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Washoe County sues Postal Service over planned Reno to Sacramento move

County prosecutors argued the agency violated federal law by not seeking an advisory opinion on nationwide changes to its mail processing facilities.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
CourtsLocal Government

Washoe County prosecutors have sued the United States Postal Service, asking a federal court to halt its plan to move key mail processing operations from Reno to Sacramento — cities divided by a snow closure-prone mountain pass — and accusing the agency of circumventing federal law.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Nevada, the Washoe County’s District Attorney’s Office said that parts of the Postal Service’s 10-year plan to transform its operations — which includes the Reno to Sacramento move — violate federal law because the agency did not seek an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission, which oversees the agency. Such opinions are required when a Postal Service proposal would “affect service on a nationwide or substantially nationwide basis.”

Prosecutors specifically argued that the Postal Service must receive an advisory opinion on the aspect of the 10-year plan that calls for nationwide changes to processing facilities — including those in Tallahassee and Portland — because it would “create a mail delay across the United States.” The lawsuit seeks to halt any further action until the agency seeks an advisory opinion from the commission. 

The lawsuit, which Washoe County commissioners approved filing on Tuesday, is the latest effort by the chorus of state and federal politicians to delay or stop the move — including members of Nevada’s congressional delegation, the Washoe County Commission, secretary of state’s office and governor — over its potential effects on the region’s economy and mail ballots.

The Postal Regulatory Commission previously ruled that the agency did not need to seek an opinion on the entire 10-year plan, but may need approval before implementing specific parts. It also ordered the agency in April to show cause for why advisory opinions were not necessary for the processing facility changes. The Postal Service responded that such a step “significantly encroaches on the Postal Service’s discretion,” and added that it will seek an advisory opinion if it determines that one is necessary.

Under the agency’s plan for Northern Nevada, which was finalized last month despite bipartisan state-level opposition, all outgoing mail from Northern Nevada would first be processed in Sacramento before heading toward its destination, a change from current operations where such mail was processed in Reno. The Reno facility would be converted into a local processing center — a facility that prepares mail before it is placed on carrier routes.

A Postal Service spokesperson said on Wednesday that he could not comment on active litigation, but reiterated that incoming mail to Northern Nevada, including medications and checks, will continue to be processed and sorted by the Reno facility. The only changes will be for outgoing mail from the region, and the Postal Service determined that most outgoing mail at the Reno facility was destined for outside the region.

“The claims by some that this type of mail will be delayed are false,” the spokesperson said.  

The lawsuit also argues the move on its own would necessitate an advisory opinion because it could have nationwide electoral implications. Mail ballots in Nevada must be received no later than four days after Election Day to be counted, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.

In the 2022 general election, more than 5,600 mail ballots in Washoe County arrived after Election Day, most of which were received the day after Election Day, according to data from the secretary of state’s office. In the U.S. Senate race, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) won by around 8,000 votes.

“[The plan] will include the power to impact the outcome of federal elections by failing to timely deliver mail that would otherwise be processed in Reno, Nevada and counted in an election,” the lawsuit said.

The Postal Service has maintained that the Reno to Sacramento move would not take effect until January, well after this year’s elections.

Prosecutors also appeared skeptical that the move would have no impact on mail delivery. The lawsuit said that the unpredictable winter weather on Interstate 80 and Donner Pass — the primary route between Reno and Sacramento — could jeopardize timely mail delivery.

“[T]he volatile road conditions of Donner Pass will create additional and substantial mail delays if and when Defendants implement their plan to move Reno’s mail processing to Sacramento,” the lawsuit said.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo held a press conference on Tuesday to condemn the proposed move.


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