United States v. Townsend (Shedd 3/30/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury is categorically a violent felony under the force clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act. The court affirmed the district court’s finding that assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury is categorically a violent felony under the force clause of the ACCA because the intent to kill element of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury requires proof of a specific intent to kill and not merely culpable negligence. Full Opinion
Burkhart v. Grigsby (Diaz 3/29/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that a bankruptcy court may strip off valueless liens on a debtor’s principle residence even when no proof of claims has been filed. The court reversed the District Court of Maryland’s holding that 11 U.S.C. § 506(d) requires a proof a claim to be filed before a lien can be stripped regardless of the claim’s value. Full Opinion
Coley v. DIRECTV, Inc. (Keenan 3/28/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that personal judgments may be satisfied with the remedy of reversal of piercing a corporate veil of an LLC when the LLC has been determined to be the alter ego of its sole member. The court affirmed the district court’s decision to allow this remedy based on existing Delaware law regarding charging statutes and the overwhelming evidence that the LLC’s at issue were alter egos solely belonging to the Appellant and not shared with his wife. Full Opinion
United States v. Landersman (Thacker 3/28/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that the use of unauthorized government funds to carry out an unauthorized government contract with an unqualified entity constitutes conspiracy to commit fraud and conversion of government funds. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling after finding no reversible error in the classified and unclassified proceedings addressing Appellants’ host of challenges. Full Opinion
United States v. Wheeler (Thacker 3/28/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that the “savings clause portal” found in 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e) may be used to have a traditional 28 U.S.C. § 2241 habeas corpus petition addressed on the merits to test the legality of a detention based on a sentence issued with an erroneously increased mandatory minimum. Following the decision In re Jones, 226 F.3d 328 (4th Cir. 2000), the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment denying Gerald Wheeler’s (“Appellant”) savings clause request and habeas petition. The court remanded the case with instructions that Appellant’s § 2241 petition be considered on the merits. Full Opinion
Continental Casualty Co. v. Amerisure Ins. Co. (Keenan 3/28/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that a controlled insurance program exclusion does not relieve an insurance company of its duty to defend an insured if any of the allegations in the insured’s complaint arguably fell within the coverage afforded by the insurer. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment that the insurer improperly relied on a policy exclusion to avoid its duty to defend and was therefore liable to pay the full cost of the settlement plus pre-judgment interest. However, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment concerning defense fees owed to the co-insurer, which this court held did not have an independent duty to defend in the underlying lawsuit. Full Opinion
The Walter E. Campbell Co. v. United States Fire Ins. (Wynn 3/26/2018) (amended 3/28/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that bodily injury claims arising out of an operation that concluded prior to the inception of the insurance policy period covering such injuries fall within the completed operations hazard of that policy and are therefore subject to the aggregate limits of each such policy. Furthermore, the Fourth Circuit held that the insured, not the insurer, bears the burden of proving the injury underlying the claim was outside of the products and completed-operations hazards and therefore not subject to the aggregate limits of the policy. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s findings concerning both the scope and limit of the insurer’s duties to defend and indemnify the insured. Full Opinion
Keena v. GROUPON, Inc. (King 3/27/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that voluntary dismissals are not appealable final decisions under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. As such, the Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal due a lack of jurisdiction. Full Opinion
Sanchez v. Sessions (Motz 3/27/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that the “egregious violation” exclusionary rule applies in civil deportation proceedings to state and local officers in the same manner as it applies to federal officers. The Fourth Circuit acted in kind with an Immigration Judge, in a decision affirmed by the Board of Immigration Appeals, to reject appellants motion to suppress holding that unreasonable conduct does not amount to an egregious violation to protections of the Fourth Amendment. Full Opinion
BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services, Inc. v. Rep. of Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Admin. (Motz 3/6/2018) (amended 3/27/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that sovereign immunity is waived with the filing of a responsive pleading and that a foreign state has no cause of action against a U.S. contractor if doing so would undermine the FMS structure and afford the foreign state advantages only available in a direct purchase DCS transaction between a foreign state and U.S. contractor. The Fourth Circuit found the district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to impose an anti-suit injunction. Full Opinion
United States v. Gerald Adrian Wheeler, No. 16-6073
Decided March 28, 2018
The Fourth Circuit held that the “savings clause portal” found in 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e) may be used to have a traditional 28 U.S.C. § 2241 habeas corpus petition addressed on the merits to test the legality of a detention based on a sentence issued with an erroneously increased mandatory minimum. Following the decision In re Jones, 226 F.3d 328 (4th Cir. 2000), the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment denying Gerald Wheeler’s (“Appellant”) savings clause request and habeas petition. The court remanded the case with instructions that Appellant’s § 2241 petition be considered on the merits.
In September 2006, Appellant was indicted by a grand jury in the Western District of North Carolina on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute at least 50 grams of crack cocaine and 500 grams of powder cocaine (“Count One”); possession with intent to distribute at least 5 grams of crack cocaine (“Count Five”); using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime (“Count Six”); and being a felon in possession of a firearm (“Count Seven”). Pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851, the Government also sought an enhanced penalty based on Appellant’s 1996 North Carolina conviction for possession of cocaine. Appellant plead guilty to Counts One, Six, and Seven. Because Appellant’s 1996 conviction was a “felony drug offense” the district court sentenced Appellant to the statutory range of ten years to life in prison. Without the 1996 Conviction, Appellant’s statutory sentencing range would have been 5 to 40 years.
The district court dismissed Appellant’s first § 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence due to ineffective assistance of counsel. Appellant’s second § 2255 motion, which included a request for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, alleged that he was “actually innocent” of the sentencing enhancement based on this court’s decision in United States v. Simmons, 649 F.3d 237 (4th Cir. 2011), which was decided while Appellant’s first § 2255 motion was pending appeal. In Simmons, this court held that a district court could no longer look to a hypothetical defendant with the worst possible criminal history when determining sentencing ranges, but rather the maximum possible sentence that the particular defendant could have received. Under Simmons, the maximum punishment to which Appellant was exposed for the 1996 Conviction was eight months, which would render that conviction nonqualifying as a felony drug offense.
Section 2255(e) provides a means for petitioners to apply for a traditional writ of habeas corpus when it “appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” To determine whether Appellant satisfied the savings clause requirements in regard to his erroneous sentencing, the Fourth Circuit relied upon a modified test from its decision In re Jones. The Fourth Circuit concluded that § 2255 is inadequate and ineffective to test the legality of a sentence when:
(1) at the time of sentencing, settled law of this circuit or the Supreme Court established the legality of the sentence; (2) subsequent to the prisoner’s direct appeal and first § 2255 motion, the aforementioned settled substantive law changed and was deemed to apply retroactively on collateral review; (3) the prisoner is unable to meet the gatekeeping provisions of § 2255(h)(2) for second or successive motions; and (4) due to this retroactive change, the sentence now presents an error sufficiently grave to be deemed a fundamental defect.
See Jones, 226 F.3d at 333–34 & n.3; Hill, 836 F.3d at 595; Brown, 719 F.3d at 586.
The Fourth Circuit found it undisputed that at the time of sentencing, Appellant’s sentence was legal. Second, this court’s en banc decision in Simmons, decided between Appellant’s first and second § 2255 motions, abrogated previous rulings and was made retroactive. Thirdly, the Fourth Circuit found the Appellant unable to satisfy the requirements of § 2255(h)(2) because Simmons was a statutory decision not made retroactive by decision of the Supreme Court.
Lastly, this court addressed the issue of whether the increase in Appellant’s mandatory minimum sentence is an error sufficiently grave to be deemed a fundamental defect. Based on decisions from sister circuits, the Fourth Circuit reasoned that a sentencing error need not result in a sentence that exceeds statutory limits in order to be a fundamental defect, and found that Appellant’s sentence presents an error sufficiently grave to be deemed a fundamental defect.
Because Appellant satisfied all four requirements of the New Savings Clause Test for Erroneous Sentences, the Fourth Circuit held the district court erred in dismissing Appellant’s § 2241 Petition and ruled that the Appellant may pass through the savings clause portal to have the § 2241 petition addressed on the merits.
William P. Maurides