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United States v. Combs

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

August 20, 2019



          David L. Bunning United States District Judge.


         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Larry S. Combs III's pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. # 68). Consistent with local practice, this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram for the purpose of reviewing the Motion and preparing a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”). On January 29, 2019, Judge Ingram issued his R&R, wherein he recommends that Defendant's Motion be denied. (Doc. # 85). Defendant having filed Objections to the R&R (Doc. # 88), and the United States having responded (Doc. # 89), the R&R is now ripe for the Court's review. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendant's Objections (Doc. # 88) are overruled and the R&R (Doc. # 85) is adopted as the findings of fact and conclusions of law of the Court.


         On December 1, 2017, Defendant Larry Combs pled guilty to conspiring to distribute heroin and crack cocaine. (Docs. # 29, 55, and 56). At sentencing, Defendant's counsel, Christopher L. Jackson, conceded that Combs qualified as a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines. (Doc. # 76 at 3). Defendant was sentenced to 138 months of imprisonment, to be followed by ten years of supervised release. (Docs. # 62 and 63). Defendant did not appeal his conviction or sentence. (Doc. # 68 at 2).

         On June 14, 2018, Defendant filed the instant Motion to Vacate, in which he raised three arguments. First, Defendant asserted that the federal prosecutor in his case failed to disclose exculpatory evidence in violation of his due process rights pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Id. at 4. Second, Defendant alleged that he was improperly classified as a career offender based on his prior conviction for drug trafficking in Ohio state court. Id. at 5. Third, Combs made several claims of ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAC”), including that his attorney performed deficiently by failing to challenge Defendant's conspiracy charge. (Doc. # 70 at 4). Defendant also claimed that his guilty plea-which included an appeal and collateral-attack waiver-was unknowing and unintelligent because his counsel was ineffective. (Doc. # 68 at 6). In support of his Motion to Vacate, Defendant submitted a memorandum, two exhibits, and a Supplement. (Docs. # 68-1, 68-2, and 70). The United States filed a Response in Opposition. (Doc. # 81) and Defendant submitted a Reply. (Doc. # 84).

         In his R&R, Judge Ingram found that by pleading guilty, Combs validly waived all claims other than ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAC”), and thus his Plea Agreement barred his Brady claim and his career-offender claim. (Doc. # 85 at 3-8). Judge Ingram also rejected Defendant's argument that his attorney was ineffective for failing to challenge Combs's classification as a career offender, finding that Defendant's prior trafficking conviction was sufficient to qualify as a career-offender predicate under United States v. Robinson, 333 Fed.Appx. 33 (6th Cir. 2009). Id. at 11. Finally, Judge Ingram found that Defendant's attorney had not been ineffective for failing to challenge the Indictment, which charged Defendant with conspiracy to violate the drug laws. Id. at 5-6.

         Defendant filed Objections to Judge Ingram's R&R on February 22, 2019. (Doc. # 88). The United States filed a Response to the Objections on March 8, 2019. (Doc. # 89).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court reviews de novo those portions of the R&R to which specific objections have been filed. Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th Cir. 1986). Where no objections are made, or the objections are vague or conclusory, the Court is not required to review under any standard. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985); United States v. Jenkins, No. 6:12-cr-13-GFVT, 2017 WL 3431834, at *1 (E.D. Ky. Aug. 8, 2017). The findings of fact and conclusions of law in the R&R to which Defendant has not objected are adopted as the Court's. Arn, 474 U.S. at 150.

         Allegations in pro se habeas complaints are held to a less stringent standard and are construed liberally, however “inartfully pleaded.” Franklin v. Rose, 765 F.2d 82, 84-85 (6th Cir. 1985) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). However, an objection that does “nothing more than state a disagreement with a Magistrate's suggested resolution, or simply summarizes what has been presented before, is not an ‘objection' as that term is used in this context.” United States v. Shephard, No. 5:09-cr-81-DLB, 2016 WL 9115464, at *1 (E.D. Ky. Sept. 18, 2016) (quoting VanDiver v. Martin, 304 F.Supp.2d 934, 938 (E.D. Mich. 2004)). Thus, “objections that merely restate arguments raised in the memoranda considered by the Magistrate Judge are not proper, and the Court may consider such repetitive arguments waived.” Holl v. Potter, No. C-1-09-618, 2011 WL 4337038, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 15, 2011). Where an objection is simply a repetition of what the magistrate judge has already considered, it fails “to put the Court on notice of any potential errors in the Magistrate's R&R.” Shephard, 2016 WL 9115464, at *1 (citing VanDiver, 304 F.Supp.2d at 938).

         B. Defendant's Objections[1] are overruled.

         i. Defendant's conspiracy ...

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