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Lewis v. Tennis

June 17, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: DuBOIS, J.



Leon Lewis was found guilty by a jury of thirteen counts of robbery, four counts of criminal conspiracy and five violations of the Uniform Firearms Act (V.U.F.A.) for carrying a firearm on public streets and, on June 3, 2004, was sentenced to an aggregate term of 120 to 140 years incarceration. Commonwealth v. Lewis, No. 1850 EDA 1999 slip op. at 1 -3 (Pa. Super. Ct. Oct. 12, 2000). After direct appeals, and after seeking relief pursuant to the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), Lewis filed a pro se petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in this Court on September 8, 2008. United States Magistrate Judge M. Faith Angell submitted to the Court a Report and Recommendation dated February 2, 2010 ("R & R") in which she recommended that the Petition be dismissed. Lewis filed an Objection to Report and Recommendation on February 18, 2010 and an Amended Objection to Report and Recommendation on May 12, 2010.

By Memorandum and Order dated May 12, 2010 this Court sustained in part and overruled in part Lewis's Objection. Among other things, the Court overruled Lewis's objections to the conclusion in the R & R that Grounds One through Five were procedurally barred, approved and adopted the R & R with respect to those claims, and dismissed Grounds One through Five. See Lewis v. Tennis, No. 08-4498, 2010 WL 1946942 (E.D. Pa. May 12, 2010). Presently before the Court is Lewis's Motion for Relief from Judgment or Order -- Reconsideration, filed on May 24, 2010, in which he disputes the basis of the Court's analysis dismissing Grounds One through Four.*fn1

For the reasons set forth below, Lewis's motion is denied.


The facts of this case are described in both the R & R and the Court's Memorandum of May 12, 2010. The Court will not repeat them in this Memorandum except as is necessary to explain its ruling on Lewis's motion.

A. Rule 60(b) and Second or Successive Habeas Petitions under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty

Act Lewis's Motion seeks relief pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4) and 60(b)(6). Before addressing the merits of a Rule 60(b) motion, the Court must first determine whether it is, in essence, a successive 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas petition. Such a ruling is required because the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2241 et seq., requires a petitioner to obtain a certification from the Court of Appeals authorizing the District Court to address a successive habeas petition. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3)).

Whether a Rule 60(b) motion should be treated as a successive habeas petition is based on whether the petitioner is challenging a previous habeas petition or his underlying conviction. Only when the motion challenges the manner in which an earlier habeas corpus judgment was procured can it be adjudicated on the merits without Court of Appeals authorization. Pridgen v. Shannon, 380 F.3d 721, 727 (3d Cir. 2004). When a Rule 60(b) motion "seeks to collaterally attack the petitioner's underlying conviction, the motion should be treated as a successive habeas petition." Id. See also Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 531 (2005) ("a motion [which] contend[s] that a subsequent change in substantive law is a 'reason justifying relief'.... although labeled a Rule 60(b) motion, is in substance a successive habeas petition and should be treated accordingly").

The Court's May 12, 2010 Memorandum and Order concluded that Grounds One through Four of Lewis's habeas petition were procedurally barred because Lewis failed to present both the factual and legal bases of those grounds in state court.*fn2 Lewis's Rule 60(b) motion challenges this conclusion. He contends that he did, in fact, present the legal and factual bases of Grounds One through Four to the state courts. In support, he attaches a copy of the brief he filed in his appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania pursuant to the commonwealth's Post-Conviction Relief Act. Because Lewis's motion is focused on the manner in which his habeas petition was denied, and does not present new arguments challenging his underlying conviction, it is not a second or successive habeas petition under the AEDPA. Accordingly, the Court now turns to the merits of his motion.

B. The Legal Standard Governing Motions Filed Pursuant to Rules 60(b)(4) and 60(b)(6)

Rule 60(b) allows a party to seek relief from a final judgment under a limited set of circumstances, including fraud, mistake, and newly discovered evidence. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b).*fn3 The general purpose of the Rule is "to strike a proper balance between the conflicting principles that litigation must be brought to an end and that justice must be done." Boughner v. Sec'y of Health, Educ. and Welfare, 572 F.2d 976, 977 (3d Cir.1978). "The decision to grant or deny relief pursuant to Rule 60(b) lies in the 'sound discretion of the trial court guided by accepted legal principles applied in light of all the relevant circumstances.'" United States v. Hernandez, 158 F. Supp. 2d 388, 392 (D. Del. 2001) (quoting Ross v. Meagan, 638 F.2d 646, 648 (3d Cir.1981)). Rule 60(b) motions must be filed within a "reasonable time" after the judgment, order or proceeding was entered.

To prevail on a Rule 60(b)(4) motion, a plaintiff must show that "the judgment is void." Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(4). A judgment is void and subject to relief under Rule 60(b)(4) only if the court that rendered it lacked jurisdiction to do so, or entered a decree that was beyond the court's power to render. Marshall v. Board of Educ., 575 F.2d 417, 422 (3d Cir.1978). A judgment is not void and not within the purview of Rule ...

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