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Wess v. Fernandez

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

August 14, 2017

GENESIS WESS, Petitioner,



         This is a habeas corpus case filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 and the “savings clause” of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e), by Genesis Wess, pro se, a federal prisoner at the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega, Alabama. (Doc. 1). In his petition, Wess challenges his federal sentence imposed in 2000 by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana after Wess pled guilty to federal drug charges. (Id. at 1-2) The magistrate judge to whom the action was referred entered a Report and Recommendation, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), proposing that the petition be dismissed for want of jurisdiction. (Doc. 3). Wess has now filed timely objections to the R&R. (Doc. 4). Within those objections is a motion in the alternative to transfer the action to the sentencing court in lieu of dismissing the petition. (Id. at 4-7). For the reasons that follow, the court concludes that the magistrate judge's R&R is due to be accepted, that the action is due to be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, and that the motion to transfer is due to be denied.


         In his habeas petition, Wess argues that he was improperly sentenced as a career offender under the then-mandatory United States Sentencing Guidelines. Specifically, he contends that, based on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Mathis v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), he is “actually innocent” of his Guidelines career offender enhancement, on the theory that his prior Mississippi state conviction for distribution of a controlled substance, in violation of Miss. Code § 41-29-139, was erroneously counted as a felony conviction for “a controlled substance offense” as defined in U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(b).

         The magistrate judge concluded that this court lacks habeas jurisdiction to hear such a claim attacking a federal sentence. In support, the magistrate judge relied on two en banc decisions of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals: Gilbert v. United States, 640 F.3d 1293 (11th Cir. 2011) (en banc), and McCarthan v. Director of Goodwill Indust.-Suncoast, Inc., 851 F.3d 1076 (11th Cir. 2017) (en banc).

         In Gilbert, the court held that § 2255(e)'s savings clause does not extend habeas jurisdiction to claims by federal prisoners, like Wess, who contend they were improperly sentenced under the Guidelines, but still within the statutory maximum for their offenses. 640 F.3d at 1295. And in McCarthan, the court interpreted the scope of § 2255(e)'s savings clause as being even narrower still, holding that the statute authorizes habeas jurisdiction “only when [a motion to vacate a federal sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255] cannot remedy a particular kind of claim.” 851 F.3d at 1099. Thus, the McCarthan court held that, even where a federal prisoner claims that a retroactively applicable, circuit-precedent-busting Supreme Court decision establishes that he was improperly sentenced above the statutory maximum, habeas review is foreclosed because such a claim can generally be raised in a § 2255 proceeding, even if it might have clearly had no chance of succeeding at the time. 851 F.3d at 1099-1100.



         Wess objects to the R&R, arguing that the magistrate judge failed to discuss whether the Supreme Court's decision in Mathis applies retroactively to cases on collateral review. Citing a host of lower federal court decisions from outside the Eleventh Circuit, Wess also suggests existence of “a circuit split on the appropriate remedy” for a claim based on Mathis. (Doc. 4 at 1). Ultimately, he contends that this court should adopt the approach taken by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which he posits would allow his Mathis claim to be heard in habeas under § 2241. (Id. at 4).

         Unfortunately for Wess, this court is bound to adhere to the holdings of published decisions of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals unless and until they are overruled by that court sitting en banc or they are abrogated by the Supreme Court of the United States. See Smith v. GTE Corp., 236 F.3d 1292, 1300 n. 8 (11th Cir. 2001); Cargill v. Turpin, 120 F.3d 1366, 1386 (11th Cir. 1997). Because the Eleventh Circuit has spoken clearly on the relevant issues in Gilbert and McCarthan, that is the end of the discussion for this court.

         In short, the court must follow Gilbert and McCarthan wholly regardless of whether other federal courts, including other circuit courts of appeals or, indeed, this court itself, might agree with their reasoning. See Springer v. Wal-Mart Associates' Group Health Plan, 908 F.2d 897, 900 n. 1 (11th Cir. 1990) (“We need hardly add that even if there were a relevant circuit split, the district court is bound by controlling Eleventh Circuit precedent.”); see also Barr v. Fernander, No. 1:17-cv-0843-AKK-JEO, Doc. 5 (N.D. Ala. June 20, 2017).


         In the alternative, Wess moves the court to, in lieu of dismissing his habeas petition for lack of jurisdiction, transfer the action to the federal district court that sentenced him, in the Eastern District of Louisiana. (Doc. 4 at 1, 4-7). This court is authorized, upon finding that it lacks jurisdiction over a civil action, to transfer the action to another federal district court “in which the action ... could have been brought at the time it was filed, ” if to do so “is in the interest of justice.” 28 U.S.C. § 1631.[1]

         But, to the extent that Wess's pleading is construed as a habeas corpus petition filed pursuant to § 2241, as he has labeled it, such an action may be filed, if at all, only in the district of confinement. See Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 443 (2004); Garcia v. Warden, 470 F. App'x 735, 736 (11th Cir. 2012); 28 U.S.C. § 2241(a), 2243. And because Wess is incarcerated in the Northern District of Alabama, the federal district court for the Eastern District of Louisiana would lack jurisdiction to entertain this action as one seeking a writ of habeas corpus. See Lee v. Wetzel, 244 F.3d 370, 373-74 (5th Cir. 2001) (“As [the petitioner] is incarcerated in [the federal prison in] Talladega, Alabama, only the district court the Northern District of Alabama would have jurisdiction to entertain his § 2241 petition.”). Indeed, both the sentencing court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit have previously ...

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