Homeowners Association Lacked Standing to Enforce Consent Decree with Postal Service to End Delivery of Mail Addressed to “Ypsilanti” to Its Development, Split Sixth Circuit Holds

In Glennborough Homeowners Ass’n v. USPS, No. 21-1340 (6th Cir. Dec. 22, 2021), a panel affirms an order dismissing a case by a housing development seeking to enforce a consent decree against the U.S. Postal Service, though it divides on the reasoning. The majority affirmatively holds that the plaintiff Association lacks standing, while one judge concurring in the judgment would hold that the plaintiff forfeited the standing argument and thus the panel should not have reached it.

“By way of background, for more than two decades, Glennborough’s developers and homeowners have sought to change the subdivision’s Zone Improvement Plan Code, better known as a ‘ZIP Code.’ This effort included various pleas to the United States Postal Service, two rounds of litigation, and one settlement. In today’s installment of this long-running endeavor, the Glennborough Homeowners Association contends that the Postal Service breached a [1999] consent judgment entered as part of the earlier settlement by allowing mail addressed to ‘Ypsilanti’ (rather than ‘Superior Township’ or ‘Ann Arbor,’ two other communities in Washtenaw County) to be delivered to Glennborough. The relief the Association seeks is to alter Glennborough’s ZIP Code.”

The district court dismissed the action, holding that the Association lacked standing to seek “an order requiring a change in the neighborhood ZIP Code from ‘48198’ (Ypsilanti) to ‘48105’ (Ann Arbor)” and alternatively that it failed to state a claim.

The Sixth Circuit affirms, with the panel majority holding that the association lacked standing. “As we take up the Association’s appeal, it bears emphasizing that its breach-of-the[1]consent-judgment claim does not assert that mail has been mishandled or delayed, or has not been delivered to Glennborough residents. Instead, the Association takes issue with the wording on envelopes successfully delivered to those homeowners. As the successor-in-interest to the developers who signed the consent order, the Association asserts that the Postal Service breached the order by allowing ‘Ypsilanti’—as opposed to ‘Superior Township’ or even ‘Ann Arbor’— in the last line for mail delivery to Glennborough.”

The panel majority, as does the concurring judge, notes that the district court held both that the Association lacked standing and failed to state a claim, but that on appeal the Association only addressed the latter ground. “In the Association’s defense, the district court’s discussion on standing for the breach-of[1]consent-judgment claim was relatively sparse and imprecise; it amounted to one line specifically referencing the phrase ‘injury in fact’ amidst a five-page discussion of whether the Association adequately alleged a breach of contract and associated damages under Michigan law. Under these circumstances, we can at least understand why the Association did not discuss the standing issue in its opening appellate brief.”

So rather than rely on forfeiture, the panel majority addresses the standing argument. It holds that the Association fails to establish any of the three legs of Article III standing: injury-in-fact, traceability (also known as causation), redressability.

Regarding injury-in-fact, “[t]he Association’s complaint is silent as to what concrete injury resulted from the Postal Service’s willingness to deliver mail addressed to ‘Ypsilanti’ to Glennborough. If the alleged injury is the purported indignity of receiving a letter otherwise properly addressed save for an Ypsilanti notation, such a psychic injury falls well short of a concrete harm needed to establish Article III standing . . . . Likewise, the Association has failed to clearly allege (and it is difficult to imagine) that receipt of letters properly addressed save for an Ypsilanti notation could result in concrete economic harm to neighborhood residents.”

Regarding traceability, “none of the Association’s purported ZIP Code-inspired injuries were caused by the alleged breach of the consent judgment. The consent order, remember, at most restricted what municipality should be listed in the last line of mail delivered to Glennborough; it did not alter or affect Glennborough’s ZIP Code.” Thus any alleged harms associated with being placed in the “wrong” ZIP code – property values, school eligibility, utility access – were not caused by the Postal Service delivering Ypsilanti-addressed envelopes to the housing development.

Finally, regarding redressability, “withholding mail addressed to Ypsilanti would do nothing to redress the only injuries cited in its complaint, which are tied to Glennborough’s placement in the 48198 ZIP Code.”

Judge White, concurring in the judgment, determines that the Association’s failure to argue standing in its briefing forfeits the point and the judge would stop there. The concurring opinion refers to the majority’s standing analysis as “not simply be dicta, but also incorrect dicta.” Had there not been a forfeiture, the concurring judge would have held that Article III standing was likely met here because breach of contract itself constitutes an injury-in-fact and that the Association sought a standard contract remedy. “Under the Association’s interpretation of the consent judgment, an order prohibiting the Postal Service from recognizing Ypsilanti as an ‘acceptable municipal name’ would seemingly redress the Postal Service’s alleged breach.”

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