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Supreme Court Roundup: Domino’s And Post Office Lawsuits February 22, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Judiciary, Main.

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–The U.S. Supreme Court clarified standards for some federal discrimination lawsuits involving small businesses and gave the green light for homeowners to sue the U.S. Postal Service if they trip over a package left by a mail carrier.

In the first of two discrimination rulings, the high court unanimously ruled a building contractor can’t sue Domino’s Pizza Inc. (DPZ) under federal civil rights laws for individuals after a contract fell through to have his company build four franchises for the pizza maker. The second discrimination ruling said small businesses eligible for a less-than-15 employee exemption from federal civil rights laws must raise an objection before initial judgments are issued in a lawsuit.

The Domino’s case involved John McDonald, who was the sole shareholder of JWM Investments Inc., his contracting company that sought the building jobs from Domino’s. McDonald sued Domino’s for race discrimination after the business relationship soured and contributed to his bankruptcy filing.

In an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court said McDonald didn’t have the right to sue under the law because the contracts were between Domino’s and his building company.

Justice Samuel Alito, who joined the Supreme Court this week, didn’t participate in any of the rulings.

The appeal is Domino’s Pizza v. McDonald, 04-593.

The second discrimination case involved Jenifer Arbaugh, a former bartender who sued her employer, the Moonlight Cafe, for sexual discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Though the law contains an exemption for businesses with fewer than 15 employees, the company didn’t raise the issue until after Arbaugh was awarded $40,000 by a jury.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in the court’s 8-0 opinion, said businesses must claim their exemption “prior to the close of trial” and not “defensively late in the lawsuit.”

The case is Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp.

Finally, the Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that the U.S. Postal Service can be sued by a Philadelphia-area woman, Barbara Dolan, who was injured after she tripped on a package left by the Postal Service on her front porch.

The Post Office has maintained it is exempt from such lawsuits and lower courts agreed. But the high court decision Wednesday revived the lawsuit, ruling that the Federal Tort Claims Act doesn’t immunize the Postal Service from liability for the negligent placement of a package.

“Congress expressed the intent to immunize only a subset of postal wrongdoing, not all torts committed in the course of mail delivery,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the majority opinion.

The Postal Service argued that allowing the Dolan lawsuit to continue could open it up to “frivolous slip-and-fall claims” from postal customers. Justice Kennedy said that was a risk any package delivery entity faces. “Slip-and-fall liability, however, to the extent state tort law imposes it, is a risk shared by any business that makes home deliveries.”

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, arguing the statute in question, though ambiguous, requires deference to the government.
The case is Dolan v. Postal Service, 04-848.

By Mark H. Anderson, Dow Jones Newswires


1. alecia smith - January 12, 2009

question not related to these cases. Can an employee sue the post or members of management for non payment of wages, steaming from wrongly being docked pay in an Awol status.

N. J. Olivieri - October 6, 2009

can an owner of a Post office where there are two options to purchase by the post office sue for relief as the Post office takes the stance that that either option to purchase works for them so they can choose the purchase price which affords them the lowest price. It seems that the option to purchase was modified from a fixed price to a market price because the Post office received a lower lease price for the second option which was to be determiined by an outside appraiser versus a fixed price that was so far out dated and negotiated over 50 years ago. The market price was negotiated into the lease agreeemnt about 27 years ago.

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