down her things, and opened the front door. As was her
practice, she then walked all of the walkways. The walkways
were all level to the ground, sanded, salted and safe to
walk. Moustakes had done an “excellent job, ”
according to McGill, and she convincingly testified about her
excitement that she “did not have to shovel.”
Only a “very few” customers and “a lot
less” than usual came to the post office that day.
McGill spent most of the day outside both to keep warm and to
make sure the walkways were safe. She walked the walkways
“many times” both to “keep busy” and
to keep the walkways safe. The post office had a barrel of
sand and salt mixture with a scoop to distribute the mixture
along the walkways. As was her standard procedure, McGill
repeatedly spread the sand and salt mixture along the
walkways throughout the day to keep the walkways refreshed.
When McGill closed the post office for the day at 5:30 p.m.,
she testified that the walkways were in “the
same” condition. She described them as “clear,
” “level to the ground, ” covered with
“a lot of sand and salt, ” and “safe to
walk on.” During the evening of February 11, there was
no additional precipitation. At around 6:15 a.m. on February
12, plaintiff drove to the post office, parked his car, and
exited out into the parking lot to mail a letter. As the sun
had not yet risen and there were no lights due to the power
outage, plaintiff struggled to see the condition of the
ground. Plaintiff was not wearing snow boots and felt that
the ground was slippery. As he continued to walk on a
shoveled, cleared, and well-salted walkway toward a large
blue, carrier collection box, he fell on his right side on
the walkway. MRI results show he suffered tears to his right
rotator cuff and biceps. He did not report the fall until two
weeks later on February 25, when he returned to the post
office and informed the postmistress of the fall.
enacting the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28
U.S.C. §§ 1346 and 2671 et seq., Congress expressly
“waived the government's sovereign immunity with
respect to private tort actions.” Roman-Cancel v.
United States, 613 F.3d 37, 41 (1stCir.
2010); Roman v. Townsend, 224 F.3d 24, 27
(1st Cir. 2000) (FTCA waives “the sovereign
immunity of the United States with respect to tort
claims”); 28 U.S.C. § 2674. The Postal
Reorganization Act, 39 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq., also
instructs that the FTCA “shall apply to tort claims
arising out of activities of the Postal Service.” 39
U.S.C. § 409(c). The FTCA therefore governs the
liability of the government in this case.
determining liability, the FTCA mandates application of
“the law of the place where the act or omission
occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1);
Calderon-Ortega v. U.S., 753 F.3d 250, 252