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Opened Mail

Postby York » Fri Aug 15, 2014 4:21 am

Hi Jeffrey,  I selected your name due to your experience, but also for your military service. *Thank you*  I worked at a financial advisory firm for 6 years. I was not only an employee, I was also a client, meaning I had an account with this advisor. My address on the account was the office address. After a bitter parting of ways, I changed my account address and moved the account to a different advisor. This occurred over a year ago.  After recently making an IRA contribution, the home office sent my IRS Form 5498 to this former advisor. The envelope was addressed to me and was clearly marked as a Tax Document.  Today I received in the mail an envelope from the advisor's office. Enclosed was my mail, OPENED. This is a very small office with only the advisor and 2 assistants. Everyone there knows who I am, so this cannot have been a mistake. Also, the nature of the business would indicate they knew what the envelope contained. Due to a handwritten note on the inner envelope, I know all ALL 3 people saw it.  This is in violation of company privacy regulations and I intend to report it. I wanted to ask you if I have any other options. Is opening my confidential tax statement a violation of any law? Can you make any suggestions on what I should do or how to proceed? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!
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Opened Mail

Postby Jansen » Sat Aug 16, 2014 6:09 am


The federal statute that applies to this situation is 18 USC Section 1702. This statute is part of Chapter 83 of Title 18 of the federal code, which is concerned with crimes involving the U.S. Postal Service. This section is called Obstruction of Correspondence. Under this statute it is only illegal to open mail addressed to someone else if you have taken it from the custody of the Postal Service. That means it is a crime to take a letter, package, postcard, or other item of mail from a Post Office, a mailbox of any kind, or from a postal carrier before the mail has been delivered, if you intend to prevent the mail from being delivered, pry into it, embezzle money, or destroy the mail. The statute is essentially about stealing mail from the Post Office.

Although it involves U.S. Postal Service(USPS) Mail, you have options at the local Court level(Court of Common Pleas).  At this level Courts have typically conducted a balancing of the interests at stake when deciding whether there has been an invasion of privacy.  I know that some U.S. Post Office employees believe that when mail has been delivered to its stated address that the person at that address becomes the agent for the addressee.  As such these persons can open the mail to determine if it requires action or not.  In terms of legal precedent the case of Vernars v. Young, 539 F.2d 966, 969(3d Cir. 1976) specifically addresses your issue on point.  In the Vernars case the court recognized an intrusion upon seclusion by holding that invasion of privacy occurred when mail addressed to the plaintiff was opened by the defendant without the plaintiff's consent.  If you rely on this case law you should take into concern the year(1976) and the fact that the Court ruled on the aspect of invasion of privacy only.  Be mindful that technology has changed some aspects of invasion of privacy law even though your exact situation was addressed.     

If having the state bringing an action on your behalf does not work you also have the option to sue privately.  You could sue under an action in tort for invasion of privacy to recover damages as well. Again, state laws will vary with regard to what circumstances give rise to the tort of invasion of privacy.  You can use the Vernars case as precedent for a private action in tort as that Court held that "an employee whose personal mail had been opened and read by a fellow corporate officer had stated a cause of action for invasion of his privacy rights."

Remember that your complaint would be one which would be weighed by a court of law according to the basis of it's merit.  Your facts would be placed up against the law as well as the defendant's.  A jury or a judge would decide what has occurred and render a decision accordingly.  Please consult a competent attorney to help you with this.  Ask for a free consultation.  Many give it.    


Jeffrey Hauck, JD, CPO, CII

Licensed Private Detective

"This answer consists of legal information, not legal advice.  I make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However I do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney."  
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