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Elderly woman sues post office, says she got no mail for months

An elderly woman is interviewed by a reporter in front of a mailbox.
Jane Stillwater, 81, has sued the U.S. Postal Service, alleging it hasn't delivered her mail in months. | Source: Courtesy KTVU

An elderly woman is accusing the U.S. Postal Service of not delivering her mail to her home for months, according to a recent lawsuit.

Jane Stillwater, 81, who is partially disabled and living on a fixed income, alleges that due to the USPS not dropping off her mail at the mailbox outside her ​​Milvia Street home in Berkeley, she has been forced to take trips to the post office three miles away, causing “physical pain,” according to the complaint filed Monday in Alameda County Superior Court.

Often, she would have to wait outside her home, sometimes in the rain, to get her mail, the complaint further alleged.

Milvia Street in Berkeley is seen in a Google Street View screengrab.
Jane Stillwater alleges in a lawsuit that the U.S. Postal Service has not delivered mail to her Berkeley home on Milvia Street in months. | Source: Google Street View

Stillwater alleges so far she has had to wait outside four days a week, 20 minutes a day, for 25 weeks—or for about 33.3 hours in total—to get her mail from the mail carrier in person. She also had to travel to her USPS substation 10 times to get her mail, taking 45 minutes for each trip and costing her bus fare or other transit costs to get mail that was no longer being delivered.

The USPS stopped delivering Stillwater’s mail around Aug. 20, 2023, and when she complained to the postal service on Sept. 9, 2023, the postal service told her it no longer delivered mail to her address, she alleges in the complaint.

The reason that Stillwater’s mail wasn’t being delivered was because the lock on her apartment block’s mailbox was missing, according to the lawsuit. 

The USPS told Stillwater it is responsible for replacing the lock but only has one technician to install all broken or missing mailbox locks for an area spanning Berkeley, Oakland, Vallejo, Richmond, El Cerrito, San Leandro and Hayward, according to the lawsuit.

Stillwater took matters into her own hands, reaching out to the USPS Office of the Inspector General in January and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, who represents her area.

On January 23, Stillwater sent a letter to the USPS Consumer and Industry Contact Office, demanding USPS fix her mailbox lock and reimburse her for her inconvenience and pain.

A spokesperson for Lee's office said Stillwater reached out with a complaint that her mail was not being delivered on Jan. 18 and said her complaint was considered resolved on Jan. 25 after the USPS said they had informed her a new lock within a week.

Within days, the USPS called Stillwater, telling her a new lock would be installed in a week, but the lock was not replaced by Feb. 4, and Stillwater was still not getting her mail. The lock was eventually installed, but only after she got the attention of local news media, she said during an interview with KTVU, which first reported Stillwater’s lawsuit.

“Out of desperation, I called [KTVU],” Stillwater said to KTVU in an on-camera interview. “Within half an hour, the lock was installed.”

The mail carrier doesn’t have the key to unlock the new lock, so Stillwater still has to wait outside or go to her substation until the new key makes it into the mail carrier's hands.

Stillwater is demanding damages of $612 for the time she spent waiting outside ($15 an hour) and $650 for pain and suffering caused by worry, financial stress and mental agitation, as well as general damages to be determined in court and the costs of the lawsuit.

"We wish to apologize to Ms. Stillwater and the other affected tenants for the terrible inconvenience caused by the mail delivery disruption reported in August 2023," USPS spokesperson Meiko Patton said in an email. "Due to a breakdown in communication and new reporting procedures, this issue was not resolved properly or promptly."

Meiko added refuted Stillwater's allegation that there only one person was repairing and replacing mailbox locks for a wide swath of the East Bay and said mail delivery to Stillwater's mailbox has resumed. Patton did not say how many mailbox lock technicians there are across the area or when mail delivery resumed.

Stillwater confirmed her mail resumed delivery to her home today, after 155 days of having to flag down her mail carrier or going to her local USPS substation to retrieve it.

But she still plans to sue for damages.

"I'm not giving up," Stillwater said in a phone interview. "They're dealing with a grandmother here."

Garrett Leahy can be reached at garrett@sfstandard.com