United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Stewart Cercone Senior United States District Judge
before the court are "post-judgment" motions
defendant filed in the wake of this court's denial of his
Amended and Supplemental Motion to Vacate pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons set forth below, the
motions will be denied.
August 16, 2017, the Clerk of Court received Ruben M.
Mitchell's ("defendant" or "movant")
"Motion for Leave to file an Amended and Supplemental
Motion" to vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255.
See Doc. No. 2636. In accordance with Rule 4(a) of
the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings, the Clerk
docketed the motion into the record at the above criminal
number. That criminal docket was at the time assigned to the
undersigned, who was the presiding judge at defendant's
trial and sentence.
accordance with Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2255
Proceedings, this member of the court promptly examined
defendant's amended motion. The motion was not dismissed
at that juncture. On October 12, 2017, this member of the
court ordered the government to file a response to the
motion, which it did on October 31, 2017. Defendant filed a
rely on November 30, 2017.
grew impatient with the lack of an immediate ruling on his
motion for leave and filed a declaration on August 6, 2018,
complaining that a final disposition had not been entered on
the motion. He sought a writ of mandamus from the United
States Court of Appeals on January 2, 2019. On January 15,
2019, he filed a "second request for final disposition
of § 2255 motion" with this court. In that request
he highlighted a prominent theory that he continues to
pursue: that the "single predicate offense"
supporting his 21 U.S.C. § 851 enhancement was and
remains insufficient because that conviction had been
vacated. Second Request for Final Disposition of § 2255
Motion (Doc. No. 2728).
review of the record on March 6, 2019, this member of the
court granted defendant's motion for leave to file his
Amended and Supplemental Motion. See Doc. No. 2736.
The Clerk was directed to file his proposed motion (Doc. No.
2636-1) as defendant's amended motion. The government was
then ordered to file its responsive submissions to the motion
by April 12, 2019. In accordance with standard court policy,
the Clerk then opened a civil action at 2:19cv246. Consistent
with these rulings, defendant's pending motion for
"Final Disposition of His Motion Pursuant" to
§ 2255 was granted to the extent it sought an orderly
disposition of his amended and supplemental motion and denied
in all other aspects. See Order of March 7, 2019
(Doc. No. 2737).
substance of defendant's amended motion involved the
issue of whether defendant's prior offense of conviction
qualified as a predicate offense under 21 U.S.C. § 851.
This member of the court initially considered that issue
pursuant to defendant's related avenues of attack prior
to and at sentencing. Defendant also had made clear his
desire for a prompt disposition of the amended and
supplemental motion. In order to accommodate defendant's
request for a prompt and orderly disposition, an Order was
entered on March 7, 2019, reassigning defendant's motion
and the concomitant civil action to Judge Ambrose for all
further proceedings. See Order of March 7, 2019
(Doc. No. 2740). This assignment also had the salutary effect
of permitting review of an issue extensively reviewed by the
trial judge through a new set of judicial eyes. See
1976 Advisory Committee Notes to Rule 4 of the Rules
Governing Section 2255 Proceedings (noting the criticism of
Rule 4's default assignment to the trial judge and
quoting sections from Developments in the Law - Federal
Habeas Corpus, 83 Harv. L Rev. 1038, 1206-1208 (1970)).
filed additional submissions in support of his motion on
April 24, 2019, and April 30, 2019. He did not challenge or
otherwise contest the validity of the transfer to Judge
Ambrose in any of his submissions. The government filed its
response and supporting submissions to the amended and
supplemental motion on April 12, 2019. See Doc. No.
10, 2019, Judge Ambrose issued an Opinion and Order denying
defendant's amended and supplemental motion. See
Doc. No. 2755. In doing so she treated defendant's motion
as timely with regard to the issue of whether
California's Proposition 47 had the effect of rendering
defendant's predicate offense invalid for purposes of a
§ 851 enhancement. Id. at 2, 3-4. She held that
the other avenues of attack being advanced by defendant were
beyond the scope of review because the United States Court of
Appeals for the Third Circuit had concluded on direct appeal
that although defendant's prior predicate offense had
been set aside pursuant to Cal. Penal Code § 1203.4, the
offense nonetheless counted as a prior conviction for
purposes of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 851. Id.
at 3. With regard to the effect Proposition 47 could have had
on defendant's prior predicate offense, Judge Ambrose
keenly observed that the same issue was raised and considered
in co-defendant Anthony London's appeal where the Third
Circuit held that re-classification under Proposition 47 had
no effect on the underlying predicate offense's
lawfulness, and thus the defendant remained subject to a
§ 851 enhancement. Id. at 4 (quoting United
States v. London, 747 Fed.Appx. 80, 85 (3d Cir. 2018)).
Judge Ambrose transferred defendant's case back to this
member of the court on the same date.
filed a supplemental brief in support of his amended and
supplemental motion which was received and placed on the
court's docket on May 14, 2019. See Doc. No.
2758. This member of the court then reviewed the record,
defendant's supplemental brief and the opinion and order
of May 10, 2019. After that review this member of the court
entered a Memorandum Order on May 17, 2019, reaffirming the
May 10, 2019, opinion and order in its entirety. See
Doc. No. 2759.
appealed the May 10 Order, and subsequently filed three
motions with this court: a Motion to Have Court Make
Additional Findings , a Motion to Alter or Amend
Judgment , and a Motion for Clarification . The
Court of Appeals stayed defendant's appeal pending
resolution of these pending motions. They will be addressed
motion seeking additional findings requests a finding that
his prior conviction had been set aside, and thus is
nullified. He points to cases in which the Supreme Court
"recognized an obvious exception to the literal language
of the statute for one whose predicate conviction had been
vacated or reversed on direct appeal." Dickerson v.
New Banner Inst., 460 U.S. 103, 115, 103 S.Ct. 986, 993
(1983). But these cases have no bearing on defendant's
situation. His case involves a state court action pursuant to
Cal. Penal Code § 1203.4, and not appellate action. The
appropriate disposition for this action already has been
determined and that determination has become final. And
Proposition 47 cannot change the result. Defendant's
Motion for Additional Findings will be denied for all of the
reasons stated in this court's and the Third
Circuit's previous opinions and orders on these matters.
Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment takes issue with the
transfer of this matter between judges; he posits that the
court violated Local Civil Rule 40(G) and that he has been
prejudiced by a delay and a form of "judge
shopping" in the selection of Judge Ambrose. Generally
speaking, courts have the discretion to manage their
caseloads, including assignment and reassignment. Case
assignment rules exist for internal management purposes, and
to further "judicial economy, order, and convenience,
rather than to control a judge's authority to hear a
case." Cf. Vreeland v. Schwartz, 613 Fed.Appx.
679, 682 (10th Cir. 2015) ("The local rule [defendant]
cites, Colo. L. Civ. R. 40.1(c)(1), plainly is designed to
further judicial economy, order, and convenience rather than
to control a judge's authority to hear a case.").
This is further confirmed by the well-established principle
that “litigants do not have a right to have their case
heard by a particular judge, have no right to a particular
judge-selection procedure, and do not have a right to a
randomly selected judge." In re Brown, 577 F.
App'x. 89, 90 (3d Cir. 2014).
defendant's case was transferred to Judge Ambrose for
internal case management reasons, and neither a review of the
record nor defendant has uncovered any cognizable impropriety
or harm resulting from that "reassignment." And any
specter of doubt as to the merits of the disposition is
eliminated by this member of the court's independent
review and reaffirmation of the May 10, 2019, opinion and
order in its entirety. In short, all that has occurred is that
this member of the court exercised the inherent authority
under Rule 4(B) of the Supplemental Rules to effectuate a
transfer for the purpose of granting defendant an expedient
and orderly ...