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Corbin v. Barnhart

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

November 20, 2019

JEREMIAH CORBIN, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN BARNHART, Respondent.

          OPINION & ORDER

          ROBERT E. WIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pro se Petitioner Jeremiah Corbin-a federal inmate[1]-seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. See DE 1. Corbin challenges his sentence's career offender enhancement. The Court conducts an initial review under 28 U.S.C. § 2243. For the following reasons and under the applicable standards, the Court DENIES the petition.[2]

         In September 2009, in the Southern District of Indiana, Corbin pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute 500 grams of a mixture containing methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) & 846 (Count One), and twice possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Counts Six and Seven). See United States v. Corbin, No. 2:08-cr-00014-WTL-CMM-8 (S.D. Ind.) (Corbin I), ECF Nos. 309 (Second Superseding Indictment), [3] 480 (Binding Plea Agreement). Prior to the plea, the Government filed a § 851 notice citing Corbin's two prior “felony drug offenses”; namely, 2002 and 2004 Indiana convictions for, respectively, meth possession and meth trafficking. Id. at ECF No. 277. In exchange for his plea, the Government agreed to amend the § 851 notice to remove one prior felony drug conviction. Id. at ECF No. 480, ¶ 5. The binding 11(c)(1)(C) agreement also provided that “a sentence within the range of 262 to 327 months' imprisonment and a term of supervised release and fine as imposed by the Court is the appropriate disposition of the case.” Id. at ¶ 2. For his part, Corbin agreed “not to contest, or seek to modify, his conviction or his sentence or the manner in which it was determined in any proceeding, including, but not limited to, an action brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.” See Id. at ¶ 11.

         In February 2010, the trial court imposed fully concurrent 262-month (on the § 846 conspiracy) and 120-month sentences (on each of the § 922(g)(1) counts). Id. at ECF No. 541 (Judgment). Corbin appealed his judgment and sentence. Id. at ECF No. 563 (Notice). In December 2010, the Seventh Circuit dismissed Corbin's appeal based on the plea agreement appellate waiver, noting that Corbin received a bottom-guideline sentence of 262 months and could not “maintain the benefit of the plea agreement while challenging other parts of his conviction, including his sentence.” United States v. Corbin, No. 10-1693, ECF No. 45 (7th Cir. Dec. 29, 2010, Order) (Corbin II).

         Five years later, in October 2015, Corbin, via § 2255 motion, challenged his USSG § 4B1.1 Career Offender enhancement. Corbin I, ECF No. 670 (Motion). Corbin argued that his two prior convictions for Resisting Law Enforcement could only qualify as “crimes of violence” under the § 4B1.2(a)(2) residual clause, and that the Supreme Court's invalidation of the ACCA residual clause in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) should extend to the comparable guideline provision. Id. During the pendency of Corbin's motion, the Supreme Court held to the contrary. See Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886, 894 (2017) (concluding that the advisory nature of the post-Booker Guidelines takes the § 4B1.2 residual clause outside Johnson's ambit). Accordingly, the trial court dismissed Corbin's motion. Corbin I, ECF No. 694 (“Entry Dismissing” § 2255).[4]

         Now before this Court, Corbin argues, again, that his career offender enhancement was erroneous. See DE 1-1. Corbin contends that Beckles was wrongly decided and/or subsequently overruled because “[t]he residual clause, as used in the guideline definition of crime of violence contained in 4B1.2, has been invalidated by the interplay of” United States v. LaBonte, 117 S.Ct. 1673 (1997), Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018), the 2015 Johnson decision, and 28 U.S.C. § 994(h). Id. at 8-11. Thus, per Corbin, the trial court improperly relied on the § 4B1.2 residual clause to enhance his sentence, notwithstanding Beckles. Id. The Court, upon thorough review and for the following reasons, finds that Corbin plainly is not entitled to relief.

         First-In his plea agreement, Corbin knowingly and voluntarily waived the right to appeal or collaterally attack the conviction or sentence. Such waivers are enforceable and apply to proceedings under § 2241. Slusser v. United States, 895 F.3d 437, 439 (6th Cir. 2018) (“It is well-settled that a knowing and voluntary waiver of a collateral attack is enforceable.”) (citing Watson v. United States, 165 F.3d 486, 489 (6th Cir. 1999)), cert. denied, No. 18-6807, 2019 WL 1005877 (Mem), at *1 (Mar. 4, 2019). For his conviction on the aggravated quantity meth-mixture trafficking conspiracy, given Corbin's prior felony drug offenses, Corbin, absent the Government's § 851-amendment promise, would have been subject to a “mandatory term of life imprisonment[.]” 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). Corbin bargained for and received a substantial reduction in the potential sentence he faced in exchange for, inter alia, his guilty plea and collateral attack waiver. The Seventh Circuit already enforced the waiver to bar Corbin's direct appeal. Corbin II, ECF No. 45. The waiver likewise applies here. Moser v. Quintana, No. CV 5:17-386-DCR, 2017 WL 5194507, at *2 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 9, 2017), aff'd, No. 17-6421 (6th Cir. June 21, 2018); Solis-Caceres v. Sepanek, No. 13-cv-21-HRW, 2013 WL 4017119, at *3 (E.D. Ky. Aug. 6, 2013) (collecting cases).[5] This is a threshold, but far from the only, fatal frailty.

         Second-Critically, Corbin's claim is not properly cognizable under § 2241. For sentencing challenges, this is the general rule. See United States v. Peterman, 249 F.3d 458, 461 (6th Cir. 2001). Section 2255 is the proper vehicle for collaterally attacking detention legality; § 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. Foundationally, a § 2241 petition does not function as an additional or alternative remedy to the one available under § 2255, a route Corbin already travelled. Hernandez v. Lamanna, 16 Fed.Appx. 317, 320 (6th Cir. 2001).

         Section 2255(e)'s so-called “savings clause”[6] provides an-extraordinarily narrow- exception to this rule. A § 2241 petitioner may invoke the savings clause by showing that the § 2255 remedy is “inadequate and ineffective to test the legality of [ ] detention[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e); Martin v. Perez, 319 F.3d 799, 803 (6th Cir. 2003) (The petitioner faces the § 2255(e) burden.). A prisoner does not clear the § 2255(e) hurdle simple because he failed to file (or timely file) a § 2255 motion or because a previous 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.

         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 . . . 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 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 a “petition under § 2241 based on a misapplied sentence” where, among other things, petitioner's argument for relief hinged on a retroactive “case of statutory interpretation” that “could not have been invoked in [his] initial § 2255 motion”).[7]

         Corbin, seeking passage through the savings clause gateway, points to Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016). See DE 1-1 at 3-4. Yet, Corbin fails to link the substance of his current claim-that his “Resisting Law Enforcement” convictions could only qualify as career-offender predicates under, in Corbin's view, the “invalidated residual clause” and thus that the trial court misapplied the § 4B1.1 enhancement (DE 1-1 at 11)-to any Mathis holding. Corbin, here, offers no argument that, e.g., the Indiana District Court erroneously looked beyond the elements of the state resisting convictions in finding them qualifying career offender predicates.[8] Thus, Mathis does not pertain and gives Corbin no ticket through the savings clause portal.

         Foundationally, Petitioner's argument relies on three Supreme Court cases and one statute. Any claim premised on Johnson, LaBonte (a 1997 decision), or 28 U.S.C. § 994-last modified in 2006, see Pub. L. No. 109-304, § 17(f)(1), 120 Stat. 1708 (Oct. 6, 2006)-was available to Corbin when he filed his § 2255 motion. In fact, Johnson was the central basis for Corbin's initial collateral attack. See Corbin I, ECF No. 670 at 14-15. Thus, to have any hope of savings clause passage, Corbin needed to show that Dimaya offered a previously unavailable legal theory undergirding his current claim. Wright, 939 F.3d at 705 (“A new case matters only, if at all, because of the new legal arguments it makes available.”). Petitioner presents no such showing. This, alone, dooms the petition. Purnell v. United States, 496 Fed.Appx. 596, 601 (6th Cir. 2012) (“[L]iberal construction of a pro se petitioner's pleadings does not require a court to conjure allegations on a litigant's behalf[.]” (quoting Martin v. Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 714 (6th Cir. 2004)).

         Further, Dimaya offers no novel gloss to Corbin's claim. Rather, Dimaya presents only a “straightforward application” of the “void-for-vagueness doctrine” that “Johnson employed.” 138 S.Ct. at 1213.[9] Corbin had an unimpeded opportunity to present a Johnson/Dimaya vagueness argument, as well as any perceived twist premised on LaBonte or § 994, in his § 2255 motion. Petitioner launched this variety of attack on his career offender enhancement. See Corbin I, ECF No. 670. Moreover, the trial court explicitly gave Corbin an opportunity to address Beckles's impact at that stage. See id., ECF No. 694. The fact that Corbin “failed to seize” the opportunity to present his current challenge to Beckles, or that the trial court rejected the initial Johnson argument, does not mean that Corbin can “now use [§ 2255(e)] to get another bite at the apple.” Wright, 939 F.3d at 706. In short, Corbin failed to establish that § 2255 “was ‘inadequate or ineffective' to test his sentence.” Id. (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e)).

         Third-Of course, Corbin is no incarcerated innocent. The negotiated plea deal allowed him to avoid a mandatory life term, driven by his prior (undisputed) drug felonies. His complaint over career offender status is a waived attack on guidelines application. Moreover, contrary to Corbin's take, Dimaya did not question the persisting validity of (indeed, did not even reference) and certainly did not overrule Beckles. See generally Dimaya, 138 S.Ct. 1204. The two cases simply concern different issues. See Warrick v. United States, No. 18-6252, 2019 WL 2299252, at *1 (6th Cir. Mar. 5, 2019) (The Beckles Court held “that the rule announced in Johnson does not apply to the career-offender guideline because the advisory sentencing guidelines ‘are not subject to a due process vagueness challenge.' . . . In Dimaya, the Supreme Court, relying on Johnson, determined that the residual clause definition of ‘crime of violence' contained in Section 16(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act was unconstitutionally vague.”). Thus, Beckles binds this Court and dictates “that the protections afforded by Johnson to defendants sentenced under the ACCA's residual clause cannot be extended to [a ...


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