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Pate v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

November 20, 2019

FRANK EDWIN PATE, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          CHARLES S. COODY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On August 8, 2019, Frank Edwin Pate (“Pate”), a federal inmate at the Maxwell Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Alabama, filed this pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus seeking relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Doc. # 2. Pate challenges the validity of a judgment imposed upon him in May 2016 by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas for his violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341 & 1343, mail, and wire fraud, and seeks relief from his convictions and sentence. Pate claims the trial court lacked “legislative authority” over his criminal case because his offenses were not committed against the United States. See Doc. # 2 at 2-3. In support of this claim, Pate alleges the trial court lacked jurisdiction because his “charged offenses were connected with private business partners” and were not committed against the United States, which is a requisite element of federal jurisdiction. Id. at 4. Pate therefore argues his incarceration is unlawful, as it is based on an unconstitutional judgment entered against him by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Id. at 3.

         For the reasons that follow, the undersigned concludes that this action should be transferred to the Eastern District of Texas.

         DISCUSSION

         Federal courts have “an obligation to look behind the label of a motion filed by a pro se inmate and determine whether the motion is, in effect, cognizable under a different remedial statutory framework.” United States v. Jordan, 915 F.2d 622, 624-25 (11th Cir. 1990). Although this action is brought as a petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, the court must consider whether this action is properly styled as such, or if it is more appropriately considered as a motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

         Section 2241 provides an avenue for challenges to matters such as the administration of parole, prison disciplinary actions, prison transfers, and certain types of detention. See, e.g., Antonelli v. Warden, U.S.P. Atlanta, 542 F.3d 1348, 1351-52 (11th Cir. 2008) (petition challenging decision of federal Parole Commission is properly brought under § 2241); Bishop v. Reno, 210 F.3d 1295, 1304 n.14 (11th Cir. 2000) (petition challenging Bureau of Prisons' administration of service credits, including calculation, awarding, and withholding, involves execution rather than imposition of sentence, and thus is a matter for habeas corpus). For purposes of venue, petitions filed under § 2241 must be brought in the district in which the petitioner is incarcerated. Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 442-43 (2004).

         In contrast, 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) states:

A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by an Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

28 U.S.C. § 2255(a) (emphasis added). For actions properly considered under § 2255, venue and jurisdiction lie only in the district of conviction. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).

         Pate's self-described § 2241 petition challenges the legality of his convictions and sentence. Generally, a federal prisoner must bring any collateral attack on the legality of his conviction or sentence through a motion to vacate under § 2255 rather than a petition for writ of habeas corpus under § 2241. See McCarthan v. Dir. of Goodwill Indus.-Suncoast, Inc., 851 F.3d 1076, 1081 (11th Cir. 2017); Venta v. Warden, FCC Coleman-Low, 2017 WL 4280936, at *1 (11th Cir. 2017). A petitioner challenging the legality of his federal detention may do so under § 2241 only if he shows that § 2255 would be an “inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e) (the so called “saving clause”); see also Johnson v. Warden, 737 Fed.Appx. 989, 990-91 (11th Cir. 2018). Pate does not attempt to show that § 2255 would be an inadequate vehicle to present his claims. Indeed he cannot, because his claims challenging the validity of his convictions and sentence fall squarely within the realm of injuries § 2255 addresses.

         When a federal prisoner brings “a traditional claim attacking his [conviction or] sentence that he could have brought in a [§ 2255] motion to vacate, the remedy by [such] motion is adequate and effective to test the legality of his detention. . . . Allowing a prisoner with a claim that is cognizable in a [§ 2255] motion to vacate to access [§ 2241] nullifies the procedural hurdles of section 2255 and undermines the venue provisions.” McCarthan, 851 F.3d at 1090. Here, regardless of the label Pate places on his pleadings, his petition challenging his convictions and sentence must be considered as a motion under § 2255, rather than § 2241. Section 2255 remains Pate's exclusive remedy to bring his challenge to his convictions and sentence.[1] Because he challenges a judgment entered in the Eastern District of Texas, jurisdiction to consider the § 2255 motion lies only in the Eastern District of Texas as the district of conviction. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a).

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1631, a court that finds it lacks jurisdiction to entertain a civil action may, if it is in the interest of justice, transfer such action to any other court in which the action could have been brought when it was filed. Because Pate is proceeding pro se, in the interest of justice this action should be transferred to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

         CONCLUSION

         Accordingly it is the RECOMMENDATION of the Magistrate Judge that this case be TRANSFERRED to the United States District Court for the ...


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