Massachusetts Woman and Daughter Unintentional Recipients of Package Containing Marijuana – Tobin v. Federal Express Corporation

Most of us can relate to the surprise and excitement brought on by an unexpected package. What could it be? A gift sent by a loved one? An item we ordered some time ago and forgot? The possibilities delight us, until we can stand it no more and rip into the package to see what lies within. In the case of Tobin v. Federal Express Corporation, the plaintiff and her 11-year-old daughter opened just such a “surprise package” and found two vacuum-sealed bags of marijuana inside. The plaintiff called the police, worried that her safety and that of her child were in jeopardy should the intended recipient of the package track the package to their home.

The plaintiff also called defendant Federal Express, which had erroneously delivered the package to the plaintiff’s home. The plaintiff relayed the package’s contents and asked the defendant not to disclose her whereabouts to the sender of the package. Meanwhile, the sender of the package also contacted the defendant, asking for a “trace” on the package and telling the defendant that she suspected that the package had been delivered to a street that also began with the same letter of the alphabet and that she would find it herself if the defendant did not help her. Three men later came to the plaintiff’s house, inquiring about the package, but the plaintiff slammed the door and called the police.

The Plaintiff’s Lawsuit in State Court

Eventually, it was discovered that one of the defendant’s employees had made a mistake in entering the information provided by the sender into the computer, thereby generating an address label with the plaintiff’s address rather than the address of the intended recipient. The plaintiff initially sued the defendant in state court, asserting that the defendant had mislabeled the package, misdelivered the package, and wrongfully gave her address to the sender or the intended recipient. She asked for damages for the defendant’s invasion of her privacy under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 214, § 1B, as well as for the defendant’s intentional infliction of emotional district, its negligent infliction of emotional distress, and its general negligence in handling the matter.

Removal to Federal Court

The defendant removed the case to federal court. After the discovery phase of the case, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment,  urging that the plaintiff’s claims were preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA), 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1). The federal district court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Decision of the Appellate Court

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant, agreeing that the plaintiff’s evidence as to the defendant’s alleged invasion of privacy by disclosing her address to the sender of the package was “nothing more than a laundry list of possibilities and hypotheticals.” With regard to the plaintiff’s remaining common law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and general negligence stemming from the defendant’s admitted mislabeling and misdelivery of the package, the court found that all such claims were pre-empted by the ADA, which prevents states from enforcing laws related to the price, route, or service of an air carrier.

In closing, the court noted that the case before it was a “hard case” and that courts facing such hard cases are often under a temptation to make bad law. However, the court’s duty was to apply the federal law so that the services of the defendant and others similarly situated will be free from state regulation, thus insuring that the airline industry remains a competitive market.

If You Need Help with a Negligence Case

If you have been the unfortunate victim of an individual or business’s negligence and would like to talk to an experienced attorney about your case, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III to schedule an appointment. We handle a wide variety of negligence cases, and we will give your case the attention that it deserves. We accept cases primarily in the Cape Cod area, including Plymouth and Hyannis. In many injury cases, we don’t charge a fee until we obtain a settlement or judgment in your favor.

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