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Mason v. Thomas

United States District Court, District of South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

December 16, 2014

Lorenzo Kenyon Mason, Petitioner,
v.
Warden Thomas, FCI Edgefield, Respondent.

ORDER

R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge.

On June 24, 2014, Lorenzo Kenyon Mason (“Petitioner”), a federal prisoner currently confined at Federal Correctional Institution—Edgefield in Edgefield, SC, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. See Pet., ECF No. 1. Petitioner is proceeding pro se. The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina. See R & R, ECF No. 13. In the R & R, the Magistrate Judge recommends the Court dismiss Petitioner’s petition without prejudice and without requiring the Respondent to file a return. See Id. at 6.

Factual Background and Procedural History

Petitioner alleges a conviction for use of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, resulting in a sentence of 262 months imprisonment. See ECF No. 1 at 2. Records in Petitioner’s criminal case, United States v. Mason, indicate that Petitioner was originally sentenced to a 60 month term of imprisonment on June 2, 2009, subsequent to a guilty plea. See Order, United States v. Mason, No. 1:08-cr-103-MR, at 4 (W.D. N.C. Oct. 24, 2011). The Government filed a notice of appeal arguing that the sentencing court erred in failing to apply the career offender enhancement for a prior North Carolina firearm conviction, and on August 23, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit remanded the case for resentencing. See Id. Petitioner was resentenced on January 21, 2011, and was sentenced to a 262 month term of imprisonment. See Id. at 4–5. Petitioner appealed this sentence, but the Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal on August 25, 2011. See Id. at 5.

On October 3, 2011, Petitioner filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 before the sentencing court, the Western District of North Carolina. See Id. The district court denied that motion and dismissed the petition via Order dated October 24, 2011. See Id. at 9. Petitioner subsequently filed a motion purporting to seek relief under the “All Writs Act, ” 28 U.S.C. § 1651, which the Western District of North Carolina construed as a second and unauthorized 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion and dismissed. See United States v. Mason, ___ Fed. App’x ___, 2014 WL 4292073, at *1 (4th Cir. 2014). Petitioner attempted to appeal this decision to the Fourth Circuit, but his appeal was dismissed. See id.

At some point Petitioner was transferred to FCI—Edgefield in Edgefield, SC, and on June 24, 2014, he filed the Petition that is presently before this court pursuant to § 2241. Petitioner does not appear to have obtained authorization from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to proceed with a second or successive § 2255 petition.

Standard of Review

The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the district court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the district court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270–71 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the R & R to which specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

The court is obligated to conduct a de novo review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge’s report to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate’s proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982) (“[D]e novo review [is] unnecessary in . . . situations when a party makes general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate’s proposed findings and recommendation.”). The Court reviews only for clear error in the absence of a specific objection. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310 (4th Cir.2005). Furthermore, in the absence of specific objections to the R & R, this Court is not required to give any explanation for adopting the recommendation. See Diamond, 416 F.3d at 315; Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198 (4th Cir. 1983).

Discussion

I. Petition, R & R, and Objections

In his Petition, Petitioner asserts that he is actually innocent of the career offender enhancement under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G.”), [1] as his prior conviction in North Carolina for conspiracy to discharge weapon in occupied property no longer qualifies as a predicate offense for purposes of the enhancement. See ECF No. 1 at 3. Petitioner asserts that the Supreme Court’s decision in Descamps v. United States, U.S., 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013), and the Fourth Circuit’s decisions in United States v. Hemingway, 734 F.3d 323 (4th Cir. 2013) and Whiteside v. United States, 748 F.3d 541 (4th Cir. 2014), reh’g en banc granted, 578 Fed. App’x 218 (4th Cir. 2014), support his argument that the conviction no longer qualifies as a predicate offense. See ECF No. 1 at 3.

In her R & R, the Magistrate Judge recommended finding that Petitioner failed to satisfy the savings clause of § 2255, and thus could not pursue relief through a § 2241 habeas petition. See ECF No. 13 at 4–5. As the Magistrate Judge explained, Petitioner cannot challenge his federal conviction and sentence under § 2241 unless he can satisfy the § 2255 savings clause, which states:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a prisoner who is authorized to apply for relief by motion pursuant to this section, shall not be entertained if it appears that the applicant has failed to apply for relief, by motion, to the court which sentenced him, or that such court has denied him relief, unless it also appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.

28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). The mere fact that relief under § 2255 is procedurally barred or barred by the gate-keeping requirements of § 2255(h) does not render the remedy of § 2255 inadequate or ineffective. In re Jones, 226 F.3d 328, 332 (4th Cir. 2000).

The Magistrate Judge found that Petitioner was not be able to meet the test for showing that a § 2255 motion would be inadequate or ineffective to challenge his sentence. See Jones, 226 F.3d at 333–34. In re Jones provides that, in order to trigger the savings clause of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e) and proceed under § 2241, a petitioner must show that:

(1) at the time of conviction, settled law of this circuit or the Supreme Court established the legality of the conviction;
(2) subsequent to the prisoner’s direct appeal and first § 2255 motion, the substantive law changed such that the conduct of which the prisoner was convicted is deemed not to be criminal; and
(3) the prisoner cannot satisfy the gatekeeping provisions of § 2255 because the new rule is not one of constitutional law.

Jones, 226 F.3d at 333–34. Here, the Magistrate Judge noted that Petitioner has failed to demonstrate that the conduct for which he was convicted, the federal firearm charge, has been deemed non-criminal by any substantive law change since his direct appeal or § 2255. Rather, Petitioner argues that he should not be subject to the career offender sentencing enhancement because one of the offenses used to classify him as a career offender no longer qualifies as a predicate offense.

Furthermore, as the Magistrate Judge also explained, the Fourth Circuit has specifically stated that it has not extended the savings clause of § 2255 to petitioners who only challenge their sentence. United States v. Poole, 531 F.3d 263, 267 n.7 (4th Cir. 2008). In Darden v. Stephens, the Fourth Circuit explicitly held in this very context that it would not extend the savings clause to § 2241 petitions challenging a career offender sentencing enhancement. 426 Fed. App’x 173, 174 (4th Cir. 2011); see also Farrow v. Revell, 541 Fed. App’x 327, 328 (4th Cir. 2013) (finding that a “challenge to [] armed career criminal status is not cognizable in a § 2241 petition”).

Petitioner objected to the R & R, reiterating his argument that he satisfied all the requirements of the § 2255 savings clause, and thus should be allowed to proceed under § 2241 to challenge the armed career criminal enhancement. See generally Pet.’s Objs., ECF No. 22. Petitioner cites to a recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States—Persaud v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 1023 (2014)—in support of his claim. See ECF No. 22 at 2. He argues that the Solicitor General took the position in Persaud that the lower court erred in determining that the savings clause of § 2255 does not permit a petitioner to seek relief under § 2241 purely because he challenges his sentence rather than his conviction. See Id. He further notes that the Solicitor General also asserted that a sentence imposed above the otherwise applicable statutory maximum based on a legal error is cognizable under the savings clause. See id.[2]Petitioner also objects to the Magistrate Judge’s finding that Descamps and Hemingway have not been made retroactive on collateral review, asserting that the Department of Justice has taken the position that proescutors should refrain from asserting that Descamps is not retroactive on collateral review. See ECF No. 22 at 4. Petitioner also argues that “any court” may find that a Supreme Court decision is retroactive on collateral review. See Id. at 4–5. Finally, Petitioner asserts that the Court should not have summarily dismissed the petition without additional briefing or an evidentiary hearing. See Id. at 5.

I. Analysis

Petitioner’s objections fail to establish that the Court should allow him to proceed under § 2241. Petitioner seeks to challenge his enhanced sentence due to his status as a career offender pursuant to the USSG. He argues that one of the predicate convictions used to determine his career offender status, the conspiracy to discharge weapon in occupied property conviction, no longer qualifies for career offender purposes.

“As a threshold matter, it is well established that defendants convicted in federal court are obliged to seek habeas relief from their convictions and sentences through § 2255.” Rice v. Rivera, 617 F.3d 802, 807 (4th Cir. 2010) (emphasis added). A § 2241 petition “generally challenges the execution of a federal prisoner’s sentence, including such matters as the administration of parole, computation of a prisoner’s sentence by prison officials, prison disciplinary actions, prison transfers, type of detention and prison convictions.” Gonzalez-Martinez v. Drew, No. 8:11-cv-437, 2011 WL 6982247, at *4 n.1 (D.S.C. Dec. 16, 2011) (quoting Jiminian v. Nash, 245 F.3d 144, 146 (2d Cir. 2001)). “It is only when ‘§ 2255 proves inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of detention, ’ that a federal prisoner may pursue habeas relief under § 2241.” Rice, 617 F.3d at 807 (quoting In re Vial, 115 F.3d 1192, 1194 (4th Cir. 1997)). As noted above, the test set forth in In re Jones establishes when § 2255 is “inadequate or ineffective.”

Here, Petitioner does not argue that there has been a substantive change in law such that the conduct for which he was convicted, the federal firearm charge, was deemed not to be criminal. See In re Jones, 226 F.3d at 333–34. Rather, he asserts that there has been a change in law such that one of the predicate offenses used to apply the career offender enhancement is no longer criminal. Thus, the Magistrate Judge correctly found that Petitioner cannot satisfy the savings clause of § 2255(e) in this case.

Petitioner cites to the Supreme Court’s remand of the Persaud case, which occurred on January 27, 2014, in support of his argument that his claim is cognizable under § 2241. See 134 S.Ct. 1023. Persaud is distinguishable, however, because that case involved a situation where the petitioner, Persaud, was sentenced to mandatory minimum term of life imprisonment, enhanced pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851. See Brief of United States, Persaud v. United States, No. 13-6435, 2013 WL 7088877, at *2 (S.Ct. Dec. 20, 2013). Persaud filed a motion pursuant to § 2241 and asserted that an intervening decision construing the relevant statutory provisions established that he should not have been subject to a mandatory minimum life sentence. See Id. Persaud, however, relied on the decision of the Fourth Circuit in United States v. Simmons, 649 F.3d 237 (4th Cir. 2011), in making this argument, which has been made retroactive on collateral review. See Miller v. United States, 735 F.3d 141, 145–46 (2013) (holding that Simmons announced a substantive rule retroactively applicable on collateral review). The present case is fundamentally different because Petitioner relies on Descamps and its Fourth Circuit progeny, Hemingway, neither of which has been made retroactive on collateral review, see Thompson v. United States, C/A No. 7:14-2881-GRA, 2014 WL 3809538, at *2 n.3 (D.S.C. July 30, 2014); Baker v. Zych, C/A No. 7:13-cv-512, 2014 WL 1875114, at *2 (W.D. Va. May 9, 2014) (collecting cases which hold that Descamps is not retroactive on collateral review).

The Fourth Circuit has specifically found that Petitioner’s claim is not cognizable via a § 2241 petition. See Darden, 426 Fed. App’x at 174. Even after the Supreme Court’s remand in Persaud, the Fourth Circuit has subsequently affirmed a district court order which likewise held that a petitioner could not challenge a sentencing enhancement via § 2241. See Order, Rouse v. Wilson, No. 1:13-cv-748 (GBL/TRJ) (E.D. Va. Feb. 19, 2014), aff’d Rouse v. Wilson, Fed. App’x, 2014 WL 4823637, at *1 (4th Cir. 2014) (the career offender enhancement was also at issue in Rouse). As the Fourth Circuit noted in Rouse, “[t]he district court properly determined that Rouse could not proceed with his claims under § 2241.” Rouse, 2014 Wl 4823637, at *1 n.*. Accordingly, the Court finds that Petitioner’s objections are without merit. Based on the authorities cited above, the Court finds that dismissing the petition without prejudice is appropriate.[3]

Conclusion

The Court has thoroughly reviewed the entire record, including Petitioner’s petition, the Magistrate Judge’s R & R, Petitioner’s objections to the R & R, and applicable law. For the reasons stated above and by the Magistrate Judge, the Court hereby overrules Petitioner’s objections and adopts the Magistrate Judge’s R & R.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Petitioner’s § 2241 petition is DISMISSED without prejudice and without requiring respondent to file a return.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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