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VIAIDS LABS., INC. v. USPS

January 18, 1979

ViAIDS LABORATORIES, INC. and Metro Mailers Service, Inc., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: TENNEY

Plaintiffs ViAids Laboratories, Inc. ("ViAids") and Metro Mailers Service, Inc. ("Metro") commenced this action to seek review of a determination and order of the United States Postal Service barring them from receiving mail and cashing postal money orders and to seek an order requiring the Postal Service to proceed judicially rather than administratively. Plaintiffs contemporaneously brought on an order to show cause for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction staying the effect of the agency's order pending determination of this action. On January 3, 1978, United States District Judge Henry F. Werker, while in Part I, signed the order to show cause and set January 12, 1979 as the date for the hearing on the preliminary injunction. On January 12, the hearing was held before this Court. At the hearing, the Court continued the TRO until decision and gave the parties until January 16 to provide additional argument. For the reasons given below, the application for a preliminary injunction is denied.

Background

 On October 27, 1978 the Postal Service filed an administrative complaint against ViAids *fn1" and Metro, alleging that they were falsely representing various products as "sexual stimulants or aphrodisiacs" as part of a mail fraud scheme in violation of 39 U.S.C. § 3005. *fn2" On October 30, 1978, the case was assigned to William A. Duvall, Chief Administrative Law Judge, and a notice of hearing, setting a hearing date for November 27, was issued. Copies of the complaint, the assigning order, and the notice of hearing were subsequently served at the addresses set forth in the complaint. Personal service on ViAids at its 42d Street address was effected on November 3, 1978 by a Postal Service supervisory employee; Harold A. Roth, who signed as President and "Agent for ViAids," accepted service. Likewise, a supervisory employee personally served E. Higgins at Metro on November 6. Service on ViAids's 34th Street address was made on November 6 by a regular mail carrier. *fn3"

 The notice of hearing indicated that if ViAids and Metro wanted to oppose the order sought in the complaint, they had to file an answer no later than fifteen calendar days from the date of the service of the complaint. The notice further indicated that failure to file a timely answer would cause a default order to be issued. Because no answer was filed by November 21, 1978 (fifteen days from the last service) the Postal Service moved for the entry of a default order on November 22. On the same date, the case was certified by the administrative law judge to the judicial officer for action under the administrative default provision. *fn4"

 On November 22, one day after the last day for filing the answer, William L. Finger, attorney for defendants, telephoned a Postal Service judicial officer to request additional time. *fn5" The latter advised Mr. Finger to file a motion for leave to file a late answer setting forth the reasons for the delay. Mr. Finger did so, explaining

 
that the delay in filing an answer was due to the fact that the principal of the respondent corporations was out of town at the time of the mail delivery of said complaints, and the business enterprises are small, with no other employee authorized to open the mail. It is respectfully submitted that had personal service been made to forcefully alert respondents to this complaint, undoubtedly the answer would have been timely filed.

 Affidavit of William L. Finger, dated Nov. 28, 1978. He added that "respondents have substantial defenses to this action, which raise Constitutional issues," and that the short delay would not prejudice the Government. Id.

 On November 30, the Postal Service filed papers opposing the motion to set aside the default. On December 15, Judicial Officer James A. Cohen issued two orders. In the first, he denied the motion to set aside the default judgment and, in the second, he ordered that mail directed to ViAids and Metro be stopped and that they be prohibited from cashing postal money orders.

 In the order denying the motion to set aside the default judgment, Mr. Cohen concluded that the complaint had been properly served under the applicable rules and that ViAids and Metro were in default. He was not persuaded by their excuse for their failure to file a timely answer.

 
Respondents have not shown the dates on which their Vice President was out of town, when he first learned of the existence of the Complaint, or how much time was consumed in forwarding the Complaint to Respondents' attorney instead of immediately filing an Answer or requesting an extension of time. It is presumed the answer to these questions would not support the requested extension. I am also not persuaded that Respondents' Vice President is the only person authorized to open Respondents' mail.

 Order of Judicial Officer James A. Cohen, dated Dec. 15, 1978, at 3-4. Accordingly, he denied the requested extension and issued the remedial order under 39 U.S.C. § 3005. The remedial order stopping the mail and barring the cashing of postal money orders was subsequently stayed through January 3, 1979. Order and Supplement A of Judicial Officer James A. Cohen, dated Dec. 22, 1978. *fn6" The instant action was then commenced, and it subsequently assumed its current posture.

 ViAids and Metro argue that the Postal Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously in denying them a hearing on the charges. Specifically, they contend, as they did in the motion before the agency to set aside the default, that service had been made on non-managerial employees, that the managing employee was out of town at the time, and that, accordingly, counsel received the complaint too late to file a timely answer. They argue as a corollary that they never waived their right to a hearing. Finally, they argue that the sexual materials and their dissemination are presumptively protected by the first amendment and therefore that these businesses may not be restrained without a judicial hearing.

 The Government responds that the Postal Service's denial of the motion to set aside the default was not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion. In addition to the reasons set out in the judicial officer's December 15 order, the Government refers to the absence of an affidavit from a corporate officer explaining the reasons for the late filing with credible detail. The Government finds it impossible to believe that not even the purported president of ViAids had authority to open the entity's mail. Further, the Government argues that the significant public interest in halting a scheme to defraud the public requires promptness. Finally, the Government argues ...


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