United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
ROBERT K. LAWSON, Petitioner,
WARDEN, FCI-Manchester, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. CALDWELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Robert K. Lawson is an inmate confined at the Federal
Correctional Institution (“FCI”)-Manchester in
Manchester, Kentucky. Proceeding without a lawyer, Lawson has
filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2241, seeking relief from his sentence. [R. 1]
This matter is before the Court to conduct the initial
screening required by 28 U.S.C. § 2243. Alexander v.
Northern Bureau of Prisons, 419 Fed.Appx. 544, 545 (6th
2004, pursuant to a plea agreement with the United States,
Lawson pled guilty in the United States District Court for
the Northern District of Ohio to one count of possession with
intent to distribute cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A), and 851 (Count One), one
count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine powder
in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B),
and 851 (Count Two), and one count of being a felon in
possession of a firearm in violation of § 922(g)(1)
(Count Three). Lawson was subject to statutory mandatory
minimum sentences of 240 months imprisonment on Count One and
120 months imprisonment on Count Two. At sentencing, the
sentencing Court determined that, based on prior felony drug
convictions, Lawson was a Career Offender under U.S.S.G.
§ 4B1.1, with an offense level of 37. The sentencing
Court reduced Lawson's offense level by three levels for
acceptance of responsibility to level 34. Lawson's
preliminary resulting advisory guideline range at Criminal
History Category VI was 262-327 months imprisonment. On July
23, 2004, the sentencing Court imposed a sentence of 262
months imprisonment. See United States v. Robert K.
Lawson, No. 1:03-cr-398-SL-1 (N.D. Ohio 2003) at R. 39,
did not directly appeal his conviction or sentence. However,
since his sentence was imposed, he has filed several motions
for relief from his sentence, including a motion to vacate
his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in August
2005, a motion for retroactive application of sentencing
guidelines to crack cocaine offenses under 18 U.S.C. §
3582 in July 2011, and a motion for a sentence reduction in
light of the First Step Act of 2018 in March 2019.
Id. at R. 27, 28, 34, 51. With the exception of a
reduction in his term of supervised release granted by the
sentencing Court in May 2019, Lawson's requests for
relief from his sentence have all been denied. However,
Lawson appealed the denial of his motion for a sentence
reduction in light of the First Step Act to the United States
Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which determined that
Lawson is eligible for a sentence reduction under the First
Step Act and remanded the matter to the District Court in
November 2019 for clarification of whether the Court denied
Lawson's motion because Lawson was ineligible for relief
or because, in its discretion, Lawson should not receive a
reduction. Id. at R. 68. In light of this remand,
the sentencing Court issued an order clarifying that,
although the First Step Act applies to Lawson, the court
exercised its discretion to deny a sentence reduction under
the First Step Act. Id. at R. 69. On December 19,
2019, Lawson, through counsel, filed a notice of appeal to
the Sixth Circuit of the sentencing Court's denial of
relief under the First Step Act. Id. at R. 73. This
appeal is currently pending before the Sixth Circuit.
§ 2241 petition filed in this Court on December 13,
2019, Lawson argues that, in light of the United States Court
of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit's decision in United
States v. Montanez, 442 F.3d 485 (6th Cir.
2006), his prior conviction for violation of Ohio R.C. §
2925.03(A)(6) no longer qualifies as a predicate
“controlled substance offense” for purposes of
his Career Offender designation under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1.
However, in September 2019 (prior to filing his § 2241
petition in this Court), Lawson filed a second motion to
vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in the sentencing
Court in which he raises the exact same arguments. See
United States v. Robert K. Lawson, No. 1:03-cr-398-SL-1
(N.D. Ohio 2003) at R. 63. After the United States filed a
response in opposition, id. at R. 67, the sentencing
court transferred Lawson's petition to the United States
Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1631 for a determination as to whether Lawson may file
a second or successive motion under § 2255. Id.
at R. 70. Lawson's request to file a second or successive
§ 2255 petition remains pending with the Sixth Circuit.
light of these circumstances, Lawson's § 2241
petition filed in this Court will be denied without prejudice
as premature because his motion for relief pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2255 remains pending. A federal prisoner
generally may not use a § 2241 petition to challenge the
legality of his sentence. See United States v.
Peterman, 249 F.3d 458, 461 (6th Cir. 2001). Rather, a
prisoner who wishes to challenge the legality of his
conviction or sentence must file a motion under § 2255.
Id. (explaining the distinction between a §
2255 motion and a § 2241 petition). A § 2241
petition may not be used for this purpose because it 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).
“savings clause” of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e)
creates an extraordinarily narrow exception to this
prohibition if the remedy afforded by § 2255 is
“inadequate or ineffective” to test the legality
of the prisoner's detention. Truss v. Davis, 115
Fed.Appx. 772, 773-74 (6th Cir. 2004). A motion under §
2255 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 he did
file such a motion and was denied relief. 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...”). Rather, to
properly invoke the savings clause, the petitioner must be
asserting a claim that he is “actually innocent”
of the underlying offense by showing that, after the
petitioner's conviction became final, the United States
Supreme Court issued a retroactively applicable decision
re-interpreting the substantive terms of the criminal statute
under which he was convicted in a manner that establishes
that his conduct did not violate the statute, Wooten v.
Cauley, 677 F.3d 303, 307-08 (6th Cir. 2012), or
establishing that - as a matter of statutory interpretation -
a prior conviction used to enhance his or her federal
sentence no longer qualifies as a valid predicate offense.
Hill v. Masters, 836 F.3d 591, 599-600 (6th Cir.
2016). However, “a federal prisoner cannot bring a
claim of actual innocence in a § 2241 petition through
the saving clause without showing that he had no prior
reasonable opportunity to bring his argument for
relief.” Wright v. Spaulding, 939 F.3d 695,
705 (6th Cir. 2019).
Lawson' petition to file a second or successive
§2255 petition challenging his conviction in light of
Montanez - the exact issue presented in his §
2241 petition - is presently pending before the Sixth
Circuit, rendering resort to a § 2241 petition to obtain
the same measure of relief in this Court premature. See
Pullen v. Ormond, No. 18-6171 (6th Cir. Sept.
5, 2019) (petitioner could not make a colorable argument that
his remedy under § 2255 was “inadequate or
ineffective” for purposes of filing a § 2241
petition when a pending § 2255 motion may render his
claims in his § 2241 petition moot). See also Smith
v. United States, 89 F.3d 835 (6th Cir. 1996)
Lawson's pending request to file a § 2255 petition
may render his claims in this proceeding moot, he must
complete the process of seeking relief via § 2255 before
he may make even a colorable argument that his remedy under
that section is “inadequate and ineffective.”
Charles v. Chandler, 180 F.3d 753, 756 (6th Cir.
1999); White v. Grondolsky, No. 6: 06-309-DCR, 2006
WL 2385358, at *3 (E.D. Ky. Aug. 17, 2006). Thus, the Court
will deny his petition, without prejudice, as premature.
Because this denial is without prejudice, Lawson remains free
to re-file his § 2241 petition should his efforts to
seek relief via his pending § 2255 petition fail.
the Court hereby ORDERS as follows:
1. Lawson's petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 [Record No. 1] is DENIED
2. This action is STRICKEN from the
3. A corresponding judgment will be entered ...