United States of America v. Iroegbulem
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order: For the reasons stated in the accompanying Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Rule 60(b) motion, R. 24 , is denied. Signed by the Honorable Thomas M. Durkin on 5/9/2022. Mailed notice. (ecw, )
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
No. 18 C 8422
Judge Thomas M. Durkin
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Petitioner Allen Iroegbulem moves under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)
to vacate the denial of his 28 U.S.C. § 2255 petition as void. R. 24. For the foregoing
reasons, that motion is denied.
On March 17, 2016, Iroegbulem pled guilty to one count of sex trafficking of a
minor in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591(a)(1) and (b)(2). He was subsequently
sentenced to 240 months’ imprisonment. He appealed, and the Seventh Circuit
dismissed his appeal on March 23, 2018. United States v. Iroegbulem, 716 Fed. Appx.
549 (7th Cir. 2018).
Iroegbulem then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §
2255 in this Court, arguing his counsel was ineffective for failing to object to an
allegedly erroneously calculated guideline range. R. 1. On August 30, 2019, after
receiving permission to do so, Iroegbulem filed a supplemental § 2255 petition, this
time arguing that his attorney was ineffective for failing to challenge the statute of
conviction – 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a) – as unconstitutionally vague because it included
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multiple offenses. R. 11. The Court denied both Iroegbulem’s initial and supplemental
§ 2255 petition. R. 22. In doing so, the Court found, among other things, that the
vagueness argument as to § 1591(a) was meritless. R. 22 at 13-16. Iroegbulem did not
appeal the denial of his § 2255 petition.
Iroegbulem filed his Rule 60(b) motion on December 23, 2021. In it, he argues
the Court’s denial of his habeas petition is void because the Court was misled by the
government into believing that it is “well settled law” that §§ 1591(a)(1) and (2)
constitute “alternative means” of committing a single offense. R. 24 at 1. He also
argues there were errors in a set of proposed jury instructions which he contends
renders the Court’s judgment void.
28 U.S.C. § 2255 may be used to challenge a sentence “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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A federal prisoner is “limited to one motion
under section 2255 unless he received permission to file a second or successive motion
from the appropriate court of appeals.” Charles v. United States, 2020 WL 4464715,
at *1 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 4, 2020) (citing Purkey v. United States, 964 F.3d 603, 611 (7th
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) “gives district courts the power and
discretion to modify their judgments when truly new facts come to light or when the
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judge recognizes an error and believes it should be corrected.” Kennedy v. Schneider
Elec., Inc., 893 F.3d 414, 419 (7th Cir. 2018). The Seventh Circuit has made clear that
the rule applies only in the most “extraordinary situations where a judgment is the
inadvertent product of special circumstances and not merely erroneous application of
law.” Id. One such special circumstance is where a judgment is rendered “void” under
Rule 60(b) relief is thus different than the relief available under § 2255.
Confusion often arises where the two vehicles intersect. In the postconviction context,
a Rule 60(b) motion cannot attack “the substance of the federal court’s resolution of
a claim on the merits, but some defect in the integrity of the federal habeas
proceedings.” Charles v. United States, 2020 WL 4464715, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 4,
2020) (citing Gonzales v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 532 (2005)). Moreover, “a Rule 60(b)
motion that seeks to revisit the federal court’s denial on the merits of a claim for relief
should be treated as a successive habeas petition.” Gonzales, 545 U.S. at 534. See also
Adams v. United States, 911 F.3d 397, 403 (7th Cir. 2018) (citing Gonzales, at 52930) (“[I]f a Rule 60(b) motion is asking for relief that would ordinarily be asked for in
a § 2255 petition, the motion is subject to the same restrictions or requirements as
successive habeas petitions.”). In practice, this means that a Rule 60(b) motion, if
being treated as a successive § 2255 petition, is not appropriately brought unless the
petitioner obtained permission to bring a successive petition.
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The Court may only exercise jurisdiction over Iroegbulem’s Rule 60(b) motion
if it is, in fact, a Rule 60(b) motion as opposed to a successive § 2255 petition. The
relevant inquiry is to determine “whether a claim presented … was also presented in
a prior application. If so, the claim must be dismissed.” Gonzales, 545 U.S. at 530.
The Supreme Court has clarified that a Rule 60(b) motion is subject to dismissal “if
it attacks the federal court’s previous resolution of a claim on the merits, since
alleging that the court erred in denying habeas relief on the merits is effectively
indistinguishable from alleging that the movant is, under the substantive provisions
of the statutes, entitled to habeas relief.” Id. at 532 (emphasis in original).
Iroegbulem’s Rule 60(b) motion argues the Court did not properly consider the
merits of his argument that §§ 1591(a)(1) and (2) are vague, confusing, and do not
provide a criminal defendant with proper notice of the charges against him. R. 24 at
1-3. He also argues the government “deceptively failed to apprise the court that the
Seventh Circuit jury instructions given to Iroegbulem days before trial was scheduled
to occur removed the ‘commerce element’ from the beginning of [the statutes] and
repositioned it at the end.” Id. at 2. This error, Iroegbulem contends, is “why [he]
asserted that § 1591 fails to provide notice” in his § 2255 petition.
The Court has already ruled on Iroegbulem’s arguments, and he does not
present any procedural issue within the habeas proceedings which warrants relief
under Rule 60(b). In its initial order denying habeas relief, the Court held the conduct
prohibited by § 1591(a) is clear. See R. 22 at 14 (citing United States v. Biancofiori,
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2018 WL 372172, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 11, 2018) and holding that “‘nothing in the way
[section 1591] is worded’ made it ‘impossible’ for the defendant ‘to have conformed
himself to the law.’”).1 The Court then spent three pages explaining the reasoning for
its finding that the statute is not unconstitutionally vague, that the statute
represents alternate means of committing the same offense, and that the indictment
in Iroegbulem’s case was not duplicitous. Id. at 13-16. These are the exact same
arguments Iroegbulem raises in the instant motion, and while he labeled it a Rule
60(b) motion, it is effectively a successive § 2255 petition for which he did not obtain
permission to file. See Sweeney v. United States, 754 Fed. Appx. 440, 441 (7th Cir.
2018) (citing Gonzales, 545 U.S. at 531 (“In a criminal case, a postjudgment motion
that substantively falls within the scope of a § 2255 motion must be treated as a
motion under [§ 2255], no matter how a prisoner labels it.”); Curry v. United States,
507 F.3d 603, 604 (7th Cir. 2007) (“Critically, it does not matter how a prisoner labels
Because Iroegbulem attacks the validity of his conviction, what he calls a Rule
60(b) motion is substantively a successive collateral attack under § 2255. Thus, the
Court does not have jurisdiction over the motion. Curry, 507 F.3d at 605 (“If a Rule
60(b) motion is really a successive postconviction claim, the district court will lack
jurisdiction unless the prisoner has first obtained our permission to file it.”).
Notably, the Court found Mr. Iroegbulem’s arguments in his supplemental § 2255
petition, which include the arguments outlined here, were time-barred. R. 22 at 13.
Nonetheless, the Court addressed the arguments and found they were meritless.
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Even if the Court were required to analyze the merits of Iroegbulem’s instant
motion, his argument that the proposed jury instructions contained an error and
confused him (and the Court) is of no consequence—Iroegbulem entered a guilty plea
pursuant to a plea agreement, was convicted and sentenced by the Court, and no jury
was ever involved in this case. Thus, the instruction he takes issue with was of course
never given, let alone discussed at an instructions conference, had no bearing on the
sentence he received or the calculation of that sentence, and certainly does not void
the Court’s ruling.
Because Iroegbulem’s Rule 60(b) motion is effectively a successive § 2255
petition which he did not obtain permission to bring, the Court lacks jurisdiction and
dismissal is required. The Rule 60(b) motion, R. 24, is denied.
Honorable Thomas M. Durkin
United States District Judge
Dated: May 9, 2022
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