United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
inmate James Sanders, proceeding pro se, seeks
habeas relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241.
Specifically, Sanders contends that the United States Supreme
Court's ruling in Dean v. United States, 137
S.Ct. 1170 (2017), combined with the Sixth Circuit Court of
Appeal's decision in Hill v. Masters, 836 F.3d
591 (6th Cir. 2016), entitles him to resentencing. For the
reasons that follow, Sanders's habeas petition is
August 2005, Sanders pled guilty to three counts of
conviction: (1) possession with intent to distribute fifty
grams or more of a mixture of methamphetamine and aiding and
abetting in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 18
U.S.C. § 2; (2) possession of a firearm during and in
relation to a drug trafficking crime and aiding and abetting
in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A) and 2;
and (3) being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation
of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). See United States v.
Sanders, No. 1:04-cr-25-GNS (W.D. Ky. 2005), R. 63
therein. Thereafter, the sentencing court sentenced Sanders
to a term of 188 months' imprisonment on the drug
offense, followed by a consecutive mandatory sentence of 60
months on the gun offenses, for a total term of imprisonment
of 248 months. Id. Sanders did not appeal.
did file a § 2255 motion to vacate his sentence, which
the sentencing court denied because Sanders's claims with
either meritless or barred by the waiver in his plea
agreement. See Id. at R. 112 therein. Sanders then
petitioned the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for leave to
file a second or successive § 2255 motion based on
Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015).
However, the Sixth Circuit denied those requests. See In
re: James Edward Sanders, Nos. 16-5954/6323 (6th Cir.
2016). Sanders now seeks relief in this Court by way of the
instant 28 U.S.C. § 2241 petition, which is before the
Court for a preliminary screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2243. [See R. 1.]
§ 2241 petition will be denied upon a district
court's initial screening “if it plainly appears
from the petition and any attached exhibits that the
petitioner is not entitled to relief.” Rule 4 of the
Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the United States
District Courts (applicable to § 2241 petitions pursuant
to Rule 1(b)). The Court evaluates Sanders's petition
under a more lenient standard because he is proceeding
without an attorney, and the Court, at this stage of the
proceedings, accepts his factual allegations as true and
construes all legal claims in his favor. See Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).
reviewing Sanders's petition, the Court finds Sanders is
not entitled to relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 despite
the leniency afforded to pro se petitioners. In his
petition, Sanders describes his claim as follows:
“Whether, in light of Dean v. United States,
137 S.Ct. 1170 (2017), Sanders must be resentenced to a
five-year sentence under section 924(c) and one-day sentence
for the predicate crime.” [R. 1-1 at 2.] Sanders goes
on to assert that both Hill v. Masters, 836 F.3d 591
(6th Cir. 2016), and the savings clause set forth in 28
U.S.C. § 2255(e) apply to his claim. [Id. at
7-8.] But Sanders is mistaken about how Dean,
Hill, and the § 2255 savings clause operate.
a federal prisoner may challenge the legality of his sentence
on direct appeal and through a timely § 2255 motion to
vacate, he generally may not do so in a § 2241 petition.
See United States v. Peterman, 249 F.3d 458, 461
(6th Cir. 2001) (explaining the distinction between a §
2255 motion and a § 2241 habeas petition). After all, a
§ 2241 petition is typically only a vehicle for
challenges to actions taken by prison officials that affect
the way a prisoner's sentence is being carried out, such
as computing sentence credits or determining parole
eligibility. See Terrell v. United States, 564 F.3d
442, 447 (6th Cir. 2009). An exception to this general rule
exists when a prisoner's remedy under § 2255 is
inadequate or ineffective, and where the prisoner can
demonstrate that an intervening change in statutory law
establishes his actual innocence. See Wooten v.
Cauley, 677 F.3d 303, 307-08 (6th Cir. 2012).
Hill v. Masters, the Sixth Circuit held that a
petitioner can use § 2241 to challenge his sentence if
he can show: “(1) a case of statutory interpretation,
(2) that is retroactive and could not have been invoked in
the initial § 2255 motion, and (3) that the misapplied
sentence presents an error sufficiently grave to be deemed a
miscarriage of justice or a fundamental defect.” 836
F.3d at 595. Sanders contends that Dean v. United
States constitutes such a retroactive case of statutory
interpretation and, thus, that his challenge falls within
Hill's framework. But the Sixth Circuit has
already clarified otherwise.
Dean, the Supreme Court held that 18 U.S.C. §
924(c) does not restrict a sentencing court from considering
a mandatory minimum sentence imposed under that statute when
determining sentences for the predicate convictions that do
not have mandatory minimums. See 137 S.Ct. at
1176-77. Sanders suggests that he should be resentenced based
on the sentencing court's discretion, as recognized in
Dean, to consider his mandatory minimum and
consecutive sentences when determining the total length of
his sentence. Unfortunately for Sanders, the Sixth Circuit
held last year that this argument, based on Dean,
“does not involve a ‘misapplied sentence' as
discussed in Hill.” See Bennett v.
Terris, No. 17-2308, 2018 WL 5749202, at *2 (6th Cir.
July 13, 2018). Describing the Bennett
petitioner's attempted § 2241 challenge, the Sixth
In Hill, the focus was a sentence that had been
enhanced by the petitioner's career-offender status based
on a conviction that he argued no longer qualified as a
“crime of violence” under the Sentencing
Guidelines. Here, Bennett does not argue that application of
Dean would eliminate any of his § 924(c)
convictions … He is, at best, arguing that the
district court might, with the benefit of Dean,
exercise its discretion to formulate a sentence on the
non-mandatory predicate convictions in a different way than
it actually did.
Id. The Sixth Circuit went on to explain that,
accordingly, Bennett could not show a “misapplied
sentence” that “presents an error sufficiently
grave to be deemed a miscarriage of justice or a fundamental
defect.” Id. (quoting Hill, 836 F.3d
at 591, 595).
challenge mirrors Bennett's and thus falls
outside of the relief Hill contemplates. Like the
Bennett petitioner, Sanders does not argue that he
is actually innocent of any of his offenses of conviction,
nor does he claim the Supreme Court's Dean
decision eliminates any of his convictions. [See R.
1-1.] Sanders argues only that, in theory, the trial court
could have made a different decision about the length of his
sentence for the drug crime. For all of the reasons
articulated above, this theory does not provide Sanders
relief. See Bennett, 2018 WL 5749202, at *2; see
also Habeck v. United States, 741 Fed.Appx. 953 (4th
Cir. 2018) (explaining Dean has not been held to
apply retroactively to cases on ...