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Smith v. United States

October 31, 2007

RASHEED SMITH, PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the motion for reconsideration filed by Petitioner Rasheed Smith [Docket Item 18]. Petitioner's motion for reconsideration relates to this Court's July 25, 2007 denial of Petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus and motions for appointment of counsel and for an evidentiary hearing [Docket Item 16]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Petitioner's motion for reconsideration.

II. BACKGROUND

As summarized in the July 25, 2007 Opinion, Smith v. U.S., No. 07-3478, 2007 WL 2212715, at *1-2 (D.N.J. July 25, 2007), the relevant facts and findings are as follows. On December 26, 2006, Petitioner filed a pro se motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5) challenging his sentence of 262 months imprisonment arising from a crack cocaine-related conviction. This Court found, however, that a Rule 60(b) motion was not a proper vehicle for Petitioner to challenge his sentence since it does not operate to provide relief from a judgment in a criminal case. Id. at *2. An analogous provision by which Petitioner could collaterally attack a sentence in a federal sentencing court was offered by 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Because Petitioner proceeded as a pro se litigant, whose papers are held to less stringent standards than those drafted by lawyers, the Court recharacterized the mislabeled habeas petition as a Section 2255 challenge so as to facilitate Petitioner's claim. Id.

Section 2255 petitions are restricted by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), which imposes a one-year statute of limitations and a bar on successive Section 2255 motions. 28 U.S.C. § 2255 para. 6-7 (1996). Before the Court could recharacterize Petitioner's mislabeled Rule 60(b) motion as a first Section 2255 petition, the Court first notified Petitioner of its intent to recharacterize the pleading, warned Petitioner in a letter dated June 18, 2007 that subsequent Section 2255 motions are subject to restriction, and provided him an opportunity to either withdraw the motion or amend it to include all Section 2255 claims that Petitioner may have found relevant. Smith v. U.S., 2007 WL 2212715 at *2.

Petitioner agreed to proceed under Section 2255 without amending the motion in his response filed July 6, 2007. The Court converted Petitioner's initial Rule 60(b)(5) motion to one filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and subsequently denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the July 25, 2007 Opinion as untimely filed under the AEDPA one-year statute of limitations on Section 2255 motions. Id. at *3. The Court also found that the 100:1 weight ratio in the Sentencing Guidelines for cocaine versus cocaine base offenses did not violate the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and found insufficient grounds upon which to grant Petitioner's motions for appointment of counsel and for an evidentiary hearing. Id. at *4.

In the instant action, Petitioner seeks to withdraw his prior consent to recharacterize his Rule 60(b) motion as a Section 2255 petition, such that his previously raised constitutionality claim, motion for appointment of counsel, and motion for an evidentiary hearing may be reconsidered. Petitioner reiterates his claim that the 100:1 weight ratio in the Sentencing Guidelines for cocaine versus cocaine base offenses violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and that Petitioner should be appointed a lawyer to conduct an evidentiary hearing to establish the disparate racial impact of that Sentencing Guideline. (Pet'r Mot. For Reconsideration at 6.)

III. DISCUSSION

Local Civil Rule 7.1(i) of the United States District Court, District of New Jersey, governs the instant motion for reconsideration. Rule 7.1(i) requires the moving party to set forth the factual matters or controlling legal authorities it believes the court overlooked when rendering its initial decision. L. Civ. R. 7.1(i). "[R]econsideration is an extraordinary remedy that is granted very sparingly." Brackett v. Ashcroft, No. 03-3988, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21312, at *5 (D.N.J. Oct. 7, 2003) (internal citations omitted). Whether to grant reconsideration is a matter within the district court's discretion, but it should only be granted where such facts or legal authority were indeed presented but overlooked. See DeLong v. Raymond Int'l Inc., 622 F.2d 1135, 1140 (3d Cir. 1980), overruled on other grounds by Croker v. Boeing Co., 662 F.2d 975 (3d Cir. 1981); Williams v. Sullivan, 818 F. Supp. 92, 93 (D.N.J. 1993). "A party seeking reconsideration must show more than a disagreement with the court's decision, and recapitulation of the cases and arguments considered by the court before rendering its original decision fails to carry the moving party's burden." Panna v. Firstrust Sav. Bank, 760 F. Supp. 432, 435 (D.N.J. 1991) (internal citations omitted).

Instead, the party seeking reconsideration must show "at least one of the following grounds: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available . . .; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Max's Seafood Café ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc., v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). Furthermore, the Court will grant a motion for reconsideration only if the movant establishes that the Court overlooked "dispositive factual matters or controlling decisions of law." See Rouse v. Plantier, 997 F. Supp. 575, 578 (D.N.J. 1998); Starr v. JCI Data Processing, Inc., 767 F. Supp. 633, 635 (D.N.J. 1991).

Petitioner's argument appears to focus on the third possibility of the grounds for reconsideration identified in Max's Seafood Café, supra, that the Court overlooked a dispositive fact and made a clear error of law, which resulted in a manifest injustice for Petitioner. Specifically, Petitioner seeks to retract his consent to the Court's recharacterization of his Rule 60(b)(5) motion as a Section 2255 motion on the grounds that it was erroneously compelled by the Court.

Contrary to Petitioner's assertions, the Court did not err in recharacterizing his Rule 60(b) motion as one filed under Section 2255, and, accordingly, the Court will deny his motion for reconsideration. As the Court held in its July 25, 2007 Opinion, Rule 60(b) motions are not the appropriate vehicle for challenging the constitutionality of an underlying sentence, which arises from a criminal proceeding. Fed.R.Civ.P. 1 provides that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "govern the procedure in the United States district courts in all suits of a civil nature." Further clarifying, "[t]he Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, including Rule 60(b), may not be used to relieve a party from a final judgment or provide relief from operation of a judgment of conviction or sentence in a criminal case." See United States v. Ortiz, Crim. A. No. 88-352, 1997 WL 733856, at *1 (E.D.Pa. Nov. 7, 1997). In the underlying case, Petitioner sought relief from this Court's April 16, 2002 judgment sentencing him to ...


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