United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Pablo A. Bentacourt, Plaintiff,
Warden Bobby J. Meeks, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
SHIVA V. HODGES, Magistrate Judge.
Pablo A. Bentacourt ("Petitioner"), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, is incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institution ("FCI") in Williamsburg, South Carolina. He filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(c) (D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to review such petitions and submit findings and recommendations to the district judge. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned recommends that the district judge dismiss the petition in this case without requiring the respondent to file an answer.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
Petitioner indicates that he was sentenced on May 27, 2005, to 160 months' imprisonment as a career offender in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. [ECF Nos. 1 at 2-3]. Petitioner's records reflect that he was sentenced subsequent to a guilty plea to violations of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A), 846. [ECF No. 1-1]. Petitioner indicates that he did not appeal his conviction and sentence and did not file a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set, aside, or correct his sentence. [ECF No. 1 at 3-4]. Petitioner now seeks relief under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) (holding that imposing an increased sentence under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA") violates due process). [ECF No. 1 at 9].
A. Standard of Review
Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of this petition pursuant to the Rules Governing Section 2254 Proceedings for the United States District Court,  the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, and other habeas corpus statutes. Pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). A federal court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. Fine v. City of N.Y., 529 F.2d 70, 74 (2d Cir. 1975). The mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so. Nevertheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990).
"[I]t 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) (citing In re Vial, 115 F.3d 1192, 1194 (4th Cir. 1997)); see also United States v. Surratt, 797 F.3d 240, 246 (4th Cir. 2015) ("Section 2255 provides the ordinary means for a federal prisoner to challenge his conviction or sentence."). In contrast, a motion filed under § 2241 is typically used to challenge the manner in which a sentence is executed. See In re Vial, 115 F.3d at 1194 n.5. A 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); see also Surratt, 797 F.3d at 247 ("If a federal prisoner brings a § 2241 petition that does not fall within the scope of this savings clause, ' then the district court must dismiss the unauthorized habeas motion... for lack of jurisdiction, ' even if the Government supports the prisoner's position.") (quoting Rice, 617 F.3d at 807)).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held that a petitioner must establish the following criteria to demonstrate that a § 2255 motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of a prisoner's detention:
(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 ...