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United States v. Schmutzler

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 17, 2017



          William W. Caldwell, United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Currently before this court is Defendant Jeffrey Schmutzler's pro se “Motion to Obtain Relief from Judgment or Order” (Doc. 146) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4). In the motion, Defendant seeks relief from our April 27, 2015 order (Doc. 79), in which we denied his motion (Doc. 72) to vacate his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons that follow, the instant motion will be denied.

         II. Background

         On April 3, 2013, Defendant was indicted for receiving child pornography (Count I) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2) and (b), as well as possessing child pornography (Count II) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B). (Doc. 19). On July 29, 2013, Defendant, represented by Lori J. Ulrich, Esquire, of the Federal Public Defender's Office, pleaded guilty to both counts of the indictment. (See Docs. 40 & 55).

         Prior to sentencing, Defendant retained a private attorney, Royce Morris, Esquire. Through private counsel, Defendant filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, (Doc. 53), in which he argued that he should be permitted to withdraw his plea on the grounds of selective prosecution and ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, he contended that because of his occupation as a school teacher, he was selectively prosecuted in federal court, rather than in state court where most child pornography offenses are prosecuted and where he would have received a lesser sentence. (Id. ¶¶ 9-15). In addition, he alleged that his public defender rendered ineffective assistance by failing to inform him of his right to challenge the indictment on grounds of selective prosecution. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8).

         The Government, in response, claimed that Defendant was prosecuted in federal court because his case was part of a federal investigation and therefore subject to federal law, sentencing guidelines, and punishment. (Doc. 56 at 14-15). This court, finding no factual support or legal merit to Defendant's argument, denied the motion to withdraw his guilty plea. (Docs. 57 & 58). Thereafter, on July 24, 2014, we sentenced Defendant to 108 months' imprisonment. (Docs. 65 & 67). Defendant filed a direct appeal on August 1, 2014, and on February 23, 2015, the Third Circuit affirmed his sentence and conviction. United States v. Schmutzler, 602 F. App'x 871 (3d Cir. 2015).[1] He did not seek a writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court.

         Since conclusion of the direct review process, Defendant has filed a multitude of motions seeking various forms of relief, none of which this Court, or any appellate court, has found meritorious. Pertinent to Defendant's instant motion is the motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, (Doc. 72), which he filed on March 20, 2015. In that motion, Defendant argued again that he was selectively prosecuted, claiming that most child pornography offenses are prosecuted in state court and that he was arbitrarily prosecuted in federal court based solely on the fact that he was implicated in a federal investigation. (Id. at 13). Defendant also asserted that the federal court lacked jurisdiction over the child pornography offenses and claimed that federal prosecutors violated principles of federalism by prosecuting him in federal court without first consulting with a state prosecutor to request that the state relinquish jurisdiction over the matter. (Id.). Defendant further argued that his public defender was ineffective for failing to raise selective prosecution as an objection, and also claimed that one of his privately retained attorneys provided ineffective assistance of counsel. (Id. at 14).

         On April 8, 2015, Defendant filed a brief (Doc. 75) in support of his § 2255 motion, and, thereafter, on April 22, 2015, the Government filed a brief (Doc. 77) in opposition. When the clerk's office docketed the Government's brief in opposition, a standard notation was placed on the docket stating “Reply Brief due by 5/11/2015.” (See Doc. 77 annotation). This notation appears to have been added without direction from the court.

         On April 27, 2015, this court issued a memorandum and order (Docs. 78 & 79), which denied Defendant's § 2255 motion on the merits and denied a certificate of appealability.[2] We found that Defendant could not establish selective prosecution because he did not provide clear evidence of similarly situated individuals who were not prosecuted in federal court. (Doc. 78 at 4-5). We also held that Defendant's prosecution in federal court was rationally related to various legitimate government interests. (Id. at 6). Specifically, we noted that the Government had an interest in the effective enforcement of its criminal laws, as well as an interest in the efficient allocation of its resources. (Id.) We found that the Government's decision to prosecute offenders implicated in its own investigations served both of these interests.[3] (Id.)

         After we denied Defendant's § 2255 motion and denied a certificate of appealability, he sought a certificate of appealability from the Third Circuit. (Doc. 82). His request for a certificate of appealability was denied by the Third Circuit on December 21, 2015. (Doc. 89).

         On October 2, 2017, Defendant filed the instant motion (Doc. 146) under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4), seeking relief from this Court's denial of his § 2255 motion. Defendant argues that he is entitled to relief under Rule 60(b)(4) because we denied his § 2255 motion on April 27, 2015, before the May 11, 2015 deadline for filing a reply brief. In addition to requesting that we vacate our previous denial of his § 2255 motion, Defendant seeks permission to file a new § 2255 motion, or, in the alternative, that we reconsider his previous motion after we afford him an opportunity to file a reply brief. For the reasons set forth below, however, we will deny Defendant's Rule 60(b)(4) motion.

         III. Discussion.

         Defendant filed the instant motion pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. “Rule 60(b) allows a party to seek relief from a final judgment, and request reopening of his case, under a limited set of circumstances . . . .” Gonzales v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 528 (2005). Rule 60(b)(4) permits reopening a judgment when “the judgment is void.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(4). Under Rule 60(b)(4), a judgment is only considered “void” if: (1) the court which entered the judgment did not have personal or subject matter jurisdiction; (2) the court entered a decree which was not within the powers granted to it by law; or (3) the judgment arose out of a violation of due process that deprived a party of notice or the opportunity to be heard. See United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Espinosa, 559 U.S. 260, 271 (2010) (“Rule 60(b)(4) applies only in the rare instance where a judgment is premised either on a certain type of jurisdictional error or on a violation of due process that deprives a party of notice or the opportunity to be heard.”); Marshall v. Bd. of Educ., Bergenfield, N.J., 575 F.2d 417, 422 (3d ...

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