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Mailbox wars

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Keith Baity decided to set a trap. The Lolo resident became so frustrated with the unremitting "robots" at the U.S. Postal Service that he took the promotional flyers he'd printed up for his small business, Grout Rite, grabbed some tape and walked the neighborhood. He strategically taped his flyers to different parts of each mailbox—one to a supporting post, another to a weather shade and a third to a "cute little house" covering one box. Baity pulled out his smartphone, switched on the video recorder and waited to see how the mail carriers would react.

Baity did this for weeks, and every time the carriers removed his Grout Rite flyers, one by one, no matter where he'd fastened them. On one occasion, he recorded as a carrier wadded up eight flyers that were taped to the outside of mailboxes and took them to the USPS truck.

"We will remove every flyer we find," the carrier promised Baity, while his smartphone was "in plain view."

Baity has been waging war with the USPS for four months, beginning in April, when he decided to advertise his small business by taping flyers to mailboxes. Local carriers and USPS officials have repeatedly told Baity what he's doing is illegal, but the grout and tile specialist insists they're the ones who are out of line.

Now, he's suing the postal service to prove it.

In his June 20 filings with Missoula County District Court, Baity is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the USPS from removing his flyers and end what he describes as an "illegal and malicious campaign" against him.

The details of his encounters, which have included seven local post offices and more than 10 USPS employees, are outlined in court filings Baity prepared personally. He initially agreed to speak with the Indy about his case, but later declined to comment after speaking with a federal attorney in Washington, D.C. Baity says he wants to give the government some time to resolve the dispute.

He's not the first person to fight the USPS over rights to mail receptacles. Thirty-five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a USPS rule barring non-postmarked materials from the inside of letterboxes. Federal rules published in the Domestic Mail Manual extend the prohibition to any part of a mail receptacle.

Baity accuses USPS of "brainwashing" its employees into believing the DMM "guideline" is actually a law.

Baity's lawsuit indicates that in addition to videotaping carriers, he posed as a flyer recipient at post office counters to record clerks' responses. The employees unfailingly became "very, very short and rude." Baity says he was pressured to provide his address and "start an official something." He also claims he was assured that Grout Rite would be "gone after."

In a statement, a USPS spokesperson outlines the applicable postal regulations, which he says were adopted through a public notice process, and says the service typically confiscates unauthorized material and notifies the violator of postage due.

Still, Baity may have a point. The DMM states the mailbox post or other support "is not part of the receptacle." Yet even there, his suit claims, the carriers took his flyers away.

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