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Covington v. Ebbert

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 28, 2019

RONNIE DAKOTA COVINGTON, Petitioner
v.
WARDEN EBBERT, Respondent

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES M. MUNLEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2012, Ronnie Dakota Covington pled guilty to two counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1). United States v. Covington, 583 Fed.Appx. 263, 263 (4th Cir. 2014). The sentencing court determined that Covington qualified as a career offender and sentenced him to 151 months' imprisonment. Id. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the sentencing court's judgment. Id. at 263-64.

         Covington then filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion, asserting that his trial counsel was ineffective in various ways; that motion was denied on the merits. Covington v. United States, No. 3:12-CR-61-RJC-1, 2015 WL 6553861 (W.D. N.C. Oct. 29, 2015). In a subsequent 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) motion for a sentence reduction, Covington argued that his sentence should be reduced in accordance with Amendment 782 to the Sentencing Guidelines. United States v. Covington, 3:12-cr-00061-RJC (W.D. N.C., Doc. 50). The district court denied Covington's motion after concluding that his sentence was “determined pursuant to the career offender guideline” and that, therefore, Amendment 782 did not lower the applicable Sentencing Guidelines range. Id. at Doc. 57.

         Covington has now filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2241 petition with this Court in which he argues that he is entitled to a sentence reduction pursuant to Amendment 782. (Doc. 1). Specifically, Covington asserts he was sentenced based on the quantity of cocaine base that he possessed, and the Sentencing Guidelines range for offenses that involve cocaine base have been reduced by Amendment 782. Id.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Although federal law generally requires that, when evaluating a § 2241 petition, district courts “issue an order directing the respondent to show cause why the writ should not be granted, ” courts need not do so if “it appears from the application that the applicant or person detained is not entitled thereto.” 28 U.S.C. § 2243. Thus, “a district court is authorized to dismiss a [§ 2241] petition summarily when it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Lonchar v. Thomas, 517 U.S. 314, 320 (1996) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Covington has filed a § 2241 petition, but “§ 2241 confers habeas jurisdiction to hear the petition of a federal prisoner who is challenging not the validity but the execution of his sentence.” Cardona v. Bledsoe, 681 F.3d 533, 537 (3d Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). Conversely, “[m]otions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 are the presumptive means by which federal prisoners can challenge [the validity of] their convictions or sentences.” Okereke v. United States, 307 F.3d 117, 120 (3d Cir. 2002).

         Although Covington asserts that he challenges the execution of his sentence (Doc. 1 at 2), “[i]n order to challenge the execution of his sentence under § 2241, [Covington] would need to allege that BOP's conduct was somehow inconsistent with a command or recommendation in the sentencing judgment.” Cardona, 681 F.3d at 537. Covington's allegation that a subsequent amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines entitles him to a reduction clearly does not meet this threshold. See, e.g., Barnett v. United States, 445 Fed.Appx. 491, 492-93 (3d Cir. 2011) (holding that challenge to career offender classification and assertion “that Amendment . . . to the Sentencing Guidelines warrants a reduction in his sentence” not cognizable in § 2241 petition); Fillingham v. United States, 867 F.3d 531, 539 (5th Cir. 2017) (same). Covington's claim should therefore, as a general matter, be brought in a § 2255 motion.

         Although § 2255 motions are the presumptive means to challenge a conviction or sentence, there is an exception to that general rule. Thus, “a federal prisoner may resort to § 2241 [to challenge his sentence] only if he can establish that ‘the remedy by motion [under § 2255] is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.'” Bruce v. Warden Lewisburg USP, 868 F.3d 170, 178 (3d Cir. 2017) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e)).

         As the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has explained, “[a] § 2255 motion is inadequate or ineffective only where the petitioner demonstrates that some limitation of scope or procedure would prevent a § 2255 proceeding from affording him a full hearing and adjudication of his wrongful detention claim.” Cradle v. U.S. ex rel. Miner, 290 F.3d 536, 538 (3d Cir. 2002). “It is the inefficacy of the remedy, not the personal inability to use it, that is determinative.” Id.

         Accordingly,

[The Third] Circuit permits access to § 2241 when two conditions are satisfied: First, a prisoner must assert a claim of actual innocence on the theory that he is being detained for conduct that has subsequently been rendered non-criminal by an intervening Supreme Court decision' and our own precedent construing an intervening Supreme Court decision-in other words, when there is a change in statutory caselaw that applies retroactively in cases on collateral review. And second, the prisoner must be otherwise barred from challenging the legality of the conviction under § 2255. Stated differently, the prisoner has had no earlier opportunity to challenge his conviction for a crime that an intervening change in substantive law may negate. It matters not whether the prisoner's claim was viable under circuit precedent as it existed at the time of his direct appeal and initial § 2255 motion. What matters is that the prisoner has had no earlier opportunity to test the legality of his detention since the intervening Supreme Court decision issued.

Bruce, 868 F.3d at 180. The Savings Clause of § 2255 is jurisdictional; if a petitioner improperly challenges the legality of his sentence under § 2241 when the underlying claim does not fit within the Savings Clause, the petition must be dismissed. See Id. at 183 ...


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