Appeal by City, tenant groups seeks trial on 2008 policy shift by S.F. Postmaster distinguishing thousands of local SRO residents from other apartment dwellers
SAN FRANCISCO (Nov. 5, 2013) — A 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel will hear arguments this morning on whether the U.S. Postal Service is violating federal constitutional guarantees and its own regulations because of a 2008 local policy change that arbitrarily deprives San Francisco residents of single room occupancy hotels, or SROs, of secure and reliable mail delivery.
At issue before the three-judge panel is whether an Oct. 25, 2011 trial court ruling for summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Postal Service should be reversed. Such a ruling would allow a trial to proceed on multiple disputes involving a 2008 policy decision by San Francisco Postmaster Noemi Luna that distinguishes a large majority of San Francisco’s estimated 30,000 SRO residents from all other apartment dwellers for purposes of mail delivery. Luna’s controversial policy shift has meant that nearly two-thirds of the city’s SRO residents now have their mail dumped in a single, often unsecured location — known as “single-point delivery” — as opposed to being sorted and delivered to individual mailboxes as they are for other mail recipients. In a Dec. 18, 2008 letter to city officials, Luna blamed the change on “current fiscal shortages.” The policy was challenged in a federal lawsuit filed on May 5, 2009 by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and a coalition of tenant advocacy organizations. The Central City SRO Collaborative, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco are represented by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic as co-plaintiffs in the litigation. The law firm of Winston Strawn is also representing the plaintiffs and arguing the appeal.
SROs are so named because residents typically rent a single room with shared access to bathroom and other facilities. They are home to some of San Francisco’s most economically disadvantaged residents, including seniors, the disabled and low-income individuals and families, some of whom receive supportive services in their residential environment. The San Francisco Postmaster’s discriminatory policy of denying centralized mail delivery to the large majority of SRO residents in the city has inflicted a host of serious harms on residents and public services, according to evidence submitted in the case by tenant advocates and Herrera’s office. A survey of SRO residents by the Human Services Agency of San Francisco found that fully 14 percent of respondents reported losing such public benefits as General Assistance and food stamps when mail from the programs failed to reach them. Numerous declarations filed in the case document instances in which SRO residents in San Francisco failed to receive critical benefits checks; saw benefits terminated for failure to answer inquiries they never received; missed medical appointments and risked having private medical information disclosed to others.
“There is no legal basis for the U.S. Postal Service to discriminate against SRO residents as a cost-cutting measure,” said Herrera. “The factual and legal disputes in this case are both too serious and too numerous to justify the trial court’s decision to grant of summary judgment. I’m hopeful that the appellate court will reverse the District Court ruling, so a case with serious implications for tens of thousands of San Franciscans can be properly resolved at trial. I am very grateful to the Central City SRO Collaborative, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco for their leadership on the issue and for partnering with us in this important litigation.”
Such discriminatory mail delivery practices violate a number of constitutional guarantees, according to the original complaint filed on May 5, 2009, including equal protection, free speech, freedom of association, and the right to privacy, according to complaint. The federal lawsuit also charged that the delivery policy shift violates the U.S. Postal Service’s own regulations.
The case is: City and County of San Francisco et al v. U.S. Postal Service (U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Nos. 12-15473 and 12-15490).
PDF of the SRO Mail Delivery Appeal Presskit (Nov. 5, 2013)