HAMILTON v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
OPINION. Signed by Judge Robert B. Kugler on 9/2/2015. (tf, n.m.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
SHANNON R. HAMILTON,
Civ. No. 15-6291 (RBK)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
ROBERT B. KUGLER, U.S.D.J.
Petitioner is a federal prisoner currently incarcerated at F.C.I. Fort Dix in Fort Dix, New
Jersey. He is proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2241. For the following reasons, the habeas petition will be summarily dismissed for a lack of
Petitioner is currently serving a federal sentence of 151 months imprisonment after he
pled guilty in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to five
counts of bank robbery in 2010. (See M.D. Pa. Crim. No. 10-0038.) On June 28, 2011, the
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed. See United States v. Hamilton,
434 F. App’x 149 (3d Cir. 2011). Subsequently, petitioner filed a motion to vacate, set aside or
correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in the Middle District of Pennsylvania that
raised ineffective assistance of counsel claims. (See M.D. Pa. Crim. No. 10-0038, Dkt. Nos. 54,
55 & 58.) The Middle District of Pennsylvania denied petitioner’s § 2255 motion on the merits
and denied a certificate of appealability. (See M.D. Pa. Crim. No. 10-0038, Dkt. Nos. 68 & 69.)
Petitioner appealed and the Third Circuit denied a certificate of appealability on August 13, 2013
(See id. Dkt. No. 73.)
In August, 2015, this Court received petitioner’s petition for writ of habeas corpus
pursuant to § 2241. Petitioner challenges his federal sentence in this habeas petition. He claims
that federal sentencing enhancements were improperly applied to him, most notably the fact that
the sentencing court applied a career criminal enhancement to his sentence. Petitioner also argues
that his counsel was ineffective by failing to “investigate mitigating circumstances in movant’s
priors which were adversely applied” to him. (Dkt. No. 1. at p. 19.) Petitioner requests that this
Court vacate his 151-month sentence and remand this matter for resentencing.
STANDARD FOR SUA SPONTE DISMISSAL
With respect to screening the instant petition, 28 U.S.C. § 2243 provides in relevant part:
A court, justice or judge entertaining an application for a writ of
habeas corpus shall forthwith award the writ or issue an order
directing the respondent to show cause why the writ should not be
granted, unless it appears from the application that the applicant or
person detained is not entitled thereto.
As petitioner is proceeding pro se, his petition is held to less stringent standards than those
pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Rainey v. Varner, 603 F.3d 189, 198 (3d Cir. 2010) (“It is the
policy of the courts to give a liberal construction to pro se habeas petitions.”) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted); United States v. Otero, 502 F.3d 331, 334 (3d Cir. 2007) (“we
construe pro se pleadings liberally.”) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)).
Nevertheless, “a district court is authorized to dismiss a [habeas] petition summarily when it
plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is
not entitled to relief in the district court[.]” Lonchar v. Thomas, 517 U.S. 314, 320 (1996).
Petitioner seeks to have this Court review his sentence entered by the Middle District of
Pennsylvania in this § 2241 petition. Indeed, as previously noted, petitioner seeks to have his
sentence vacated because he was allegedly improperly determined to be a career criminal which
enhanced his sentence and that his counsel failed to investigate whether he was a career criminal
as defined by the sentencing enhancement.
Generally, a challenge to the validity of a federal conviction or sentence must be brought
under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See Jackman v. Shartle, 535 F. App’x 87, 88 (3d Cir. 2013) (per
curiam) (citing Okereke v. United States, 307 F.3d 117, 120 (3d Cir. 2002)). This is generally
true because § 2255 prohibits a district court from entertaining a challenge to a prisoner’s federal
sentence through § 2241 unless the remedy under § 2255 is “inadequate or ineffective.” See 28
U.S.C. § 2255(e). Indeed, § 2255(e) states that:
[a]n application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a prisoner
who is authorized to apply for relief by motion pursuant to this
section, shall not be entertained if it appears that the applicant has
failed to apply for relief, by motion, to the court which sentenced
him, or that such a court has denied him relief, unless it also
appears that the remedy by the motion is inadequate or ineffective
to test the legality of his detention.
28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). A § 2255 motion is “inadequate or ineffective,” which permits a petitioner
to resort to a § 2241 petition, “only where the petitioner demonstrates that some limitation or
procedure would prevent a § 2255 proceeding from affording him a full hearing and adjudication
of his wrongful detention claim.” Cradle v. U.S. ex rel. Miner, 290 F.3d 536, 538 (3d Cir. 2002)
(citations omitted). However, “[s]ection 2255 is not inadequate or ineffective merely because the
sentencing court does not grant relief, the one-year statute of limitations has expired, or the
petitioner is unable to meet the stringent gatekeeping requirements of . . . § 2255.” Cradle, 290
F.3d at 539 (citations omitted). “It is the inefficacy of the remedy, not the personal inability to
use it, that is determinative.” Id. at 538 (citation omitted). “The provision exists to ensure that
petitioners have a fair opportunity to seek collateral relief, not to enable them to evade
procedural requirements.” Id. at 539 (citing In re Dorsainvil, 119 F.3d 245, 251-52 (3d Cir.
In Dorsainvil, the Third Circuit held that the remedy provided by § 2255 is “inadequate
or ineffective,” permitting resort to § 2241, where a prisoner who previously had filed a § 2255
motion on other grounds “had no earlier opportunity to challenge his conviction for a crime that
an intervening change in substantive law may negate[.]” 119 F.3d at 251. Nevertheless, the Third
Circuit emphasized that its holding was not suggesting that a § 2255 motion was “inadequate or
ineffective” merely because a petitioner is unable to meet the strict gatekeeping requirements of
§ 2255. See id. The “safety valve,” as stated in Dorsainvil, is a narrow one and has been held to
apply in situations where the prisoner has had no prior opportunity to challenge his conviction
for a crime later deemed to be non-criminal by an intervening change in the law. See Okereke,
307 F.3d at 120 (citing Dorsainvil, 119 F.3d at 251).
Petitioner does not allege facts which bring him within the Dorsainvil exception. He does
not allege that he had no earlier opportunity to challenge his conviction for a crime that an
intervening change in substantive law may negate. Instead, his claim is that the Middle District
of Pennsylvania improperly used prior convictions to find that he fell within the career criminal
sentencing enhancement and that his counsel failed to investigate whether he fell within the
enhancement. Such claims do not fall within the Dorsainvil exception. See Garcia v. Warden Ft.
Dix FCI, 596 F. App’x 79, 82 (3d Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (“Garcia’s career offender sentence
claim does not fall within the scope of the savings clause) (citing Okereke, 207 F.3d at 120);
Scott v. Shartle, 574 F. App’x 152, 155 (3d Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (“[B]ecause [petitioner] is
challenging his career offender designation and is not claiming that he is now innocent of the
predicate offense, he does not fall within the ‘safety valve’ exception created in In re Dorsainvil
and cannot proceed under § 2241.”) (citation omitted); McIntosh v. Shartle, 526 F. App’x 150,
152 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (“Here, McIntosh is challenging his designation as a career
offender. Thus, he does not fall within the exception created in Dorsainvil and may not proceed
under § 2241.”) (citation omitted); Johnson v. Scism, 454 F. App’x 87, 88 (3d Cir. 2012) (per
curiam) (same); United States v. Brown, 456 F. App'x 79, 81 (3d Cir.2012) (per curiam) (“We
have held that § 2255's ‘safety valve’ applies only in rare circumstances, such as when an
intervening change in the statute under which the petitioner was convicted renders the
petitioner's conduct non-criminal. Brown has not satisfied that standard here, as he makes no
allegation that he is actually innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, but instead
asserts only that he is ‘innocent’ of being a career offender.”) (internal citation omitted), Selby v.
Scism, 453 F. App'x 266, 268 (3d Cir.2011) (per curiam) (“Selby does not argue that he is
innocent of the offense for which he was convicted; he argues that he is “innocent” of a
sentencing enhancement because of an intervening change in law. Accordingly, the exception
described in In re Dorsainvil does not apply.”); Robinson v. Hollingsworth, No. 13–0101, 2013
WL 141441, at *2 (D.N.J. Jan.11, 2013) (“Section 2255 is not inadequate or ineffective for
Robinson's challenge to his sentencing enhancement as a career offender, however, because he
does not contend that, as a result of a Supreme Court decision issued subsequent to his § 2255
motion, the conduct for which he was convicted—possession with intent to distribute cocaine, is
not non-criminal.”); Crawford v. United States, No. 12–1545, 2012 WL 5199167, at *5 (D.N.J.
Oct.19, 2012) (“The safety valve under § 2255 does not apply when an inmate challenges the
enhancement of his sentence as Petitioner does here.”); see also Hazel v. Smith, 142 F. App’x
131, 132 (3d Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (“[C]laims of ineffective assistance of counsel . . . place his
petition squarely within the scope of § 2255. Section 2255 is not inadequate simply because
AEDPA’s gatekeeping restrictions prevent him from availing himself of it.”) (citing Cradle, 290
F.3d at 538-39; Dorsainvil, 19 F.3d at 251); Sedlak v. United States, No. 12-0285, 2012 WL
832984, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 14, 2012) (“[C]ases construing Dorsainvil, and interpreting the
interplay between the relief provided to federal prisoners under § 2255, and the remedy
conferred by the writ of habeas corpus under § 2241, agree that ‘Section 2241 is not available for
[a federal prisoner’s] ineffective assistance of counsel claim, as he has not demonstrated that
Section 2255 is an ‘inadequate or ineffective remedy.’”) (quoting Piggee v. Bledsoe, 412 F.
App’x 443, 446 (3d Cir. 2011) (per curiam)) (other citations omitted), report and
recommendation adopted by, 2012 WL 833028 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 12, 2012). Therefore, this Court
lacks jurisdiction to consider the instant habeas petition as the petition does not fall within the
Dorsainvil exception to permit this § 2241 habeas action moving forward in this Court.
Whenever a civil action is filed in a court that lacks jurisdiction, “the court shall, if it is in
the interests of justice, transfer such action . . . to any other such court in which the action . . .
could have been brought at the time it was filed.” 28 U.S.C. § 1631. In this case, the Court does
not find it in the interest of justice to transfer this habeas petition to the Third Circuit as a request
to file a second or successive § 2255 motion. However, such a finding does not prevent petitioner
from seeking leave from the Third Circuit to file a second or successive § 2255 motion should he
elect to do so.
For the foregoing reasons, the habeas petition will be summarily dismissed due to a lack
of jurisdiction. An appropriate order will be entered.
DATED: September 2, 2015
s/Robert B. Kugler
ROBERT B. KUGLER
United States District Judge
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