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Armstrong v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 2, 2018

JAMES BERNARD ARMSTRONG, JR.,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,

          MEMORANDUM

          STENGEL, C. J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner James Armstrong Jr. requests leave to amend his pro se petition with a counseled petition for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Mr. Armstrong's original petition was timely filed on August 4, 2015. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) statute of limitations expired on June 1, 2016. Therefore, the claims in Mr. Armstrong's amended, counseled petition must "relate back" to the claims in his original petition in order for a court to consider them, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15.

         Mr. Armstrong's motion for leave to amend includes several claims that relate back to his original petition and several that do not. The discussion below analyzes which claims relate back (and may proceed to briefing) and which do not (and may not proceed).

         II. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Armstrong requests leave to amend his pro se § 2255 petition with a counseled petition. (Doc No. 178.) On September 4, 2012, a jury found the petitioner guilty of several drug charges and of possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. (Doc. No. 101.) He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. (Doc. No. 178 ¶ 8.) Mr. Armstrong subsequently appealed his conviction and sentence, and on January 26, 2015, the Third Circuit affirmed the judgment against him. (Doc. Nos. 137, 154.)

         On August 4, 2015, Mr. Armstrong filed a pro se § 2255 petition setting forth seven grounds for relief. (Doc No. 156.) The government filed its response on October 16, 2015. (Doc. No. 164.) On September 8, 2016, 1 appointed a federal defender to represent Mr. Armstrong, stating that the appointment was to submit "a counseled petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to § 2255." (Doc. No. 168.) Due to a conflict of interest with the federal defender, I appointed Mr. Armstrong's current counsel on October 25, 2016. (Doc. No. 170.) On October 27, 2016, after a telephone conference, I granted Mr. Armstrong's request to file a motion for leave to file a counseled, amended § 2255 petition. (Doc. No. 172.)

         Mr. Armstrong filed his motion for leave to amend and his supporting brief on March 2, 2017.[1] (Doc. Nos. 178, 179.) On April 20, 2017, the government filed its response. (Doc. No. 181.) The petitioner filed his reply on May 4, 2017. (Doc. No. 182.) In his motion for leave to amend, Mr. Armstrong argues that amendment is necessary "to adequately and fully assert all the grounds upon which his § 2255 Motion should be granted." (Doc. No. 178 ¶ 22.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under § 2255, a petitioner has one year from the date his conviction becomes final to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging the validity of his sentence. § 2255(a), (f)(1). A petition for a writ of habeas corpus "may be amended or supplemented as provided in the rules of procedure applicable to civil actions." § 2242. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, a court may grant leave to amend a pleading "freely... when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2).

         Rule 15(c)(1) permits amendment to a pleading after the statute of limitations has expired when the amended pleading "relates back" to the original pleading-in other words, when it "asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out-or attempted to be set out-in the original pleading." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1); see also Mayle v. Felix, 545 U.S. 644, 655 (2005) (stating that the "original pleading" is the petition in a habeas proceeding).

         In Mayle, the Supreme Court noted that the "key words" of Rule 15 are "conduct, transaction, or occurrence." 545 U.S. at 656. The claims in an amended habeas petition concern the same "conduct, transaction, or occurrence" as the claims in the original petition, and relate back to that petition, when they "are tied to a common core of operative facts." Id. at 650, 653, 664 (rejecting as too broad the Ninth Circuit's holding that a "transaction" was the defendant's "trial and conviction in state court"); Hodge v. United States, 554 F.3d 372, 378 (3d Cir. 2009) (applying Mayle and holding that an ineffective assistance claim in an amended petition and a right to appeal claim in an original petition were "tied to a common core of operative facts" because both concerned counsel's same "erroneous advice"). An amended habeas petition does not relate back "when it asserts a new ground for relief supported by facts that differ in both time and type from those the original pleading set forth." Mayle, 545 U.S. at 650.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Mr. Armstrong may file a counseled § 2255 petition to the extent that its claims relate back to his pro se petition. As set forth below, the claims in subsections B, C, G, and H, may proceed because they relate back to the original petition, and the claims ...


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