United States District Court, D. New Jersey
James Curtis Johnson, Fort Dix, New Jersey, Pro se Petitioner.
J. Andrew Ruymann, Esq., Office of the United States Attorney, Trenton, NJ, Attorney for Respondent.
JEROME B. SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge.
James Curtis Johnson, a federal prisoner confined at FCI Fort Dix in New Jersey, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in the Eastern District of North Carolina, No. 5:13-hc-02225-FL. By order dated May 14, 2014, the Honorable Louise W. Flanagan transferred the matter to this Court (Docket Entry 5). On July 7, 2014, Respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss in lieu of an answer (Docket Entry 12). Petitioner filed a reply on July 18, 2014 (Docket Entry 13). Because this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this petition, and it is not in the interest of justice to transfer the Petition, this Court will grant Respondent's motion and dismiss the Petition for lack of jurisdiction.
Petitioner is presently confined pursuant to a federal drug crime conviction and sentence imposed by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina for distributing 55.4 grams of cocaine base, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Prior to his conviction in federal court, Petitioner had several North Carolina state convictions, including Conspiracy to Commit Common Law Robbery and Possession with Intent to Manufacture, Sell, or Deliver Cocaine (Docket Entry 1 at 6). Based on those two prior convictions, the sentencing court determined Petitioner was a career offender within the meaning of U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1,  and sentenced him to 262 months with 5 years of supervised release on March 20, 2002.
Petitioner subsequently filed a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in the Eastern District of North Carolina, however the motion was dismissed as untimely. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that dismissal, see United States v. Johnson, 90 Fed.Appx. 58 (4th Cir. 2004). Petitioner thereafter filed a motion to reduce his sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582, which was also dismissed by the Eastern District of North Carolina, see United States v. Johnson, No. 5:01-cr-00090-H-1 (E.D. N.C. Nov. 7, 2013). The Fourth Circuit upheld that dismissal as well, see United States v. Johnson, 568 Fed.Appx. 263 (4th Cir. 2014).
The instant petition was originally filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina on October 13, 2013, however the court transferred the petition to this Court upon receiving a letter from Petitioner stating he believed he filed his motion in the "wrong District" (Docket Entry 3; 5). This Court received the certified copy of the transfer order and docket on May 15, 2014.
Petitioner argues that the sentencing court incorrectly sentenced him as a career offender as the North Carolina state convictions used as the basis for the career offender sentencing enhancement were not "prior felony convictions" within the meaning of § 4B1.1. Specifically, he asserts: (1) his conviction for Conspiracy to Commit Common Law Robbery is not a qualifying conviction because he was under 18 and was sentenced as a youthful offender; and (2) his conviction for Possession with Intent to Manufacture, Sell, or Deliver Cocaine was not a prior felony conviction because it "only produced a sentence of 10 months minimum for a maximum term of 12 months" (Docket Entry 1 at 8).
Respondent asserts this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider Petitioner's application as the petitioner challenges the lawfulness of his sentence and that Petitioner has not met the preconditions of the "safety valve" clause of § 2255 as set forth in In re Dorsainvil, 119 F.3d 245 (3d Cir. 1997). As such, Petitioner must submit a motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence under § 2255 in the district of conviction instead of a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the district of confinement.
Petitioner responded his claims are cognizable under § 2241 in light of "new rulings [that] were previously unavailable to petitioner during his direct appeal or § 2255 habeas proceeding[, ]" namely the Fourth Circuit's opinions in United States v. Simmons, 649 F.3d 237 (4th Cir. 2011) (en banc), and Whiteside v. United States, 748 F.3d 541 (4th Cir. 2014) reversed, 775 F.3d 180, 183 (4th Cir. 2014) (en banc). He argues a motion under § 2255 would be inadequate or ineffective "because it would have been futile seeking to challenge such earlier during said proceedings... because such claim [sic] under prior Fourth Circuit precedent was foreclosed by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit" (Docket Entry 13 at 1-2). He requests this Court either grant relief or transfer the petition to the Fourth Circuit.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Petitioner brings this Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus as a pro se litigant. A pro se pleading is held to less stringent standards than more formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). A pro se habeas petition and any supporting submissions must be construed liberally and with a measure of tolerance. See Royce v. Hahn, 151 F.3d 116, 118 (3d Cir. 1998); Lewis v. Attorney General, 878 F.2d ...