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Taylor v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

October 7, 2019

CHRISTOPHER JERMAINE TAYLOR, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are four motions filed by Petitioner Christopher Jermaine Taylor: a “Motion to Alter or Amend a Judgment Pursuant to Rule 59(e), ” a “Motion for Notice of Appeal and Request for Certificate of Appealability to Proceed In Forma Pauperis, ” and two motions to “Amend Notice of Appeal, Request for Certificate of Appealability, and to Proceed In Forma Pauperis.” Mot. to Alter or Amend, ECF No. 122; Mot. for Certificate of Appealability, ECF Nos. 124, 125; Mot. to Amend, ECF No. 128; Second Mot. to Amend, ECF 130. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Petitioner's first motion in its entirety. With respect to Petitioner's second motion, the Court DENIES his request for a certificate of appealability and DENIES AS MOOT his request to proceed on appeal in forma pauperis. The Court likewise DENIES AS MOOT Petitioner's third and fourth motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A complete retreading of the procedural and factual background of this case is unnecessary to resolve the narrow issues presented in Petitioner's motions. Nevertheless, it is worth briefly reviewing several relevant inflection points over the course of Petitioner's case. On February 3, 2015, Petitioner entered an informed guilty plea to an information charging him with conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin. See, e.g., Plea Hr'g, ECF No. 5. On September 8, 2015, this Court sentenced Petitioner to a term of imprisonment of 138 months and a period of supervised release of four years. Judgment, ECF No. 47. Nearly a year later-on June 8, 2016-Petitioner filed a “Motion to Vacate Illegal Conviction and Sentence” pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Mot. to Vacate, ECF No. 68, at 1. In his motion, Petitioner alleged that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel prior to entering his guilty plea and that the Court incorrectly applied a two-point gun enhancement to his calculated sentencing range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Id. at 4-8. After Petitioner had filed a flurry of further motions, Magistrate Judge Aboulhosn issued his Proposed Findings and Recommendation (“PF&R”) on April 2, 2019. PF&R, ECF 113, at 22. The Magistrate Judge concluded that Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims were without merit, and that his claims related to the two-point firearm enhancement were precluded by the appellate waiver contained in his plea agreement. Id. at 17, 19. Petitioner timely objected to the PF&R on April 15, 2019. Obj. to PF&R, ECF No. 108. This Court overruled these objections in its July 30, 2019 Memorandum Opinion and Order, and ordered Petitioner's case removed from its docket. Mem. Op. & Order, ECF No. 117, at 3.

         On August 30, 2019, Petitioner filed a “Motion to Alter or Amend a Judgment Pursuant to Rule 59(e).” Mot. to Alter or Amend, at 1. Petitioner avers that he received the Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order on August 2, 2019, and that his motion therefore falls within the 28-day window prescribed by Rule 59(e). Id. While he expresses disagreement with the Court's judgment with reference to several particularized issues, Petitioner's argument at core is that “the court adopted and denied his motion without merit.” Id. On September 9, 2019, Petitioner filed a “Motion for Notice of Appeal and Request for Certificate of Appealability to Proceed In Forma Pauperis.” Mot. for Certificate of Appealability, at 1. On September 16, Petitioner filed a motion to amend his earlier motion in order to argue that the Court abused its discretion in declining to hold an evidentiary hearing before denying his original motion to vacate his conviction under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Mot. to Amend, at 1. Finally, on September 23 Petitioner filed a second motion to further amend his original motion for a certificate of appealability to include allegations related to the Speedy Trial Act. Second Mot. to Amend, at 1. The Court will consider each motion in turn.

         II. DISCUSSION

         As Petitioner is proceeding pro se, the Court will liberally construe his filings. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). A liberal construction is not a boundless construction, however, and the Court will not craft Petitioner's legal arguments for him. Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). These principles guide the following discussion.

         A. “Motion to Alter or Amend a Judgment Pursuant to Rule 59(e)”

         a. Legal Standard

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a “motion to alter or amend a judgment must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). The purpose of Rule 59(e) is to permit “a district court to correct its own errors, sparing the parties and the appellate courts the burden of unnecessary appellate proceedings.” Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998) (citing Russell v. Delco Remy Div. of Gen. Motors Corp., 116 F.3d 746, 749 (7th Cir. 1995)) (internal quotations omitted). While the Federal Rules provide no standard by which to evaluate Rule 59(e) motions, the Court recognizes that “reconsideration of a judgment after its entry is an extraordinary remedy which should be used sparingly.” Id. With this standard in mind, relief may be granted only “(1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.” Hutchinson v. Staton, 994 F.2d 1076, 1081 (4th Cir. 1993). Importantly, a “party's mere disagreement with the court's ruling does not warrant a Rule 59(e) motion, and such motions should not be used to raise arguments which could have been raised prior to the issuance of the judgment, nor may they be used to argue a case under a novel legal theory that the party had the ability to address in the first instance.” Smith v. Donahoe, 917 F.Supp.2d. 562, 572 (E.D. Va. 2013) (internal quotations omitted); see also Durkin v. Taylor, 44 F.Supp. 879, 889 (E.D. Va. 1977).

         b. Petitioner's Motion

         In order to succeed on his Rule 59(e) motion, Petitioner must point to an “intervening change in controlling law, ” “new evidence not available at trial, ” “a clear error of law, ” or a need to “prevent manifest injustice.” See Hutchinson, 994 F.2d at 1081. While never explicitly stated in his motion, it appears Petitioner is asserting that this Court committed a clear legal error or that alteration of its decision will be necessary to prevent manifest injustice. As Petitioner's motion demonstrates, this is an argument without merit.

         At the outset, Petitioner uses his Motion to Alter or Amend to present many of the same well-worn legal and factual allegations that have formed the bulk of his previous filings. Once again, he argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in the days and weeks before his Plea Hearing and Sentencing. See Mot. to Alter or Amend, at 2-4. He repeats many of his original claims, essentially arguing that counsel was ineffective by encouraging him to enter into a plea agreement and failing to call witnesses and object to testimony at his Sentencing. See Id. (“Petitioner contends that counsel misled him and also the court to [sic] the understanding of the plea rendering counsel ineffective and the plea unknowingly [sic].”). He also renews his argument that a two-point gun enhancement was improperly applied to his calculated sentencing range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, though he offers no legal basis to counter the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that he had waived his right to appeal matters outside the ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 4.

         Even when considered in the most liberal possible light, Petitioner's motion fails to lay out any legally sufficient grounds to justify alteration or amendment of this Court's prior judgment. While Petitioner argues that “the court adopted and denied his motion without merit” and “knowingly adopted the Magistrates [sic] inaccurate recommendations to deny, ” id. at 1, a “party's mere disagreement with the court's ruling does not warrant a Rule 59(e) motion, ” Smith, 917 F.Supp.2d. at 572. Moreover, Petitioner's remaining arguments are simply recitations of claims already addressed in the PF&R that this Court adopted in its July 30, 2019 Memorandum Opinion and Order. The portions of the Memorandum Opinion and Order Petitioner specifically references are frequently inapposite to his motion, and often draw entirely baseless conclusions. For example, Petitioner argues that the Court acknowledged “Petitioner's motion has merits [sic]” when it noted that the PF&R did not address the merits of his two-point gun enhancement argument. See Mot. to Alter or Amend, at 2. The Court made no such finding, and only pointed out that the PF&R did not consider the merits of Petitioner's application because he had “waived any right to appeal this matter.” Mem. Op. & Order, at 3. Petitioner also attacks the Court's finding that his objections were general and conclusory, ...


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