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James v. Taylor

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

February 16, 2017

ROBERT LESTER JAMES, Petitioner,
v.
W.T. TAYLOR, WARDEN, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is presently pending before the court on Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241 and 2255(e), filed by petitioner Robert Lester James. (Doc. 1.)[1] Respondent, Warden W.T. Taylor, has responded, (doc. 14), and James has filed a reply, (doc. 16). Upon consideration of the record, the submissions of the parties, and the relevant law, the court is of the opinion that the Petition is due to be denied based on the court's lack of jurisdiction.

         I. SECTION 2241 STANDARD

         With regard to a § 2241 petition, the Eleventh Circuit has established the following:

This Court . . . has recognized that a prisoner may file a petition under § 2241 challenging the validity of his conviction or sentence if his § 2255 motion was “inadequate or ineffective” to test the validity of his conviction or sentence. See Bryant [v. Warden, FCC Coleman-Medium], 738 F.3d [1253, ] 1263 [(11th Cir. 2013)]. This conclusion stems from the so-called “Savings Clause” of § 2255, which provides:
An application for a writ of habeas corpus [on] 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).

We have formulated a test for determining inadequacy or ineffectiveness where a petitioner claims he was sentenced above the statutory maximum. In Bryant, we held that in such circumstances, a prisoner may file a § 2241 petition challenging the validity of his sentence only if (1) during the pendency of the § 2255 petition, circuit precedent squarely foreclosed the argument being made in the § 2241 petition, (2) subsequent to the § 2255 petition, the Supreme Court overturned that circuit precedent, (3) the new Supreme Court rule applies retroactively on collateral review, (4) the effect of the retroactive rule is that the prisoner has been sentenced above the statutory maximum authorized by Congress, and (5) the Savings Clause reaches the kind of claim raised by the petitioner. 738 F.3d at 1274. The chief benefit of the Savings Clause is that, contrary to § 2255(h)'s narrow grounds for filing a successive petition, a retroactive change in Supreme Court law that is not of a constitutional dimension can nonetheless provide relief to a prisoner. But the Savings Clause is a threshold jurisdictional inquiry - if a petitioner cannot satisfy the Savings Clause test, we lack jurisdiction to hear a § 2241 petition challenging the validity of a conviction or sentence. See McCarthan v. Warden, FCI Estill, 811 F.3d 1237, 1250 (11th Cir. 2016).

Cortes-Morales v. Hastings, 827 F.3d 1009, 1014-15 (11th Cir. 2016)(emphasis in original); see also Brown v. Warden, FCC Coleman-Low, 817 F.3d 1278, 1283 (11th Cir. 2016)(quoting Bryant, 738 F.3d at 1274).[2]

         “Whether the savings clause in § 2255(e) may open the portal to a § 2241 petition is a threshold jurisdictional issue that must be decided before delving into the merits of the petitioner's claim and the applicable defenses. Because [James] did not satisfy the Bryant test, the Court lacks jurisdiction to consider his Petition on the merits.” Garner v. Drew, No. 1:15-CV-255-WSD, 2016 WL 5341779, at *3 (N.D.Ga. Sept. 23, 2016)(citing Bryant, 738 F.3d at 1262)(internal quotations, citations, and alterations omitted).

         II. BACKGROUND

         On February 22, 2006, James was indicted on a single count of possession of a firearm by a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and § 924(e). United States v. James, No. 3:06-CR-0062-TJC-MCR, doc. 1 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 22, 2006)(hereinafter James I). The Indictment charged that James had six prior felony convictions, which included a 1976 conviction for attempted robbery in Orange County, Florida; a 1979 conviction for armed robbery in Brevard County, Florida; a 1979 conviction for robbery in Orange County, Florida; and a 1988 conviction for aggravated battery in Orange County, Florida. Id. at 1-2.[3]

         In March 2007, James entered into a Plea Agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and § 924(e). Id., doc. 55 (March 21, 2007). As part of his plea agreement, James waived the right to appeal his “sentence or to challenge it collaterally on any ground.” Id. at 7-8.

         The court accepted James's plea. Id., doc. 57 (April 23, 2007).

         At sentencing the court found:

There is - unless I'm advised to the contrary, there is a 180-month minimum mandatory that's applicable in this case. . . .
. . .
. . . [B]ecause of the minimum mandatory under 924(e), the lowest sentence available is 180 months of imprisonment. So, therefore, the advisory guideline range effectively becomes 180 months to 210 months of imprisonment, which is indicated.
. . .
I did not see any basis to relieve Mr. James from the requirements of the minimum mandatory. The law requires three qualifying convictions. There is no time limit. There's no aging of those convictions ...

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