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United States v. Fausnaught

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 20, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent,
v.
STEVEN FAUSNAUGHT, Petitioner.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert D. Mariani United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         On July 30, 2007, Petitioner Steven Fausnaught was convicted of conspiracy to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine and more than 100 kilograms of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; several counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); and illegal possession of a firearm while being a user of controlled substances in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3). Doc. 401. On December 29, 2008, Petitioner was sentenced to 292 months in prison. Doc. 527. Since then, Petitioner has filed several motions to challenge his conviction and/or sentence, including the instant motion before the Court, seeking relief pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b) due to extraordinary circumstances. Doc. 749. For the reasons stated below, Petitioner's motion will be denied.

         II. Factual Background

         Petitioner's case has been addressed numerous times by the district court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals over the past decade. He was convicted on July 30, 2007 of several counts related to conspiracy to distribute drugs, including, among other things, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute in excess of 500 grams of methamphetamine and in excess of 100 kilograms of marijuana. Doc. 401. On December 29, 2008, Petitioner was sentenced to 292 months in prison, which was the bottom of his advisory sentencing guidelines range. Doc. 527.

         On May 20, 2010, the Third Circuit affirmed Petitioner's conviction as well as his sentence. United States v. Fausnaught, 380 Fed.Appx. 198, 204 (3d Cir. 2010). On May 19, 2017, Petitioner filed the instant motion pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, contending that there was "overwhelming evidence that the sitting judge was suffering from dementia during [his] Trial and Sentencing." Doc. 749 at 2. Petitioner's sole evidentiary support for his argument is a news article from April 1, 2017, which was published more than eight years after his sentencing. The motion is now ripe for disposition.

         III. Analysis

         "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 including fraud, mistake, and newly discovered evidence." Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 528, 125 S.Ct. 2641, 2645-46, 162 L.Ed.2d 480 (2005). "The general purpose of Rule 60(b) is to strike a proper balance between the conflicting principles that litigation must be brought to an end and that justice must be done." Coltec Indus., Inc. v. Hobgood, 280 F.3d 262, 271 (3d Cir. 2002) (alterations and internal quotations marks omitted). "The movant under Rule 60(b) 'bears a heavy burden, ' which requires 'more than a showing of the potential significance of the new evidence.'" Bohus v. Beloff, 950 F.2d 919, 930 (3d Cir. 1991) (quoting Plisco v. Union R. Co., 379 F.2d 15, 17 (3d Cir. 1967), cert, denied, 389 U.S. 1014, 88 S.Ct. 590, 19 L.Ed.2d 660(1967)).

         Rule 60(b) contains several provisions under which relief may be granted. Of the provisions, two may be relevant in this case: subsection (b)(2), which provides relief for "newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b)"; and subsection (b)(6), which is a catch-all provision that permits reopening of the case for "any other reason that justifies relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(2) and (b)(6). It is unclear which provision forms the basis of the Petitioner's motion. However, because a Rule 60(b) motion must be made "no more than a year after the entry of the judgment" in the case of the first three subsections, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(c), a motion pursuant to Rule 60(b)(2) would be untimely. Because pro se defendants' motions should be construed liberally "with an eye toward their substance rather than their form, " United States v. Delgado, 363 Fed.Appx. 853, 855 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal citation omitted), the Court will construe the motion as proceeding under Rule 60(b)(6), the catch-all provision. Rule 60(b)(6) carries a high burden; it "provides for extraordinary relief and may only be invoked upon a showing of exceptional circumstances." Coltec Indus., 280 F.3d at 273 (quoting In re Fine Paper Antitrust Litig., 840 F.2d 188 (3d Cir. 1988).

         As stated above, Petitioner's motion relies on an April 1, 2017 news article concerning the presiding judge over his trial and sentencing, Judge Edwin Kosik. The article detailed an April 2017 incident when Judge Kosik was hospitalized after being found in a wooded area outside Scranton due to memory loss. Doc. 749 at 2. Petitioner claims that Judge Kosik was "found sleeping on the ground in a park, within one hundred yards of his car, " and he further claims that Judge Kosik "is presumably suffering from severe mental deterioration, dementia. Judge Kosik is, in fact, in the latter stages of dementia...Judge Kosik is at what is often called 'the dignity stage' of dementia because to salvage what little dignity he can is the best for which he can hope." Id. at 4. However, none of these details are found in the short news clipping attached to the motion; it is therefore unclear upon which sources (if any) Petitioner relies for these claims. See Doc. 749 at 11.

         Petitioner then surmises, without factual support, that Judge Kosik had been suffering from memory impairment more than eight years prior to the publication of the article, i.e. during Petitioner's sentencing hearing, and that as a result, "Judge Kosik was induced by Prosecutor Sempa's counter-factual assertions that a crucial witness, [coconspirator] Mr. Moore, had incriminated and implicated [Petitioner]...[when i]n fact, Mr. Moore had plainly exonerated [Petitioner], on the record in courtroom testimony before a jury, not just once, but twice." Id. at 4. Petitioner then proceeds to make the same argument that appears in his pending § 2255 motion, i.e. that he "played no role whatsoever in [co-conspirators] Moore and Sechler's methamphetamine sales" and that he is therefore entitled to a minor role reduction in his sentence. In support, he cites the same portion of testimony by Moore that appears in his second § 2255 motion:

Q: You never mentioned that Steve Fausnaught sold you methamphetamine, is that correct?
A: Correct.
Q: Because he didn't, ...

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