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James v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

August 29, 2019



          Leon Jordan United States District Judge

         Before the Court are Petitioner Quincy Dee James's pro se motion to vacate, set aside or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, and the United States' response in opposition [Docs. 1, 4].[1] Also pending before the Court are Petitioner's motions to supplement the record [Doc. 2] and for leave to supplement/amend claim three [Doc. 5], and the United States' response in opposition to Petitioner's latter motion [Doc. 7]. For the reasons that follow, the Court will DENY Petitioner's motions to supplement the record [Doc. 2] and for leave to supplement/amend [Doc. 5] and also will DENY and DISMISS his § 2255 motion [Doc. 1].


         On April 14, 2015, a grand jury issued a four-count indictment charging Petitioner with three counts of distribution of a quantity of cocaine, each in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C) (Counts 1, 2, and 3), and one count of possession with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine base, a violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B) (Count 4) [Doc. 1, Case No. 2:15-CR-25]. The parties entered into a plea agreement under Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, [2] in which Petitioner agreed to plead guilty to Count 4; the United States agreed to move to dismiss the remaining counts at sentencing, and the parties agreed to a 180-month sentence [Doc. 10, Case No. 2:15-CR-25].

         The Court draws the facts from those to which Petitioner stipulated, as contained in the factual basis in the plea agreement [Id. ¶4]-facts that were repeated in his Revised Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) [Doc. 22 (sealed), Case No. 2:15-CR-25]. From February to August of 2014, law enforcement officials, using confidential sources and audio-recorded conversations, conducted undercover drug operations in Sullivan County, Tennessee. Over that six-month period, Petitioner and confidential sources engaged in two crack-cocaine transactions- one in February of 2014, and one in early August, 2014. In October, 2014, officers obtained and executed a search warrant for a local residence.

         During the execution of the search warrant, officers found at the residence 89.99 grams of crack cocaine in the hallway bathroom toilet and several glass measuring cups that, according to field tests, were positive for cocaine residue. Petitioner and a Jasmine Carr were present at the residence during the search. Ms. Carr told officers (and provided a written statement in accordance with her oral recitation) that Petitioner had been selling cocaine to several individuals. Ms. Carr also disclosed that Petitioner had told her that the police were coming, had scooped up a lot of crack cocaine lying near the kitchen sink, and had run to the hallway bathroom. (The drugs were recovered before they could be flushed down the toilet.)

         The controlled substance offense to which Petitioner agreed to plead guilty involved at least 112 grams but less than 196 grams of crack cocaine. Petitioner stipulated that he had incurred two prior felony drug convictions in the Sullivan County, Tennessee Criminal Court before he committed his federal offense-one on July 16, 2008, for possession of .5 grams or more of cocaine for resale, and one on September 12, 2008, for possession of .5 grams or more of cocaine within 1, 000 feet of a school zone, with the intent to deliver.

         After Petitioner pled guilty, a probation officer prepared Petitioner's PSR. The probation officer determined that Petitioner's base offense level for the stipulated quantity of crack cocaine was 26 [Doc. 22 at ¶ 25]. However, given Petitioner's two prior felony offenses for a controlled substance offense (per his stipulation), the probation officer found that Petitioner met the criteria for career offender status and that his resulting adjusted offense level was 34 [Id. at ¶ 31]. Petitioner received a total three-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility, which lowered his total offense level to 31 [Id. at ¶ 34]. Petitioner's criminal history category was VI, due to the career offender designation [Id. at ¶ 55]. Based on Petitioner's total offense level of 31 and his criminal history category of VI, his resulting Guidelines range was 188 to 235 months' imprisonment [Id. at ¶82]. The probation officer recognized that, if the Court accepted the terms of Petitioner's Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement, his guidelines sentence would be 180 months [Id. at 83].

         On October 20, 2015, Petitioner was sentenced, pursuant to the Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement, to the negotiated sentence of 180 months' imprisonment [Doc. 23, Minutes, Case No. 2:15-CR-25]. Judgment entered the next day [Doc. 24, Judgment]. Petitioner did not appeal, though he had 14 days to do so, see Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(A), but instead filed this motion to vacate on October 28, 2016, [3] alleging that, in four instances, his attorney gave him ineffective assistance [Doc. 1].


         As noted, Petitioner filed his barebones § 2255 motion on October 28, 2016, alleging claims of ineffective assistance [Doc. 1 at 4-8]. Although the motion is sparse in details, it does set forth the grounds upon which relief is requested (ineffective assistance of counsel). Petitioner's motion to supplement the record [Doc. 2], filed contemporaneously with his § 2255 motion, is different.

         Petitioner explains, in the motion to supplement, that he would like to file a memorandum of law in support of his § 2255 motion “in the very near future” and that he will make no attempt to assert additional claims [Doc. 2]. Petitioner's motion is open-ended as to time because he does not specify the date or the approximate period “in the very near future” that he intends to file the memorandum of law. Nor does Petitioner offer the grounds or supporting arguments he will include in his proposed memorandum of law, though he does pledge that he “will not attempt to submit additional claims [Id.].

         A motion must “state with particularity the grounds” for the motion, Fed.R.Civ.P. 7(b)(1)(b), and Petitioner's skeletal motion to supplement the record does not comply with that procedural requirement. Accordingly, Petitioner's motion for leave to supplement the record [Doc. 2] will be DENIED.


         Petitioner's motion to supplement/amend [Doc. 5] was filed on April 3, 2017, just shy of five months past the lapse of the limitations statute in § 2255(f)(1). The motion asserts a new attorney error, in that it maintains that counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that his prior conviction was not a “controlled substance offense” as that term is used in the career offender guideline [Id. at 3]. At the outset, the Court must determine whether Petitioner's motion is a supplemental pleading, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(d), or an amendment, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a), since he has styled it as both [Doc. 5].

         A. Motion to Supplement

         A supplement, under Rule 15(d), involves “any transaction, occurrence, or event that happened after the date of the pleading to be supplemented.” Id. The proposed supplement does not refer to any transaction, occurrence, or event subsequent to the filing of Petitioner's § 2255 motion. Instead, the allegations offered in the supplement are connected to Petitioner's criminal proceedings, specifically to his career offender designation in his PSR. The only offerings in the supplement that post-date the § 2255 motion are court decisions, such as Beckles, 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017), Molina-Martinez v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1338 (2016), Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), and Hinkle v. United States, 832 F.3d 569 (5th Cir. 2016) [Doc. 5 at 3-5]. The question then becomes whether judicial decisions qualify as “transactions, occurrences, or events.”

         The Sixth Circuit has supplied the answer:

The question in this case is whether intervening judicial decisions are the sort of “occurrences or event” to which Rule 15(d) refers. We think not. The purposes to which the rule is typically put support the conclusion that the appropriate bases for supplemental pleadings are new facts bearing on the relationship between the parties, rather than merely changes in law governing those facts.

Michael v. Ghee, 498 F.3d 372, 386 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting United States v. Hicks, 283 F.3d 380, 385-86 (D.C.Cir. 2002)).

         Petitioner is asserting a new claim for relief in his motion to supplement. Hence, Petitioner is not seeking to supplement his timely-filed § 2255 motion with post-filing facts, but instead to amend his § 2255 motion. The Court therefore finds that Petitioner's motion is not a true Rule 15(d) motion to supplement his collateral review petition, but instead is a motion to amend under Rule 15(a). Id. at 386 (instructing that “[a] Rule 15(a) motion for leave to amend the complaint, not a Rule 15(d) motion to supplement the pleading, is the appropriate mechanism through which a party may assert additional claims for relief”).

         B. Motion to Amend

         A federal prisoner has one year in which to file a § 2255 motion, including any amendments to the motion. Mayle v. Felix, 545 U.S. 644, 654 (2005) (citing to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, ¶ 6 (now § 2255(f)) as providing a “one-year limitation period in which to file a motion to vacate a federal conviction”); Howard v. United States, 533 F.3d 472, 475 (6th Cir. 2008) (“Any attempt to raise a new claim for relief in a Rule 15 motion to amend pleadings is subject to AEDPA's one-year statute of limitations.”). The one-year period commences on one of four triggering dates. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1)-(4). One and possibly two of those dates are pertinent in the determination as to whether Petitioner's proposed new claim is outside the one-year period set forth in § 2255(f)(1) and § 2255(f)(3).

         1. Section 2255 (f)(1)

         The triggering date in the first subsection of § 2255 is the date that a conviction becomes final. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1). As observed earlier in the Opinion, Petitioner did not file a direct appeal from his October 21, 2015, judgment of conviction. Therefore, Petitioner's conviction became final on November 5, 2015, upon the lapse of the 14-day period in which he could have filed a notice of appeal (October 22, 2015[4] 14 days = November 5, 2015). See Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(1)(A); Sanchez-Castellano v. United States, 358 F.3d 424, 428 (6th Cir. 2004) (holding that “the judgment becomes final upon the expiration of the period in which the defendant could have appealed to the court of appeals, even when no notice of appeal was filed”).

         This means that Petitioner had one year from November 5, 2015, i.e., until November 5, 2016, to file a timely § 2255 motion and any amendments under subsection one. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f) (“A 1-year period of limitation shall apply to a motion under this section.”). Petitioner filed his § 2255 motion on October 28, 2016, a week and a day before his statute of limitation under § 2255(f)(1) was due to expire. Petitioner's § 2255 motion was timely, but his proposed amendment, filed in March of 2017 [Doc. 5 at 7], was not timely under § 2255(f)(1).

         Petitioner argues that Rule 15(c) entitles him to amend his § 2255 motion based on the decision in Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017) [Id. at 3]. Rule 15(c) is the provision in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that governs amendments; that rule allows amendments that, under certain criteria, relate back to the date of the original pleading. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1).

         The ineffective-assistance claim raised in Petitioner's timely filed § 2255 motion was that counsel failed to use the Johnson holding, i.e., that the ACCA's residual clause was void as vague, to launch a void-for-vagueness attack on Petitioner's career offender designation under USSG 4B1.1 [Doc. 1 at 6]. The proposed ineffective-assistance claim in Petitioner's motion to amend is that counsel failed to object to his career-offender classification because his prior Tennessee conviction for possession of .5 grams or ...

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