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Griham v. United States

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

June 13, 2019

DEDRICK LAMON GRIHAM, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case is before the court on Petitioner Dedrick Lamon Griham's motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Civil Doc. # 1; Cr. Doc. # 78).[1] For the reasons explained below, the court holds (1) that it lacks jurisdiction to consider Griham's motion, and (2) that transferring this matter to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit under 28 U.S.C. § 1631, as Griham requests, would be improper. Griham's § 2255 motion is therefore due to be denied.

         I. Background

         This is Griham's second motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The court therefore provides a brief history of Griham's initial convictions, sentence, and first § 2255 motion.

         Among other crimes, Griham was convicted in 2007 of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). (Cr. Doc. # 52 at 1). As relevant here, Griham received a life sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) on the felon-in-possession count. (Id. at 2). Griham appealed his convictions, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. United States v. Griham, 278 Fed.Appx. 960 (11th Cir. 2008).

         Griham filed his first § 2255 motion in 2009, asserting various challenges to his convictions and sentence. (Cr. Doc. # 71). This court denied that motion as untimely under the one-year statute of limitations for § 2255 motions established by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), see 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). Griham v. United States, 2:09-cv-08029 (N.D. Ala. Oct. 8, 2009).

         Griham filed his second § 2255 motion on June 21, 2016. (Civil Doc. # 1 at 5; Cr. Doc. # 78 at 5). He argues that his life sentence should be vacated under Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), which invalidated ACCA's residual clause as unconstitutionally vague, and Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016), which held that Johnson applies retroactively on collateral review.

         II. Analysis

         Griham's § 2255 motion requires the court to decide two issues. The first is whether the court has jurisdiction to consider the motion. If the court lacks jurisdiction, the second question is whether the court should transfer this matter to a court of competent jurisdiction (here, the Eleventh Circuit) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1631. The court concludes both that it lacks jurisdiction and that transfer to the Eleventh Circuit under § 1631 is impermissible. Griham's § 2255 motion is therefore due to be denied.

         A. This Court Lacks Jurisdiction to Consider Griham's Second § 2255 Motion

         A federal prisoner seeking to file a “second or successive” § 2255 motion must seek authorization from the Eleventh Circuit before a district court may consider the motion. 28 U.S.C. §§ 2255(h), 2244(b)(3)(A); United States v. Holt, 417 F.3d 1172, 1175 (11th Cir. 2005). When a prisoner fails to seek or obtain such authorization, a district court lacks jurisdiction to consider the merits of the motion. In re Bradford, 830 F.3d 1273, 1277 (11th Cir. 2016); Farris v. United States, 333 F.3d 1211, 1216 (11th Cir. 2003). The question here is whether Griham's instant § 2255 motion is “second or successive” within the meaning of the relevant provisions of AEDPA. If it is, then this court lacks jurisdiction to consider the motion because the Eleventh Circuit has not authorized it to do so.

         Griham's instant § 2255 motion (filed in 2016) is of course second in time to his first § 2255 motion, which he filed in 2009. But that does not necessarily mean his motion is “second or successive” for AEDPA purposes. See Stewart v. United States, 646 F.3d 856, 857 (11th Cir. 2011). Under Eleventh Circuit precedent, an application for postconviction relief[2] is only “second or successive” if it follows an application that was previously disposed of in a “judgment on the merits.” Boyd v. United States, 754 F.3d 1298, 1302 (11th Cir. 2014). This court denied Griham's first § 2255 motion as untimely under AEDPA's one-year statute of limitations. The question is thus whether that denial of Griham's first § 2255 motion as untimely was a “judgment on the merits” that renders his second motion “successive” and therefore subject to the strictures of 28 U.S.C. §§ 2255(h) and 2244(b)(3)(A).

         The Eleventh Circuit has never held in a published decision that the denial of an application for postconviction relief as untimely is a judgment on the merits that renders subsequent applications second or successive. But in unpublished decisions, three panels of the Eleventh Circuit have reached that conclusion. See Boykin v. United States, 592 Fed.Appx. 809, 812 (11th Cir. 2014); Candelario v. Warden, 592 Fed.Appx. 784, 785 n.1 (11th Cir. 2014); Carter v. United States, 405 Fed.Appx. 409, 410 (11th Cir. 2010). Additionally, at least six other federal courts of appeals have likewise concluded (in published or unpublished opinions) that the denial of a habeas petition or § 2255 motion as untimely renders subsequent applications for postconviction relief successive. Villanueva v. United States, 346 F.3d 55, 61 (2d Cir. 2003); Rohn v. Horton, 508 Fed.Appx. 170, 171 (3d Cir. 2013); In re Flowers, 595 F.3d 204, 205 (5th Cir. 2009); Altman v. Benik, 337 F.3d 764, 766 (7th Cir. 2003); McNabb v. Yates, 576 F.3d 1028, 1029 (9th Cir. 2009); In re Rains, 659 F.3d 1274, 1275 (10th Cir. 2011). For the reasons explained below, the court concludes that the Eleventh Circuit's unpublished panel decisions and the decisions of the Second, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits are correct. The denial of an application for postconviction relief as untimely under AEDPA's statute of limitations is a judgment on the merits that renders subsequent applications second or successive.

         Though the Eleventh Circuit has not squarely confronted this issue in a published opinion, this court does not write on an entirely blank slate. The Eleventh Circuit has explained that the dismissal of an application for postconviction relief without prejudice does not render later applications successive under AEDPA. Boyd, 754 F.3d at 1302; Dunn v. Singletary, 168 F.3d 440, 441 & n.2 (11th Cir. 1999). There are several reasons an application for postconviction relief might be dismissed without prejudice, including (1) to allow the prisoner to exhaust state postconviction remedies, Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 485-89 (2000); (2) because the prisoner failed to comply with technical filing requirements, Dunn, 168 F.3d at 441 n.2; and (3) because the district court determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider the application (for example, because it concluded the application was successive), Boyd, 754 F.3d at 1302. In these instances of dismissal without prejudice, the application for postconviction relief is not adjudicated “on the merits” and therefore does not render subsequent applications successive. Id.

         On the other hand, the dismissal of an application for postconviction relief with prejudice ordinarily does render subsequent applications successive under AEDPA. Dunn, 168 F.3d at 441-42.[3] The question this case presents is simply whether the dismissal of a § 2255 motion as untimely is a “dismissal with prejudice” or “judgment on the merits” that renders subsequent applications for postconviction relief successive.

         It has long been recognized that a dismissal “with prejudice” denotes the adjudication of a claim “in a way that finally disposes of a party's claim and bars any future action on that claim.” With Prejudice, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019). Usually, a dismissal with prejudice means the court adjudicated the substance of the party's claim and found it to be without merit. See Dismissal, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019) (defining “dismissal with prejudice” as “[a] dismissal, [usually] after an adjudication on the merits, barring the plaintiff from prosecuting any later lawsuit on the same claim”). But not always. Sometimes, a court may dismiss an action without reaching the substantive merits of a party's claim in a way that nonetheless “finally disposes of a party's claim and bars any future action on that claim.” With Prejudice, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019). One example of this scenario is when a court dismisses an action as barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Though it is not necessary for a court to delve into the “merits” of an untimely claim (at least in the colloquial sense of that word), a dismissal on statute-of-limitations grounds is still “with prejudice” and constitutes a “judgment on the merits” for res judicata purposes. See 18A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 4441, pp. 213-14, 217 (2d ed. 2002) (identifying the “clearly correct rule that dismissal of a prior action as barred by the statute of limitations precludes a second action on the same claim in the same system of courts” and explaining that “a limitations dismissal is a judgment on the merits that bars a second action on the same claim”); Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 19 cmt. f (1982) (explaining that a judgment for the defendant on statute-of-limitations grounds bars another action by the plaintiff on the same claim in the same jurisdiction).

         The well-settled meanings of the terms “with prejudice” and “judgment on the merits” apply with equal force in the postconviction-relief context as they do in ordinary civil actions. See Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651, 664 (1996) (describing AEDPA's restrictions on second or successive applications as “a modified res judicata rule”). When a court reaches and rejects the substantive merits of a prisoner's constitutional claims, its decision “finally disposes of” the prisoner's claim, With Prejudice, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019), and therefore results in a dismissal with prejudice that renders subsequent applications for postconviction relief successive, Dunn, 168 F.3d at 441-42. And likewise, the dismissal of a § 2255 motion as untimely under AEDPA also “presents a ‘permanent and incurable' bar to federal review” of the motion, thereby finally disposing of the prisoner's claim. Villanueva, 346 F.3d at 61. Such a dismissal therefore operates as a “dismissal with prejudice” or “judgment on the merits” that renders successive any subsequent § 2255 motion by the same prisoner challenging the same federal judgment.[4]

         A contrary rule would not only contravene the well-settled understanding of the terms “with prejudice” and “judgment on the merits”; it would also lead to illogical results. Suppose a prisoner filed a timely § 2255 motion challenging the constitutionality of his federal conviction, which a district court ultimately denied as without merit after considering the constitutional claim. There is no question the district court's denial of the motion would count as a judgment on the merits rendering any subsequent § 2255 motions successive. See Dunn, 168 F.3d at 441-42; Boyd, 754 F.3d at 1302. But under Griham's proposed rule, had the prisoner delayed in filing the exact same § 2255 motion, raising the exact same constitutional claim, until after AEDPA's limitations period expired, the denial of the motion as untimely would not count as a judgment on the merits rendering subsequent § 2255 motions successive. Such a rule would lead to a perverse result-it would reward prisoners who fail to comply with the congressionally imposed time limit for filing § 2255 motions by allowing them a second chance to collaterally attack their sentences that is unavailable to prisoners who comply with AEDPA's statute of limitations. Absent any textual evidence to the contrary, the court will not lightly conclude that AEDPA requires that anomalous result. Reiter v. Cooper, 507 U.S. 258, 267 (1993) (declining to interpret a statute to produce “such an odd result in the absence of any such indication in the statute”); see also Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. v. Jackson, 139 S.Ct. 1743, 1755 (2019) (Alito, J., dissenting) (explaining that “a good interpreter . . . reads a text charitably, not lightly ascribing irrationality to its author”).

         Because this court's denial of Griham's first § 2255 motion as untimely was with prejudice and operated as a judgment on the merits, it renders his instant § 2255 motion second or successive. The court therefore concludes it is without jurisdiction to consider the motion, as Griham did not seek authorization from the Eleventh Circuit before ...


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