Law School Case Brief
Zlotolow v. United States - 35 Fed. Cl. 133 (1996)
A presumption cannot be overturned or rebutted by speculation or suspicion. It can only be destroyed or overcome by convincing and uncontradicted evidence to the contrary which clearly and distinctly establishes a fact so that reasonable minds can draw but one inference.
This case involves an alleged failure by defendant United States Postal Service to provide plaintiff landlords with timely notice of the Postal Service's intent to renew a lease for a postal facility in Beverly Hills, California. The lease had a 20-year term with four five-year renewal options. In order to exercise these options, the Postal Service was required to give the landlord written notice of its intent to exercise at least 90 days before the end of the original lease or any renewal term. Plaintiffs claim that defendant failed to give timely notice of the government's intent to exercise a renewal option. As a result, plaintiffs filed this action, seeking consequential damages of $1,079,890 for the loss of rent at market rate, and the diminished use and value of the property as a result of the Postal Service's refusal to surrender and vacate the property after the original lease expired on December 31, 1989. Defendant contends that it properly exercised its renewal option, and proffered two certified mail return receipts demonstrating that it notified both the plaintiffs' predecessor in interest, and the party which held title to the property of its intent to exercise the option.
Does a defective mail constitute failure to give timely notice of intent to exercise a lease renewal option?
The court entered a judgment in favor of the tenant, the United States Postal Service, and held that to prove that mailed notice is defective, plaintiff landlords must overcome a "well-established presumption that a letter which is properly sealed, stamped, addressed, and deposited in the United States mails is presumed to reach the addressee and be received by him in due course of the mails." In this case, defendant tenant produced the return receipt from the renewal notice it sent to plaintiffs and the presumption of arrival of a "properly sealed, stamped, addressed, and deposited" letter has been established.
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