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FOP v. USPS

December 22, 1997

FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE, NATIONAL LABOR COUNCIL, USPS NO.2; MICHELE READINGER; EDWARD L. JOHNSON; RICARDO ROSADO; JOHN A. SILVESTRO; GARY P. TREPICCIONE; EDGARDO MERCADO; PETER T. FICCI; THOMAS SANTIAGO; THOMAS GENOVESE; KENNETH ASHWORTH; ANTHONY JACODINO; TRACY P. DANIELS; ELMO LAZZARINI, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, MARVIN T. RUNYON, in his official capacity as Postmaster General of the United States; LEE ROY HEATH; JOYCE A. KING, JAMES MARROTTA; ROY PRIOLO; PETER GALLANTE; AARON BURACK; and PAUL MADER, in their individual capacities, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: COTE

 DENISE COTE, District Judge:

 This action, filed on March 17, 1997, was brought by the Fraternal Order of Police, National Labor Council, United States Postal Service No.2 ("FOP") -- a labor organization and the exclusive representative of United States Postal Police Officers *fn1" -- and 13 individual Postal Police Officers. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants, the United States Postal Service ("the Postal Service") and several named individuals employed by the Postal Service, violated the plaintiffs' rights under federal and state law, as well as under the plaintiffs' employment contract. At this stage of the litigation, the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, both of the defendants' motions are granted in part and the case is dismissed.

 Background

 The individual plaintiffs in this action, all of whom are represented by the FOP, were, at all times material to this action, employed as Postal Police Officers ("PPOs") at the Bronx General Post Office in New York. PPOs function as security guards for the Postal Service and supplement the efforts of Postal Inspectors, who are the primary law enforcement agents of the Postal Service. Although PPOs carry weapons in carrying out their job duties, the Postal Service contends that PPOs are not authorized to engage in any investigative efforts beyond preliminary fact-finding, and that they generally are not authorized to effect arrests. Their role is essentially one of crime prevention rather than law enforcement. See Postal Police Officer Manual IS-702 § 138 (1982).

 The plaintiffs in this action challenge the restrictions that the Postal Service has imposed on their law enforcement efforts. They claim that such restrictions place them in personal danger and hamper the Postal Service's overall effectiveness at preventing crime and apprehending criminals. The plaintiffs cite 40 U.S.C. § 318 (1986) ("Section 318"), which authorizes the Administrator of General Services ("GSA") to appoint special police officers and defines the powers that may be entrusted to such officers, as granting them a statutory entitlement to exercise the full array of powers enumerated in that provision. As will be explained below, the Postal Service has been given the same powers as the GSA has under Section 318 to hire special police. The plaintiffs seek a declaration from this Court of their rights under Section 318; a declaration that they may not be disciplined for actions such as effecting an arrest; and an injunction enjoining the defendants from taking any such disciplinary action. These claims for declaratory and injunctive relief comprise the first count in their complaint.

 In the second count, the plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as money damages, for alleged violations of their Fourth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. The plaintiffs claim that their Fourth Amendment rights were violated when, on January 21, 1997, the defendants conducted a warrantless search of their lockers at the Post Office where they work, allegedly to look for weapons unlawfully on the premises. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants did not have a reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that the lockers contained illegal matter. In addition, the plaintiffs claim that the search was not conducted in a manner consistent with the requirements contained in the FOP's collective bargaining agreement with the Postal Service, which contemplates locker searches in certain circumstances.

 The plaintiffs' third and fourth counts arise under New York law. The third count is identical to the second count, except that it alleges an illegal search under Article 1, Section 12 of the New York Constitution. The fourth count alleges trespass to chattel related to the search of the lockers.

 The plaintiffs' fifth count is a breach of contract claim. This count is a slight variation on the second count, in that in it the plaintiffs claim directly that the manner in which the search was conducted violated the terms of their contract. The plaintiffs have not asked for additional relief related to this claim.

 The defendants have argued, as a preliminary matter, that the complaint should be dismissed in its entirety because the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. The defendants further argue that the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted with respect to each count. Specifically, in response to the first count of the complaint, the defendants dispute that PPOs are entitled to any particular powers under Section 318. They contend, further, that the Postal Service is statutorily authorized to employ PPOs as it deems necessary and to restrict their powers accordingly.

 In response to the second through fifth counts, the defendants contend that the search was reasonable and consistent with the terms of the FOP's contract and, moreover, that the plaintiffs have failed to exhaust internal grievance procedures as required by their contract. The defendants also contend that the statutory scheme of the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 ("PRA"), codified at Title 39 of the United States Code, precludes a judicial remedy for any of the claims asserted by the plaintiffs. Finally, the defendants argue that the officers who conducted the search enjoy qualified immunity and therefore may not be sued under the circumstances of this case.

 The Court will address each of the plaintiffs' claims in turn, analyzing, first, whether the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over each claim and, second, whether the plaintiffs have stated a claim for which relief may be granted. *fn2"

 Discussion

 Count I: The Limitations on PPOs' Law Enforcement Authority

 In their complaint, the plaintiffs cite only 28 U.S.C. § 2201, the Declaratory Judgment Act, as a source of the Court's subject matter jurisdiction to decide their claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. This section provides, in pertinent part,

 
In a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction . . . any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration . . . .

 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a) (1994). By its very language, the Declaratory Judgment Act makes clear that a court must have subject matter jurisdiction over a case on some other basis before it may grant declaratory or injunctive relief. See Skelly Oil Co. v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 339 U.S. 667, 671-72, 94 L. Ed. 1194, 70 S. Ct. 876 (1950); PDK Labs, Inc. v. Friedlander, 103 F.3d 1105, 1110 (2d Cir. 1997). The Declaratory Judgment Act is not an independent source of federal subject matter jurisdiction.

 Were the plaintiffs unable to cite any other statute conferring federal subject matter jurisdiction over their claims under Count I of the complaint, the claim would have to be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1), Fed. R. Civ. P. Construing the plaintiffs' submissions in the light most favorable to them, however, as is proper on a motion to dismiss, the Court notes that the plaintiffs have cited 39 U.S.C. § 409 in their memorandum of law opposing the defendants' motion as an independent source of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court will therefore treat the complaint as though it were amended to allege this additional basis of subject matter jurisdiction. As will be made clear below, such a liberal reading of the complaint does not in any way prejudice the defendants.

 39 U.S.C. § 409 provides, in pertinent part, that

 
the United States district courts shall have original but not exclusive jurisdiction over all actions brought by or against the Postal Service. Any action brought in a State court to which the Postal Service is a party may be removed to the appropriate United States district court . . . .

 39 U.S.C. § 409(a) (1980). Since the plaintiffs' claims are brought against the Postal Service, and are not excluded by any other provisions of the statute from the district court's jurisdiction -- see 39 U.S.C. § 409(c) (excluding from the district court's jurisdiction claims against the Postal Service sounding in tort) -- the Court is satisfied that this statute does provide subject matter jurisdiction for the Court to consider whether the plaintiffs have stated a cause of action against at least one of the defendants, the Postal Service, regarding the restrictions on PPOs' law enforcement authority. See Kerin v. United States Postal Service, 116 F.3d 988, 990 n.1 (2d Cir. 1997) (acknowledging that 39 U.S.C. § 409(a) "gives the federal courts, ...


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