Smith v. Hobbs
RECHARACTERIZATION ORDER. Plaintiff has up to and including January 8, 2013 to withdraw the complaint, amend the complaint or protest the recharacterization. The Court will consider the motion under § 2254 in its previous form, if Smith does not withdraw or amend the complaint, or protest the change. Signed by Magistrate Judge Jerome T. Kearney on 11/28/12. (kpr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
PINE BLUFF DIVISION
JAMES EDWARD SMITH,
ADC # 103093
RAY HOBBS, Director, Arkansas
Department of Correction
Case No. 5:10-CV-00199 JTK
BEFORE THE COURT is a pro se action brought by James Edward Smith. On July 8,
2010, Smith initiated his case by filing a complaint on the form that prisoners are given to use
when filing an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Doc. No. 2. However, Smith’s claims were
not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because his complaint sought “injunctive relief solely
concerning the execution of his sentence by defendants,” and the “the complaint concern[ed] the
fact or length of his sentence.” Doc. No. 3. “[Section] 1983 must yield to the more specific
federal habeas statute, with its attendant procedural and exhaustion requirements, where an
inmate seeks injunctive relief challenging the fact of his conviction or the duration of his
sentence.” Nelson v. Campbell, 541 U.S. 637, 643 (2004). Accordingly, the Court directed the
clerk to recharacterize Smith’s action so that it was construed as being brought pursuant to
28 U.S.C. §2254 on July 26, 2010. Doc. No. 3.
The case then proceeded as a habeas action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254, and the parties
consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge on January 12, 2011. Doc. No.
27. Smith repeatedly acknowledged the recharacterization of his claim and implicitly approved
of the change on numerous occasions. See Pet’r’s Resp. Compl., Doc. No. 17, at 2; Pet’r’s Mot.
Default J., Doc. No. 32, at 2, 5 (noting Respondent had acknowledged that Smith’s Petition for
Writ of Habeas Corpus was timely and that Respondent did not object to the Court’s
recharacterization of the action); Pet’r’s Mtn. Copies, Doc. No. 37, at 2; Pet’r’s Br. Supp. Pet.,
Doc. No. 41. On April 17, 2012, the Court entered an Order dismissing Smith’s petition because
he failed to raise any issues of federal law1 and because his claims were procedurally defaulted.
Smith subsequently sought a certificate of appealability from the Eighth Circuit. In a
split decision, the Eighth Circuit panel found that no certificate of appealability was necessary,
and it reversed and remanded the Court’s judgment dismissing Smith’s case. The panel held that
it was error for the Court to convert Smith’s case into a habeas action without first giving him the
notice described by the Supreme Court in Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375, 377 (2003).
The petitioner in Castro was a federal prisoner who filed a 1994 pro se motion for a new
trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33. For reasons that are unclear, the district
court adopted the Government’s recommendation that Castro’s claims “were ‘more properly
cognizable’ as federal habeas corpus claims,” and it characterized Castro’s petition as having
been brought pursuant to both Rule 33 and 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Castro, 540 U.S. at 378. The
district court’s decision was puzzling because “Castro’s Rule 33 motion was valid as a
procedural matter, and the claim it raised was no weaker on the merits when presented under
Rule 33 than when presented under § 2255.” Id. at 388 (SCALIA, J., concurring in part and
concurring in judgment) (“The recharacterization was therefore unquestionably improper, and
Smith’s case is primarily based upon his objection to the fact that he is ineligible for parole and
is required to serve the entire ten years of his sentence under Ark. Code Ann. § 16-93-609.
Section “2254 is the only means by which ‘a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a
State court’ may raise challenges to the validity of his conviction or sentence or to the execution
of his sentence.” Singleton v. Norris, 319 F.3d 1018, 1023 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting Crouch v.
Norris, 251 F.3d 720, 723 (8th Cir. 2001)).
Castro should be relieved of its consequences.”).2 Castro subsequently filed a § 2255 motion in
1997 that included new claims, but the lower courts held that the 1997 motion was barred as a
second or successive petition because the 1994 motion had been treated as his first habeas
The majority began its opinion by validating the practice of sometimes ignoring the
labels that pro se litigants attach to motions and recharacterizing those motions in an effort “to
avoid an unnecessary dismissal, to avoid inappropriately stringent application of formal labeling
requirements, or to create a better correspondence between the substance of a pro se motion’s
claim and its underlying legal basis.”4 Castro, 540 U.S. at 381-82 (internal citations omitted).
However, the court also noted that recharacterization “may make it significantly more difficult
for that litigant to file another such motion.” Id. at 382. This was certainly the case for Castro
because his 1997 motion was barred due to the Court’s recharacterization of his 1994 Rule 33
In order to prevent pro se litigants from being unduly prejudiced by sua sponte
Unlike Castro’s Rule 33 motion, Smith’s § 1983 petition was facially invalid because its claims
were only cognizable through habeas corpus. Recharacterization was the only way that Smith’s
petition could be construed as stating a claim for relief.
The three-year gap here did not run afoul of the statute of limitations because habeas petitions
concerning pre-AEDPA final judgments were given a one-year grace period that ended on April
24, 1997. See, e.g., Ford v. Bowersox, 178 F.3d 522, 523 (8th Cir. 1999).
Scalia’s and Thomas’s concurrence indicates they would prefer that courts simply dismiss
faulty motions, rather than attempting to salvage them. See id. at 386 (“Our adversary system is
designed around the premise that the parties know what is best for them, and are responsible for
advancing the facts and arguments entitling them to relief.”); id. at 388 (“Even if one does not
agree with me that, because of the risk involved, pleadings should never be recharacterized into
first § 2255 motions, surely one must agree that running the risk is unjustified when there is
nothing whatever to be gained by the recharacterization.”). The majority did not offer any
opinion on this alternative to recharacterization, which was certainly an available method of
resolving Smith’s petition.
recharacterization, Castro held that a court must first 1) notify the litigant of its intent to
recharacterize the pleading, 2) warn the litigant that recharacterization would subject any
subsequent habeas motions to the “second or successive” petition bar, and 3) give the litigant an
opportunity to withdraw the motion or amend it so that it contains all habeas claims. Id. at 383.
In the event that “these things are not done,” Castro simply held that “a recharacterized motion
will not count as a § 2255 motion for purposes of applying § 2255’s ‘second or successive’
provision.” Id. at 377; see also id. at 383 (“If the court fails to do so, the motion cannot be
considered to have become a § 2255 motion for purposes of applying to later motions the law’s
‘second or successive’ restrictions.”) (emphasis added).5 Because the district court never gave
Castro these warnings before recharacterizing his 1994 motion, the Supreme Court reversed the
lower courts’ decision that Castro’s 1997 petition was a second or successive petition.
Unlike in Castro, this Court’s decision to recharacterize Smith’s motion was necessary to
salvage his claims. Further, it is does not appear that Smith would be prejudiced by any future,
erroneous application of the second or successive petition bar.6 That bar is just one of the many
Indeed, the limit of Castro’s holding is also discussed in Scalia’s and Thomas’s concurrence.
See id. at 385 (SCALIA, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (“The Court
promulgates a new procedure to be followed if the district court desires the recharacterized
motion to count against the pro se litigant as a first 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion in later litigation.”);
id. (“This procedure, by the way, can be ignored with impunity by a court bent upon aiding pro
se litigants at all costs; the only consequence will be that the litigants’ later § 2255 submissions
cannot be deemed ‘second or successive.’”) (emphasis added); id. at 388 (“The Court today
relieves Castro of the consequences of the recharacterization (to wit, causing his current § 2255
motion to be dismissed as “second or successive”) because he was not given the warning that its
opinion prescribes”) (emphasis added).
The lack of any resulting prejudice has led courts to find that the warnings were not required.
See, e.g., Settle v. United States, 4:12-CV-1534-JCH, 2012 WL 4049023 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 13,
2012) (“Moreover, because the instant motion is successive, and appears to be untimely as well,
providing movant a Morales-type warning and an opportunity to withdraw his motion would be
of no avail to him.”); Cree v. United States, 4:10-CV-25, 2010 WL 1814938 (D.N.D. May 4,
2010) (“Providing Cree with a Morales type warning and opportunity to withdraw would be of
limitations that AEDPA imposed on prisoners’ ability to file habeas petitions. As noted in the
Court’s April 17, 2012 order, Smith pled guilty and then failed to seek any relief from the state
courts. His failure to present any claims to the state courts is a procedural default that would
seem to bar any potential claims that he may wish to present in a hypothetical successive
The statute of limitations is another potential bar to any future petition. The judgment
and commitment order following Smith’s guilty plea was filed on July 17, 2009. Thus, the
limitations period began to run ninety days7 later on October 15, 2009, and seems to have ended
on October 15, 2010. However, it is unclear whether this is the case because Smith filed the
present action on July 8, 2010, and the question of whether the limitations period would be tolled
from the date he filed his petition has not been answered. See Morales v. United States,
304 F.3d 764, 767 (8th Cir. 2002).
The Court’s Warnings to Smith
In accordance with the Eighth Circuit’s order, the Court now advises Smith that the Court
intends to recharacterize his submission from a petition pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to a motion
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This intended recharacterization means that any subsequent
section § 2254 motion will be subject to the restrictions on “second or successive” motions, and
Smith must therefore include all of his collateral claims in a single application for postconviction relief. If Smith has not included all of his grounds for relief in his current petition, he
may want to consider withdrawing or amending his petition, so that he does not lose any of his
no consequence and would not further the rationale of Morales that a pro se litigant may not be
aware of AEDPA’s gatekeeping provisions and all the consequences of reclassification.”).
Supreme Court Rule 13.1 (explaining that a petition for a writ of certiorari “is timely when it is
filed with the Clerk of this Court within 90 days after entry of the judgment”).
claims under the rules restricting successive § 2254 motions. He should also be mindful of the
statute of limitations that applies to § 2254 motions.8
In the event that Smith wishes to withdraw the complaint, amend the complaint, or
protest the recharacterization, Smith has up to and including January 8, 2013. If Smith wishes
to amend the complaint, he must be sure that it contains all of the section 2254 claims he
believes he has. If Smith does not withdraw the complaint, amend it, or protest the change,
the Court will consider the motion under section 2254 in its previous form.
In the event that Smith chooses to protest the recharacterization and proceed with his
claims as originally presented, he will need to submit another motion to proceed in forma
pauperis because he will be subject to the $350 filing fee that is associated with § 1983 claims,
rather than the $5 fee for habeas actions.
SO ORDERED this 27th day of November, 2012.
United States Magistrate Judge
As noted above, it is unclear whether the statute of limitations has already expired.
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