News and information useful to Cleveland-Marshall College of Law students, faculty and staff.

Archive for February 12th, 2013

Can USPS Claim Exemption from East Cleveland Traffic Camera Tickets?

Postal truck

Legal problems are everywhere.  Recently, seven City of East Cleveland traffic violations (two school-zone speeding tickets and five red-light tickets)  given to U.S. Post Office trucks made the news. Jennifer Beslin, senior litigation counsel for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) stated they would not be paid.  Claiming U.S. Constitutional immunity based on the Supremacy ClauseBeslin’s position is summarized in a letter to the City of East Cleveland.

What a minute,  immunity from prosecution …. for red lights and speeding?

 The Supremacy Clause is contained in Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution and states: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

In  1890, the United States Supreme Court in In re Neagle, 135 U.S. 1 (1890) (finding federal immunity for a U.S. marshal who shot a
person while defending a United States Supreme Court justice)  established a two-prong test  for federal officer immunity as to conduct alleged to be in violation of state law:

(1) Whether the federal employee was performing an act that federal law authorized such employee to perform; and

(2) Whether the employee’s actions were necessary and proper to fulfilling his or her federal duties.

In interpreting U.S. Supreme Court case law, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has stated that federal courts should apply the Neagle  two-part test.  Kentucky v. Long, 837 F.2d 727, 744 (6th Cir. 1988).  Much of the Long court’s analysis hings upon the “necessary and proper” prong. A great illustration of how to apply this standard in the Sixth Circuit can be found  In re McShane’s Petition, 235 F. Supp. 262 (N.D. Miss. 1964) (immunity sought by the Chief U.S. Marshall from charges of breaching the peace and inducing a riot that ensued from the desegregation of the University of Mississippi).

With this understanding of the law, we return back to East Cleveland and consider the  “necessary and proper” prong of the Neagle test and its application to the U.S. Postal Service.  In a recent case,  Tennessee v. Dodd, No. 1:08-cr-10100 (W.D. Tenn. 2009) , a mail carrier tried to use immunity defense under the Supremacy clause. The mail carrier has  designated over 400 pieces of mail as undeliverable. The mail carrier was charged with five counts,  four counts of theft of property under $500 and one count for theft of property over $1,000. The mail carrier asserted that his actions were subject to immunity because he acted based on his upon his training, USPS policies, and his knowledge of his route.  The defendant had a good-faith belief that the mail was undeliverable.  The court considered the facts, the policies,  and found that:

  1. Given the repetitiveness of the actions over a period of time, the mail carrier’s conduct — failing to deliver 400 pieces of mail  — was not a  mere “mistake in judgment.”
  2. Further, this USPS employee’s conduct — was not a reasonable interpretation of his authorized duties.

The East Cleveland situation mirrors Dodd.  The USPS has established rules and policies for its truck driving employees, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) , the union of city delivery letter carriers working for the United States Postal Service, posts  a copy of these rules and are contained in the Postal Employee’s Guide to Safety Handbook, EL-814 (August 2006). This Handbook states that employees  “must obey all state and local traffic laws when driving any Postal Service vehicle. You will receive no special privileges or rights as a Postal Service driver. Police citations for traffic violations are your personal responsibility.” (Section X (B), p. 34)

Here are some questions for the City of East Cleveland:

  1. Were these seven traffic violations repeat violations for the same truck or USPS employee?
  2. How much over the posted speed limit were the postal trucks traveling?


What do I do if I’m in the bottom half of my class?

Class RankThis question is answered by Shauna C. Bryce of  Bryce Legal Career Counsel.

As a student, Bryce  graduated with honors from The Johns Hopkins University before going on to graduate from Harvard Law School. She was published in the Harvard International Law Journal, where she was also the book review editor and an articles editor, and served as a research assistant for two professors.  Bryce is an attorney with a deep law firm experience.  She worked in an international law firm, a regional law firm, and in-house at a regional company. During this time, Bryce reviewed countless resumes, conducted interviews, worked on a firm’s hiring committee, and mentored junior and mid-level associates.

Bryce brings this expertise to the specialized world of legal job hunting and became a career adviser and resume writer. Bryce answers this and many other relevant questions in a blog called “Ask The Hiring Attorney.” She’s also the author of  “How to Get a Legal Job: A Guide for New Attorneys and Law School Students.”

Bryce offers some great suggestions like  first step should be to identify your strengths. Are you more of a hands-on learner rather than a classroom learner? Are you good on your feet? Good at explaining technical terms to lay people? Identifying your strengths will not only help you better find employers who value you, but also give you a much-needed boost in confidence as you start looking for job opportunities.

Next think about employers who value those strengths. For example, while many large or premier firms place a high value on grades, many smaller law firms value new attorneys who can deal with clients and go to court right away. These are better environments for hands-on learners, confident speakers, those with client interaction experience, and those who are simply good on their feet.

Even after you’ve identified your strengths and found employers who value those strengths, you still may have to face the music about your weaker grades. Don’t despair. Think about the reasons—not excuses—for those weaker grades. Did you work full-time? Were you a very active student involved in leadership? Did you have a difficult adjustment to law school that doomed your cumulative GPA? A student working full-time to put herself through school has an understandable reason for not having as high grades as a student who didn’t have to work and could concentrate fully on his studies.

Look at trends in your grades. Did you do better after the first year? Did you have a particularly high (or low) semester? If your GPA had an upward trajectory, then focus on that rather than your slow start.

Consider also the courses in which you earned your highest (and lowest) grades. Did you perform best in courses related to your target practice area? If so, then you can focus on that trend. For example, if you earned top grades in your federal tax classes and you want to pursue tax as a practice area, then perhaps prospective employers will care less that you received low scores in immigration law.

Don’t forget the power of great references and networking. Networking has always been a powerful tool in finding and securing opportunities, and if you have real or perceived strikes against you, then networking becomes even more important. Secure your letters of reference up front, and enlist your references and your network in your job search to help you find potential employers and get your foot in the door.

Lastly, don’t despair. As time goes by, your grades will matter less and less. You can then focus on your experience and expertise, and few employers will care about your transcript.