By Carolyn Ossorio
In the past seven years in Seattle, 90,000 people have moved to the city, Amazon has become one of the nation’s largest employers, and local mail carriers have delivered tens of millions of letters, cards, and packages to businesses and homes across the city.
Mark Middlesbrook’s Ballard home isn’t one of them.
But that’s not from a lack of desire. Middlesbrook would love to see letters return to the black mailbox nailed to his duplex on 58th Street.
But a longstanding dispute that the 42-year-old mortgage broker blames on a toxic combination of false “bad dog” reports, postal service mismanagement, and a lone letter carrier has left him — and others in the neighborhood — unable to regularly receive mail at their homes since former President Barack Obama’s first term in office.
And now some residents have decided to fight back. Middlesbrook’s neighbor, Randy Erlich, filed a lawsuit against the United States Postal Service, the individual letter carrier, and two managers seeking compensatory and punitive damages for violating his civil rights.
USPS spokesman Ernie Swanson declined to comment specifically on the dispute and instead issued a statement centered on the USPS’s dog policy.
Middlesbrook said the problem began in March 2010. He came home and instead of mail, he received a letter from the USPS stating that his mail carrier filed a “Dog Problem” report.
According to the carrier, Middlesbrook’s dog — a pet he describes as gentle — was off leash in front of his house.
This, Middlesbrook learned, triggered the mail termination. The only way to get mail service back was to sign a “Memo of Understanding,” which promised that any dog on his property would be kept under control during delivery hours.
Middlesbrook signed even though he strongly disagreed with the memo. He assumed everything was fixed.
A few weeks later, on June 24, the carrier submitted another dog problem report to her boss. This time it permanently terminated Mark’s mail delivery. The report said the dog was loose again.
But there was a problem. The carrier fabricated the entire story, Middlesbrook said.
And the fabrication isn’t limited to his residence, he said. He’s collected 13 complaint letters from his neighbors who said the same carrier had submitted “fake” dog problem reports to the United States Postal Service management.
Middlesbrook said after this, he permanently forwarded his mail to his parent’s home in Renton.
Then in December 2016, Middlesbrook’s dog died. But the carrier still wouldn’t deliver to his house.
After the family delivered the dog’s death certificate to USPS managers, he began receiving mail – for a short time.
Middlesbrook got a new dog in April 2017. Less than a month later, he received another official shut off letter from the postal manager of Ballard.
Middlesbrook said this mail feud over the past seven years is the first time in his life he has ever felt truly railroaded. The USPS management has, at best, turned a blind eye to the complaints, he said. At worst, it’s actively protected a long-term employee with a history of filing fake reports and bullying customers, he added.
“During this time I felt that my input was not only unimportant but viewed with great negative prejudice by the USPS. It seemed clear to me that (the letter carrier) had established her complete and unchallenged control over our mail delivery.”