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Meeks v. Kizziah

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville

November 13, 2019

GREGORY A. KIZZIAH, Warden, Respondent.



         Douglas Marcel Meeks, an inmate at USP Big Sandy in Inez, Kentucky, seeks to challenge his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. DE #1. Respondent Warden Gregory A. Kizziah responded (DE #13), and Meeks replied (DE #14).[1] This matter is ripe for review. Because Meeks seeks relief unavailable via § 2241, the Court dismisses his petition.


         In May 2009, a federal jury in the Southern District of Iowa convicted Meeks of conspiring to distribute at least 50 grams of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A) and 846 (Count 1) and distributing at least five grams of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(B) (Count 2). See United States v. Meeks, No. 3:08-cr-86-JAJ-TJS (2008), at ECF No. 93.

         Because the United States (before trial) had noticed its intent under 21 U.S.C. § 851 to seek sentence enhancement based on prior felony drug convictions, Meeks faced a mandatory minimum sentence of life incarceration on Count 1. See Id. at ECF No. 45 (§ 851 Notice).[2]

         On September 15, 2009, the district court-finding that Meeks's prior Cook County, Illinois convictions qualified as felony drug offenses for § 841(b)(1)(A) purposes-sentenced Meeks to life imprisonment on Count 1. The Iowa judge then sentenced Meeks to 360 months' imprisonment on Count 2, to run concurrently. Id. at ECF Nos. 143 (Sentencing Minutes), 145 (Judgment). The court further found that Meeks was a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines, § 4B1.1(a). See Id. at ECF No. 138 (Sealed Presentence Investigation Report (PIR)), [3]¶ 45; id. at ECF No. 143 (adopting PIR findings and noting Meeks's career offender status).[4] The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed Meeks's conviction and life sentence, see Id. at ECF No. 166, and subsequent efforts (per § 2255 and otherwise) to obtain relief from his sentence have failed. Meeks now endeavors to collaterally attack his sentence in a § 2241 petition, asserting that he is permitted to do so by the “savings clause”[5] provision within 28 U.S.C. § 2255.


         Federal prisoners generally may not use § 2241 to collaterally attack their sentences, as Meeks seeks to do. See United States v. Peterman, 249 F.3d 458, 461 (6th Cir. 2001). Section 2255 is the proper vehicle for collaterally asserting perceived detention illegality; § 2241, rather, is reserved “for claims challenging the execution or manner in which the sentence is served[, ]” such as those involving sentence credit computation issues. Id. Critically, a § 2241 petition does not function as an additional or alternative remedy to the one available under § 2255. Hernandez v. Lamanna, 16 Fed.Appx. 317, 320 (6th Cir. 2001).

         The only-extraordinarily narrow-exception to this rule is found in § 2255(e), known as the “savings clause.” The savings clause permits a petitioner to seek a writ of habeas corpus under § 2241 if it “appears that the remedy by [§ 2255] motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of [the prisoner's] detention.” § 2255(e); see Truss v. Davis, 115 Fed.Appx. 772, 773-74 (6th Cir. 2004). A § 2255 motion is not “inadequate or ineffective” simply because the prisoner's time to file a § 2255 motion has passed, he did not file a § 2255 motion, or a previous § 2255 motion failed. See Copeland v. Hemingway, 36 Fed.Appx. 793, 795 (6th Cir. 2002); Taylor v. Gilkey, 314 F.3d 832, 835 (7th Cir. 2002) (holding that § 2241 is available “only when a structural problem in § 2255 forecloses even one round of effective collateral review”). In other words, § 2241 does not provide prisoners another “bite at the apple.” Hernandez, 16 Fed.Appx. at 360. “It is the petitioner's burden to establish that his remedy under Section 2255 is inadequate or ineffective.” Martin v. Perez, 319 F.3d 799, 803 (6th Cir. 2003) (citation and footnote omitted).

         These § 2241 and savings clause limits have, historically, applied with special vigor to sentencing challenges. Peterman, 249 F.3d at 462; Hayes, 473 Fed.Appx. at 502 (“The savings clause of section 2255(e) does not apply to sentencing claims.”). However, the Sixth Circuit (like several others) has permitted such claims to proceed through § 2255(e) where a new Supreme Court decision-i.e., one issued after the petitioner exhausted his direct appeal and initial § 2255 motion opportunities-clears a path through binding Circuit precedent, thus opening the door to an argument previously unavailable to the petitioner. See Wright, 939 F.3d at 703 (discussing Martin, 319 F.3d at 804-05) (“[I]n this circuit, a federal prisoner who has already filed a § 2255 motion and cannot file another one cannot access § 2241 just because a new Supreme Court case hints his conviction or sentence may be defective . . . [T]he prisoner must also show that binding adverse precedent (or some greater obstacle) left him with no reasonable opportunity to make his argument earlier, either when he” appealed his conviction or initially sought § 2255 relief.) (emphases, quotation marks, and citations omitted); accord Hill, 836 F.3d at 595 (permitting the petitioner “to petition under § 2241 based on a misapplied sentence” where, among other things, his argument for relief hinged on a retroactive “case of statutory interpretation” that “could not have been invoked in [his] initial § 2255 motion”).[6]

         Meeks's arguments (broadly, challenging his life sentence) fall generally into two categories: (1) challenges to the district court's career-offender determination; and (2) challenges to the district court's statutory sentence enhancement under §§ 841(b)(1)(A) and 851 (for ease of reference, the “§ 851 enhancement”). For the reasons that follow, neither argument set is cognizable in this § 2241 petition.


         First, Meeks argues that Descamps v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013) and Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016) require categorical analysis of his 2001 Cook County and 2008 Scott County convictions, disqualifying them as career-offender predicate offenses. Meeks fails to assert any obstacle to challenging these at or after sentencing.

         Meeks's inability to specifically cite Descamps or Mathis at the time of his appeal or § 2255 effort is insufficient to demonstrate that he had no reasonable prior opportunity to argue that categorical analysis applied to his career-offender predicate convictions. See Wright, 939 F.3d at 705 (“To be sure, Wright could not cite Mathis, specifically, before it existed. But a claim for habeas relief is more than the talismanic force of a new case name.”). Neither case created the categorical approach-each merely clarified it. “A new case matters only, if at all, because of the new legal arguments it makes available[, ]” id., and neither Mathis nor Descamps unearthed new legal ground. See, e.g., Mathis, 136 S.Ct. at 1151 (quoting Taylor v. United States, 110 S.Ct. 2143, 2159 (1990)) (“Taylor set out the ...

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