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King v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee Knoxville

December 19, 2016



         On June 19, 2014, Petitioner filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [Docs. 62, 64].[1] The petition challenges his armed career criminal designation in light of Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), a decision in which the Supreme Court invalidated the residual provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), for unconstitutional vagueness [Id. (suggesting that his prior aggravated burglary conviction no longer qualifies as a predicate violent felony)].

         On July 25, 2016, the United States responded with the suggestion that Petitioner's entitlement to relief hinges on whether Tennessee aggravated burglary remains susceptible to categorization as a violent felony under the ACCA enumerated offense clause [Doc. 65]. Noting the Sixth Circuit has agreed to address that very issue en banc in United States v. Stitt, 646 F. App'x 454 (6th Cir. 2016), the United States requests that the Court defer resolution of Petitioner's § 2255 motion pending the Sixth Circuit decision [Id.]. Petitioner, through counsel, field a reply in opposition to the requested stay on August 12, 2016 [Doc. 66].

         This Court agrees that the clarifications regarding the categorical approach outlined in Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), applies to post-conviction challenges raised prior to its issuance, see 136 S.Ct. at 2257 (“Our precedents make this a straightforward case.”); Chaidez v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 103, 107 (2013) (“[W]hen we apply a settled rule . . . a person [may] avail herself of the decision on collateral review.”); Whorton v. Bocking, 549 U.S. 406, 414-16 (2007) (explaining a decision that clarifies existing law “applies . . . on collateral review”), and, as a result, acknowledges that the decision could impact Petitioner's entitlement to collateral relief in light of Johnson.[2] It is unclear, however, whether the same should be read as overruling the Sixth Circuit holdings in United States v. Nance, 481 F.3d 882, 888 (6th Cir. 2007), or United States v. Priddy, 808 F.3d 676, 684 (6th Cir. 2015)-which held that Tennessee aggravated burglary categorically qualifies as a generic burglary under Descamps v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2276, 2285 (2013), and Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 599 (1990).[3]

         What, if any, impact Mathis has on the viability of Nance and Priddy is a question that the Sixth Circuit is likely answer in its impending en banc decision. To the extent that Petitioner invites this Court to preempt that decision with a determination of its own, it declines to do so. Instead, this Court holds only that: (1) differences between the Iowa burglary statute at issue in Mathis and the Tennessee aggravated burglary statute at issue in Nance, Priddy, and Stitt make it possible to distinguish the former from the latter; (2) that same possibility prevents this Court from saying that it is “powerfully convinced” that the Sixth Circuit will interpret Mathis as reversing its prior holdings in Nance and Priddy, meaning that this Court remains bound by those decisions; and (3) the fact that such a reversal nonetheless remains a possibility makes issuance of a stay appropriate under the circumstances.

         While it is true that this Court has an obligation to follow the Supreme Court where an intervening decision of that Court directly reverses an opinion of the Court of Appeals or implicitly reverses the same through a case with indistinguishable facts, In re Higgins, 159 B.R. 212, 215 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 13, 1993), such is not the case here. In cases like the instant one-where the intervening decision neither expressly nor implicitly overrules the prior Court of Appeals decision, a district court must “be extremely careful in concluding that circuit precedent is no longer good law, ” Id. at 216 (quoting Rodriguez v. Bowen, 678 F.Supp. 1456, 1462 (E.D. Cal. 1988), and should only deviate from such authority where it is “powerfully convinced that the circuit will overrule itself at the next available opportunity, ” Beard v. Whitley Cnty. REMC, 656 F.Supp. 1461, 1471 (N.D. Ind. 1987), aff'd, 840 F.2d 405 (7th Cir. 1988). Stated another way, “sub silentio overruling of a Court of Appeals decision by a Supreme Court case resting on different facts is a rare occurrence, ” and thus requires strong, objective evidence that the “higher court would repudiate [its holding] if given a chance to do so.” In re Higgins, 159 B.R. at 216 (quoting Norris v. United States, 687 F.2d 899, 904 (7th Cir. 1982)).

         In Mathis, the Supreme Court held: (1) a prior conviction cannot qualify as a predicate offense under the enumerated-offense clause if an element of the crime of conviction is made broader than an element of the generic offense by way of an enumerated list of alternative factual means for satisfying a single indivisible element; and (2) Iowa's burglary statute-which defined “structure” as “any building, structure, [or] land, water, or air vehicle, or similar place adapted for overnight accommodation of persons, or occupied by persons for the purpose of carrying on business or other activity therein, or for the storage or safekeeping of anything of value”-was incapable of supporting ACCA enhancement because the provision was both indivisible and overbroad. Mathis, 136 S.Ct. at 2251-52, 2256-57.[4] In reaching the first conclusion, the Supreme Court expressly overruled the Sixth Circuit's holding in United States v. Ozier, 796 F.3d 597 (6th Cir. 2015). Id. at 2251 n.1 (noting the existence of a circuit split about whether the modified categorical approach could be used to distinguish between differing factual means of satisfying a single statutory element, reversing Sixth Circuit's decision on the issue in Ozier).

         To the extent Petitioner suggests that the Supreme Court's reversal of Ozier should be read as an implicit reversal of Nance and Priddy, it is far from clear that such is the case. Unlike Ozier-which held that Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-14-403 was divisible and only a handful of its variants qualified as violent felonies under the enumerated-offense clause, 796 F.3d at 601- 02, Nance and Priddy make no reference to divisibility. To the contrary, Nance and Priddy operate under the opposite assumption-that Tennessee Code Annotated 39-14-401(1) is indivisible- before concluding that the entirety of that indivisible provision constitutes generic burglary. Priddy, 808 F.3d at 684; Nance, 481 F.3d at 887-88. As a result, a viable argument can be made that the Mathis decision merely confirmed a central underlying assumption in Nance and Priddy- that Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-14-403 is in fact indivisible.

         To the extent Petitioner suggests that designating the Iowa burglary statute broader than generic burglary invariably compels the same conclusion with respect to the definition of “habitation” in Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-14-401(1), distinctions between the provisions make such a conclusion uncertain. Generic burglary includes any conviction, “having the basic elements of unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in, a building or structure, with intent to commit a crime.” Taylor, 495 U.S. at 599. This “uniform definition” was intended to “approximate” the Model Penal Code and encompass “the criminal codes of most States, ” Id. at 598 n. 8. At the time the Supreme Court adopted the above definition, the Model Penal Code defined burglary as “enter[ing] a building or occupied structure, or separately secured or occupied portion thereof, with the purpose [of] commit[ing] a crime therein, ” Model Penal Code § 221.1 (1990), and defined “occupied structure” as “any structure, vehicle or place adapted for overnight accommodation of persons, or for carrying on business therein, whether or not a person is actually present, ” Id. at § 221.0.[5] The Iowa definition of “structure, ” which includes “any . . . land, water, or air vehicle . . . adapted . . . for the storage or safekeeping of anything of value, ” differs from the Tennessee definition of “habitation” in that the latter reaches only those trailers, tents, or self-propelled vehicles that are designed or adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons.[6] As such, only the Tennessee statute categorically aligns with the Model Penal Code; differing scope of the provisions could provide grounds for the Sixth Circuit to conclude that the Iowa provision alone criminalizes conduct in excess of generic burglary.[7]

         The fact that reasonable arguments could be made to distinguish Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-14-403(a) and Iowa Code Ann. 702.12 prevents this Court from saying with sufficient conviction that the Sixth Circuit will read Mathis as reversing Nance or Priddy. While this Court lacks sufficient evidence to conclude ad initio that the Sixth Circuit will reverse its prior holdings, it agrees that such a reversal remains a possibility. For that reason, the United States's request for a stay [Doc. 65] is GRANTED and the action [E.D. Tenn. Case No. 3:16-CV-277-PLR] is STAYED pending issuance of the Sixth Circuit's en banc decision in Stitt. The parties are DIRECTED to file a joint status report within thirty (30) days of that decision.

         IT IS SO ORDERED.



[1] On February 11, 2016, Federal Defender Services of Eastern Tennessee (“FDS”) was appointed for the limited purpose of reviewing the case to determine whether or not Petitioner is eligible for collateral relief based upon Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015). See E.D. Tenn. SO-16-02 (Feb. 11, 2016). Consistent with that appointment, FDSET supplemented its earlier-filed petition-which relied on Descamps v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013) [Doc. 62], with a claim based on Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015) [Doc. 64].

[2] Unlike a new rule of law, the Mathis decision does not trigger a renewed one-year limitation period under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(3). See, e.g., Figuereo-Sanchez v. United States, 678 F.3d 1203, 1207 n. 4 (11th Cir. 2012) (“If the decision merely clarifies an old rule . . . then the decision applies [on collateral review]. However, under such circumstances the ...

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