SAN DIEGO (CN) — Outside the Galindo family's home in the San Diego border community of Otay Mesa is an enclosed patio area — a place where the Galindos' two young children would play, along with their poodle mix, Pupa.
To get to the house’s mailbox, mail carriers had to pass by the gated area, where Pupa could stand by and bark, but not get through. Beginning in the summer of 2018 a U.S. Postal Service mailman named Nestor Medina began pepper-spraying Pupa when the dog began barking and approaching the gated area.
This happened numerous times between the summer of 2018 and February of 2019, and all the while, the Galindo kids would pet, cuddle with, and extensively play with the family.
During the summer of 2018 the Galindo children, who were one and three years old at the time, began experiencing bouts of severe coughing, nasal congestion, difficulty breathing and other symptoms of respiratory illness. Visits to doctors, urgent care facilities and specialists failed to find a cause.
Then in February of 2019, Alfonso Galindo, the father of the two children, came home to find Pupa in pain and what looked like spray paint marking the pavement. He checked the home surveillance system and found footage of their mailman pepper-spraying the beloved pet — and finally explaining, he believes, what caused his children's sickness.
Galindo filed a negligence suit in April against both the USPS and the federal government. On Monday, a federal judge let the U.S. Postal Service is off the hook — but the U.S. government still must face the family’s tort claims.
U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino, a George W. Bush appointee, agreed that only the federal government, not USPS, could be sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act. However, the Southern District of California judge shot back at the argument that Galindo failed to state a negligence claim, because the case actually is a battery claim that involves laws dealing with “trespass to chattel.”
“While similar arguments exist in the case law, the parties do not cite — nor could this court find — any cases that shared similar facts or that broach the relationship between battery and trespass to chattels in the context of the FTCA,” Smmartino wrote in the order, which she handed down on Monday.
Proving that the mailman had intent for battery, Sammartino continued, would require the court to ask if the mailman was certain that Galindo’s children would be harmed when he pepper-sprayed Pupa — which isn't something Galindo claimed happened.
“Taking those facts as true, the court can infer that Medina unreasonably endangered plaintiffs when he discharged pepper spray into plaintiffs’ yard and onto their dog, thereby breaching the duty he owed,” Sammartino wrote.
"We can’t comment outside what is contained in the public record," wrote Cindy Cipriani, the executive assistant U.S. Attorney, Southern District of California, in an email.
Galindo's attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.
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