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United States v. Smith

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

April 2, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
D-3 SHAWN RENARD SMITH, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO PROCESS NOTICE OF APPEAL (DKT. 771)

          MARK A. GOLDSMITH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On August 18, 2017, this Court issued an Opinion and Order denying Defendant Shawn Renard Smith's motion to vacate his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Dkt. 749). On February 27, 2018, Smith filed the instant motion to process notice of appeal (Dkt. 771), where he claims that he timely filed a notice of appeal of the Court's August 18, 2017 Order, but that this notice of appeal was not docketed by the Court. He asks that the Court now vacate and reenter its judgment denying the § 2255 motion so that Smith may file anew a notice of appeal. After briefing on the motion was complete, the Court ordered supplemental briefing regarding the Court's jurisdiction to grant Smith's requested relief. 7/6/2018 Order (Dkt. 777); 10/17/2018 Order (Dkt. 787). The Court concludes that it does not have jurisdiction to grant Smith's request and, therefore, denies his motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A notice of appeal from denial of a § 2255 motion must be filed within sixty days after entry of the order being appealed. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(B). Thus, Smith's notice of appeal needed to be filed by October 17, 2017. However, pursuant to the prison mailbox rule, “a pro se prisoner's notice of appeal is deemed ‘filed at the time [pro se prisoner] delivered it to the prison authorities for forwarding to the court clerk.'” U.S. v. Smotherman, 838 F.3d 736, 737 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 276 (1988)) (alterations in Smotherman). “If a prison maintains two internal mail systems, one for regular mail and another for legal mail, the prisoner gains the benefit of the mailbox rule only if he deposits his notice of appeal in the ‘system designed for legal mail.'” Porchia v. Norris, 251 F.3d 1196, 1198 (8th Cir. 2001) (quoting Fed. R. App. P. 4(c)(1)). Smith claims that he deposited a notice of appeal in the internal mail system at Federal Correctional Institution (“FCI”) Elkton, where he is imprisoned, on October 13, 2017. Def. Mot. at 2. He also claims to have mailed correspondence to the Clerk of the Court on three occasions since then, inquiring as to the status of his case. Id. at 2-3. However, none of these filings was received by the Clerk.

         Smith concedes that FCI Elkton has a legal mail system, and that he did not use the legal mail system to mail his notice of appeal on October 13, 2017. However, he argues that the issue “is not simply whether FCI Elkton has a legal mail system, but whether that system was readily accessible to Mr. Smith.” Def. Reply at 2 (Dkt. 774). He states that the “procedures for processing legal mail at FCI Elkton interfered with his attempt to access legal mail” and that the circumstances in his case “left him no alternative but to use the regual [sic] institutional mailing system.” Id. at 4.

         The circumstances appear to be that, during the week of October 8, 2017, Smith's housing unit was last on meal rotation. The mailroom closes at 6:30 a.m., and his housing unit was not released for breakfast until after the mailroom closed. Smith would be required to forego breakfast in order to make it to the mailroom before it closed. Id.[1] In a footnote, Smith also mentions that around the time he placed his notice of appeal in the internal mail system, prison officials believed that contraband was being introduced via legal mail, and “several instances of mishandling of mail w[ere] reported.” Def. Resp. at 5 n.1. Due to these “impractical conditions, ” Smith deposited his notice of appeal in the institutional mail system.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Jurisdiction

         Smith claims that this Court has authority to vacate its judgment pursuant to Bowles v. Russell, 551 U.S. 205 (2007). Def. Mot. at 3. The Court in Bowles explained that “the timely filing of a notice of appeal in a civil case is a jurisdictional requirement, ” 551 U.S. at 214, and that courts lack power to create equitable exceptions. It held that the district court had no authority to extend the deadline to file a notice of appeal beyond the fourteen days provided by statute. Bowles did not state that a court may vacate its judgment when a party claims to have timely filed a notice of appeal that was not received by the district court.

         The Court does have limited authority to vacate its judgment. But Smith provides no authority that would permit the Court to do so in this circumstance. The Court may to correct a “clerical mistake or a mistake arising from oversight or omission” in the judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(a), but that is not the case here. And while Rule 60(b) permits the Court to relieve a party from judgment for a variety of reasons, including “any other reason that justifies relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6), a party cannot use Rule 60(b) to circumvent the requirement of a timely filing of a notice of appeal. See Hall v. Scutt, 482 Fed.Appx. 990, 990 (6th Cir. 2012); In re Sealed Case (Bowles), 624 F.3d 482, 486 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (rejecting the idea “that a court could vacate and reinstate a judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b) because of ‘unique circumstances' in order to allow a party to appeal where Appellate Rule 4(a)(6) would otherwise withhold appellate jurisdiction”).

         Of course, Smith does not contend that he is now trying to file a timely appeal; he claims that he has already done so. Smith essentially asks this Court to determine whether his notice of appeal was timely filed. But this is a decision typically left to the appellate court, not the district court. Further, if Smith's notice was timely, as he argues, the Court of Appeals has exclusive jurisdiction over his claims, as the filing of a notice of appeal divests the district court of jurisdiction. See, e.g., Marrese v. Am. Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 470 U.S. 373, 379 (1985).

         Finally, although Smith does not ask the Court to extend the deadline for him to file a notice of appeal, it is worth noting that a district court is limited in this respect, as well. The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure provide that, when a party does not receive proper notice of a judgment, the district court may reopen the time to file an appeal if a motion to reopen is filed within 180 days after the judgment is entered, or within fourteen days after the party receives notice, whichever is earlier. Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(6). This Rule provides no relief to Smith, as he does not contend that he failed to receive notice of the judgment.

         The Court finds no authority that would permit it to vacate and re-enter its judgment and, as such, Smith's motion is denied. Out of an abundance of caution, however, the Court will address Smith's motion on its merits.

         B. Application of the ...


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