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Figueroa v. Meeks

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division

June 26, 2017

Luis Figueroa, Petitioner,
B.J. Meeks, Warden, Respondent.


          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Luis Figueroa, a federal prisoner proceeding pro se, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. See Petition & Memorandum [ECF Nos. 1 & 1-2]. The matter is before the Court for consideration of Petitioner's objections to the Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges.[1] See R & R [ECF No. 7]; Pet.'s Objs. [ECF No. 9]. The Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court summarily dismiss Petitioner's § 2241 petition without prejudice and without requiring Respondent to file a return. R & R at 6.

         Standard of Review

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The Magistrate Judge's recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the R & R to which specific objections are made, and it 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 must engage in 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 [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate [Judge]'s proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of specific objections to the R & R, the Court reviews only for clear error, Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005), and the Court need not give any explanation for adopting the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199-200 (4th Cir. 1983).


         The Magistrate Judge recommends summarily dismissing Petitioner's § 2241 petition because he fails to establish that a § 2255 motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention. R & R at 5-6. Petitioner lodges several objections to the R & R. See Pet.'s Objs.

         Petitioner “first takes issue with a number of mischaracterizations and misrepresentations of the facts and circumstances of the case by the Magistrate, ” asserting the Magistrate Judge's “recitation of the ‘Factual and Procedural Background'” is “wrong and misleading.” Pet.'s Objs. at 1-4 (quoting R & R at 1). Having thoroughly reviewed the R & R and Petitioner's prior court records from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, [2] the Court discerns no error in the Magistrate Judge's summary of the relevant procedural and factual history of this case.[3]

         In the remainder of his objections, Petitioner rehashes the arguments in his § 2241 petition, claiming the district court violated the Due Process and Double Jeopardy Clauses by empaneling a second jury-before he was sentenced and after the Supreme Court decided Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000)-to determine the quantity of drugs involved in his conviction for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Pet.'s Objs. at 2-7. Additionally, Petitioner asserts there is not a “valid conviction and sentence so as to satisfy the ‘A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court . . .' language of 28 U.S.C. § 2255.” Id. at 6 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a)). Petitioner also challenges the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that he cannot satisfy the savings clause of § 2255, [4] and he asserts relief is appropriate under § 2241 rather than § 2255. Id. at 7-9. However, as the Magistrate Judge recognizes and the Fourth Circuit has explained,

[I]t is well established that defendants convicted in federal court are obliged to seek habeas relief from their convictions and sentences through § 2255. 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. Importantly, the remedy afforded by § 2255 is not rendered inadequate or ineffective merely because an individual is procedurally barred from filing a § 2255 motion.
. . . . More specifically, § 2255 is inadequate and ineffective-and § 2241 may be utilized-when: (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.

         Rice v. Rivera, 617 F.3d 802, 807 (4th Cir. 2010) (internal citations, quotation marks, and ellipsis omitted). Here, Petitioner cannot show § 2255 is inadequate or ineffective because the substantive law has not changed so that his conduct (conspiring to distribute cocaine) is no longer criminal. Thus, Petitioner is not entitled to relief under § 2241, and the Court must dismiss his § 2241 petition.

         Certificate of Appealability

         A certificate of appealability will not issue absent “a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). When the district court denies relief on the merits, a prisoner satisfies this standard by demonstrating reasonable jurists would find the court's assessment of the constitutional claims is debatable or wrong. Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000); see Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 336-38 (2003). When the district court denies relief on procedural grounds, the prisoner must demonstrate both that the dispositive procedural ruling is debatable and that the petition states a debatable claim of the denial of a constitutional right. S ...

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