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Leach v. Entzel

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

July 3, 2019

JAMES LEACH, Petitioner,
v.
FREDERICK ENTZEL, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING AND ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Procedural History

         The pro se[1] petitioner, James Leach, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. ECF No. 1. Petitioner is a federal inmate incarcerated at FCI Hazelton in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia. In his petition, petitioner challenges the validity of his sentence imposed by the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Missouri. ECF No. 1. The petitioner asserts that his prior convictions under Missouri law can no longer serve to subject him to a career offender offense. Id. at 5. For relief, petitioner requests that his sentence and/or conviction be vacated. Id. at 8.

         The action was referred to United States Magistrate Judge James E. Seibert for initial review and report and recommendation pursuant to Local Rule of Prisoner Litigation Procedure 2. The action was then reassigned to United States Magistrate Judge James P. Mazzone. The magistrate judge filed a report and recommendation recommending that petition be denied and dismissed without prejudice. ECF No. 8. The magistrate judge informed the petitioner that if he objected to any portion of the report and recommendation, he was required to file specific written objections within 14 days after being served with copies of the report and recommendation. The petitioner then filed untimely objections. ECF No. 11.

         For the reasons that follow, this Court finds that the report and recommendation of the magistrate judge should be adopted in its entirety.

         II. Applicable Law

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's recommendation to which an objection is timely made. As to those findings to which timely objections were not filed, all findings and recommendations will be upheld unless they are “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).

         III. Discussion

         Because the petitioner filed untimely objections to the report and recommendation, all findings and recommendations of the magistrate judge will be upheld unless they are “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Upon review of the report and recommendation, this Court finds no clear error in the determinations of the magistrate judge and thus upholds his recommendation to deny the petition and dismiss the petition without prejudice.

         As stated above, this Court finds that although the petitioner did file objections to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the objections were not timely filed. In reviewing the record, this Court finds that the service of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation was accepted on May 31, 2019. ECF No. 10. Petitioner's objections were filed on June 19, 2019. ECF No. 11. Thus, the petitioner's objections are untimely.

         However, this Court additionally notes that even if the petitioner had timely filed his proposed objections to the report and recommendation, it would not impact this Court's decision. In considering petitioner's untimely objections under a de novo review, this Court finds that because petitioner is challenging his sentence in a § 2241, he must meet all four prongs of the test established in United States v. Wheeler, 886 F.3d 415 (4th Cir. 2018), for this Court to have jurisdiction to hear his challenge on the merits. In his recommendation, the magistrate judge correctly found that the petitioner fails to meet the second prong of the Wheeler test. ECF No. 8 at 8. The magistrate judge also noted that petitioner's reliance on Mathis[2] is misplaced, as Mathis does not represent a substantive change in the law and has not been held to apply retroactively in this Circuit. Id. at 9. Additionally, the magistrate judge noted in his report and recommendation that petitioner's reliance on Johnson[3] is misguided. Id. Moreover, the magistrate judge correctly stated that even if petitioner could meet the second prong of the Wheeler test, he cannot meet the fourth prong, which requires a showing that due to a retroactive change in the law, his sentence now presents an error sufficiently grave to be deemed a fundamental defect. Lester v. Flournoy, 909 F.3d 708, 715 (4th Cir. 2018).

         In petitioner's untimely objections to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation (ECF No. 11), the petitioner objects to the magistrate judge's application and analysis of Mathis and further “objects on the basis that the R&R fails to Liberally Construe Petitioner's arguments as required by law.” ECF No. 11 at 2 (emphasis in original). Further, petitioner generally objects to the magistrate judge's analysis of Wheeler, and ultimately reiterates his previous arguments in stating that petitioner meets all four prongs of the Wheeler test.

         To address these objections, this Court finds that the magistrate judge expressly noted that as a pro se litigant, the petitioner's pleadings are accorded liberal construction and held to “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers” under Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). ECF No. 8 at 5. However, with this in mind, the magistrate judge determined that even under this less stringent standard, the petition in this case is subject to summary dismissal. Id.

         In Wheeler, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that § 2255(e) provides “an avenue for prisoners to test the legality of their sentences pursuant to § 2241, and Jones is applicable to fundamental sentencing errors, as well as undermined convictions.” Id. at 428. When contesting a sentence through a petition filed under § 2241, a petitioner still must meet the savings clause of § 2255. In the Fourth Circuit, § 2255 is deemed to ...


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