United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge
L. Rottschaefer (“Rottschaefer”) petitions this
court for a writ of error coram nobis. (Doc. 140).
He asks that we overturn his convictions for unlawful
distribution of controlled substances. We will deny
Factual Background & Procedural History
2003, a grand jury returned an indictment charging
Rottschaefer, a medical doctor, with 208 counts of unlawful
distribution of controlled substances in violation of 21
U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). A petit jury found Rottschaefer
guilty on 153 of the counts after a 7-day trial, and he was
sentenced to 78 months' imprisonment. United States
v. Rottschaefer, 178 Fed.Appx. 145, 146, 151 (3d Cir.
2006) (“Rottschaefer I”)
timely filed a notice of appeal. While the appeal was
pending, Rottschaefer moved for a new trial based on newly
discovered evidence. See id. at 148. This evidence
included over 500 pages of correspondence between Jennifer
Riggle (“Riggle”), one of the government's
trial witnesses, and her then-boyfriend. Id. At
trial, Riggle had testified that she exchanged sexual favors
with Rottschaefer for various controlled-substance
prescriptions. Id. Riggle's correspondence with
her then-boyfriend indicated that she had fabricated this
testimony to receive a mitigated sentence for drug charges
pending against her. Id. The trial court denied
Rottschaefer's motion for a new trial, finding that this
additional evidence was merely cumulative and impeaching.
Id. at 148-49. The Third Circuit upheld this ruling
on appeal, albeit for different reasons. Id. at
direct appeal also challenged the validity of his conviction
on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective
assistance of counsel. Id. at 146-47. He argued that
by convicting him of prescribing drugs for “no
legitimate medical reason, ” the jury had wrongly
applied a civil, rather than criminal, standard of liability.
Id. The Third Circuit rejected this argument,
finding that the trial court provided the proper standard to
the jury and that defense counsel was not ineffective for
failing to object to its use. Id. at 148.
Nonetheless, the Third Circuit vacated Rottschaefer's
sentence and remanded the case for resentencing in accordance
with United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005).
On remand, Rottschaefer was resentenced to 60 months'
incarceration and three years of supervised release.
the five patient-witnesses who testified against Rottschaefer
at his criminal trial had filed civil malpractice claims
against him. Rottschaefer used the information obtained
during civil discovery to prepare a second motion for a new
trial. Rottschaefer advanced two claims: (1) that the
deposition testimony in four of the civil cases proved that
the patients had lied at Rottschaefer's criminal trial,
and (2) that the government knowingly allowed two patients to
testify falsely that they had not been promised leniency in
exchange for testimony. The district court denied
Rottschaefer's second motion. United States v.
Rottschaefer, No. 3-CR-162, 2006 WL 3840997, at *1 (W.D.
Pa. Dec. 29, 2006) (“Rottschaefer II”).
On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. United States v.
Rottschaefer, 264 Fed.Appx. 234 (3d Cir. 2008)
(“Rottschaefer III”) (nonprecedential).
Rottschaefer filed a motion to vacate and set aside sentence
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Rottschaefer claimed that
his trial attorneys were ineffective because they
“failed to: (1) obtain a medical expert to rebut the
government's medical expert; (2) object to improper
testimony; (3) obtain medical records; and (4) object to the
jury instructions.” United States v.
Rottschaefer, No. 3-CR-162, 2009 WL 4114616, at *1 (W.D.
Pa. Nov. 25, 2009) (“Rottschaefer IV”).
The district court denied Rottschaefer's Section 2255
motion, and the Third Circuit denied his request for
certificate of appealability on January 22, 2010. More than
seven years later, Rottschaefer filed the instant pro
se petition for a writ of error coram
nobis. The petition is fully briefed and ripe for
writ of error coram nobis is an ancient and
“extraordinary remedy.” United States v.
Stoneman, 870 F.2d 102, 106 (3d Cir. 1989). It is used
to attack allegedly invalid federal convictions where the
defendant suffers continuing consequences but is no longer in
custody. See, e.g., United States v.
Morgan, 346 U.S. 502, 512-13 (1954); Stoneman,
870 F.2d at 105-06. Errors that could be remedied by a new
trial usually do not fall within the ambit of the writ.
United States v. Rhines, 640 F.3d 69, 71 (3d Cir.
2011). Rather, the error must “be fundamental and go to
the jurisdiction of the trial court, thus rendering the trial
itself invalid.” Id. (quoting
Stoneman, 870 F.2d at 106). Earlier proceedings are
presumed to be correct, and the petitioner bears the burden
of demonstrating otherwise. United States v.
Cariola, 323 F.2d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 1963).
court's jurisdiction to grant coram nobis relief
is extremely limited. Id. Indeed, the Supreme Court
has remarked that “it is difficult to conceive of a
situation in a federal criminal case today where [a writ of
coram nobis] would be necessary or
appropriate.” Carlisle v. United States, 517
U.S. 416, 429 (1996) (alteration in original) (quoting
United States v. Smith, 331 U.S. 469, 475 n.4
(1947)). Due to the interest in finality of judgments, the
standard for coram nobis relief is even stricter
than the standard for habeas relief. Stoneman, 870
F.2d at 106 (citing United States v. Osser, 864 F.2d
1056, 1059 (3d Cir. 1988)). To obtain such a writ, the
petitioner must demonstrate five elements: (1) he is no
longer in custody; (2) his trial contained errors of fact
“of the most fundamental kind”; (3) no remedy was
available at the time of his trial; (4) he suffers continuing
consequences of his criminal conviction; and (5) sound
reasons exist for his failure to seek relief at an earlier
time. Id. at 105-06 (quoting Cariola, 323
F.2d at 184).
parties agree that Rottschaefer is no longer in custody.
Thus, Rottschaefer's petition turns on four issues:
whether his trial was fundamentally erroneous, whether there
was a remedy available at trial, whether Rottschaefer suffers
continuing consequences from his conviction, and whether he
has provided sound reasons for his failure to seek relief
earlier. Assuming, without deciding, that Rottschaefer
suffers continuing consequences, we conclude that he is
unable to establish the remaining requirements for coram
Rottschaefer's Trial ...