United States v. Thomas, No. 10–2866.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtMcKEE
Citation713 F.3d 165
PartiesUNITED STATES Of America v. Corbin THOMAS a/k/a JACK a/k/a Patrick a/k/a Francis Walcott Corbin Thomas, Appellant.
Decision Date24 September 2012
Docket NumberNo. 10–2866.

713 F.3d 165

UNITED STATES Of America
v.
Corbin THOMAS a/k/a JACK a/k/a Patrick a/k/a Francis Walcott Corbin Thomas, Appellant.

No. 10–2866.

United States Court of Appeals,
Third Circuit.

Submitted Under Third Circuit
L.A.R. 34.1(a) Sept. 24, 2012.



Opinion Filed: April 10, 2013.

[713 F.3d 166]




Patrick J. Connors, Esq., Media, PA, for Appellant.

Robert K. Reed, Esq., Robert A. Zauzmer, Esq., Office of the United States Attorney, Philadelphia, PA, for Appellee.


Before: McKEE, Chief Judge, JORDAN and VANASKIE, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

McKEE, Chief Judge.

Corbin Thomas appeals the District Court's order denying his motion for an extension of time to file a motion for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, and requests a certificate of appealability (“COA”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253. For the reasons discussed below, we will grant Thomas' request for a COA 1 and affirm the

[713 F.3d 167]

District Court's order denying his motion for an extension of time.

I.

From 1990 to 1995, Thomas was the director of a criminal enterprise that transported thousands of pounds of marijuana from California to Pennsylvania. Thomas' wife was murdered in 1995, and later that year he fled from the United States to Jamaica. On March 25, 1998, a federal grand jury returned a 33–count indictment against Thomas based on his marijuana enterprise. In November 2001, Thomas was arrested in the United Kingdom pursuant to a provisional extradition warrant. He contested that warrant until 2005. During April of that year, he was finally brought before the District Court for prosecution on the charges contained in the 1998 indictment. He was subsequently convicted of numerous offenses and sentenced to a total of 420 months imprisonment. We affirmed on direct appeal, and on June 15, 2009 the United States Supreme Court denied Thomas' petition for certiorari.

As a federal prisoner, Thomas could file a motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence in the District Court within one year from denial of certiorari. See28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). However, during that period, Thomas was temporarily transferred to state custody, convicted of his wife's murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Specifically, Thomas was in state custody at the time his certiorari petition in this case was denied (June 15, 2009), he remained there until August 4, 2009 (a period of approximately 50–days), and was again in state custody from February 25, 2010 until May 6, 2010 (a period of approximately 80–days). On May 24, 2010, approximately three weeks before Thomas' deadline for filing a motion for relief under § 2255, he filed a pro se motion for a 120–day extension of time. He argued that extra time was warranted because he was in state custody without access to legal materials needed to prepare his § 2255 motion for over 120–days during the one year limitations period.

On June 7, 2010, the District Court entered an order denying Thomas' motion for an extension of time. In doing so, it explained, in a footnote, that Thomas “failed to demonstrate why the one (1) year period of limitation should not apply under 28 U.S.C. 2255(f).” See United States v. Thomas, No. 98–CR–00136–001 (E.D. Pa. June 7, 2010) (order denying motion for an extension of time).

Thomas appealed that order, but he never filed an actual motion for relief under § 2255. Instead, he submitted an application for a certificate of appealability (“COA”) to the District Court in an effort to again appeal its denial of his motion for an extension of time. Thomas' COA application restated that he had been in state custody without access to legal materials, and also asserted “a Batson challenge[ ] to the jury selection; Prosecutorial Misconduct for knowingly withholding material evidence of Petitioner's innocence, in violation of Brady v. Maryland; and Jury Misconduct.” App. at A33–34; 476 U.S. 79, 89, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986); 373 U.S. 83, 87, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). The District Court did not rule on his COA application. Rather, it referred his COA application to us—apparently because Thomas' appeal from the denial of his motion for extra time was

[713 F.3d 168]

pending. Accordingly, we now review the District Court's denial of Thomas' motion and decide whether he should be entitled to a COA.

II.

We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. However, before evaluating the merits of Thomas' appeal, we must determine whether the District Court had jurisdiction to enter its order denying Thomas' motion for extra time. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94–95, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998) (“The requirement that jurisdiction be established as a threshold matter springs ‘from the nature and limits of the judicial power of the United States and is inflexible and without exception.’ ”) (quoting Mansfield, C. & L.M. Ry. Co. v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379, 382, 4 S.Ct. 510, 28 L.Ed. 462 (1884)).

The judicial power of federal courts is limited to “cases and controversies.” SeeU.S. CONST. art. III, § 2, cl. 1; Already, LLC v. Nike, Inc., ––– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 721, 726, 184 L.Ed.2d 553 (2013). A judicial decision rendered in the absence of a case or controversy is advisory, and federal courts lack power to render advisory opinions. See U.S. Nat'l Bank of Or. v. Indep. Ins. Agents of Am., 508 U.S. 439, 446, 113 S.Ct. 2173, 124 L.Ed.2d 402 (1993).

A.

This case arises under “[t]he Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), [which] enacted the present 28 U.S.C. § 2254” and § 2255. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 322, 117 S.Ct. 2059, 138 L.Ed.2d 481 (1997). Section 2254 gives federal courts jurisdiction to grant habeas relief to prisoners held in state custody, and § 2255 does the same for federal prisoners. It is well-settled that a § 2254 petition submitted by a state prisoner initiates a civil, rather than criminal, action for relief. See Henderson v. Frank, 155 F.3d 159, 167 (3d Cir.1998); Browder v. Dir., Dep't of Corr. of Ill., 434 U.S. 257, 269, 98 S.Ct. 556, 54 L.Ed.2d 521 (1978); Ex parte Tom Tong, 108 U.S. 556, 559–60, 2 S.Ct. 871, 27 L.Ed. 826 (1883) (“The prosecution against him is a criminal prosecution, but the writ of habeas corpus which he has obtained is not a proceeding in that prosecution. On the contrary, it is a new suit brought by him to enforce a civil right ...”).2 Therefore, no case or controversy generally exists before an actual § 2254 petition is filed. Cf. Barden v. Keohane, 921 F.2d 476, 477 n. 1 (3d Cir.1990) (“[J]urisdiction over a petition for a writ of habeas corpus is determined when the petition is filed.”) (citing Ross v. Mebane, 536 F.2d 1199 (7th Cir.1976)).

However, courts consider, among other things, judicial economy and the legal sophistication of pro se litigants when evaluating AEDPA matters. See, e.g., United States v. Miller, 197 F.3d 644, 648 (3d Cir.1999); Patton v. Mullin, 425 F.3d 788, 810 (10th Cir.2005) (“In the interest of judicial economy, however, we briefly consider the merits of [appellant's] claim.”) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2)). In light of such considerations, mislabeled motions, or those preceding a formal request for substantive relief, are sometimes recharacterized as requests for relief under AEDPA. See Miller, 197 F.3d at 648 (“federal courts have long recognized that they have an obligation to look behind the label of a motion filed by a pro se inmate and determine

[713 F.3d 169]

whether the motion is, in effect, cognizable under a different remedial statutory framework) (referring to 28 U.S.C. § 2255); Mason v. Myers, 208 F.3d 414, 418–19 (3d Cir.2000) (applying Miller 's rule for recharacterizing AEDPA filings to § 2254).3 Jurisdictional issues that may arise by exercising judicial power in the absence of a formal request for habeas relief are thereby avoided. See id. This appeal is a matter of first impression in this Circuit, as it requires that we determine the necessity of such an approach under § 2255, as well as the more pressing question of whether a sentencing court has jurisdiction over § 2255 preliminary matters before a formal request for § 2255 relief is filed.

This latter issue arose in United States v. Leon, where the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit evaluated whether there was jurisdiction to rule on a motion for an extension of time to file a § 2255 motion before an actual § 2255 motion was filed. 203 F.3d 162, 163 (2d Cir.2000). There, the court held that a district court could not rule on such a motion because no case or controversy exists until a formal request for § 2255 relief is made. See id. at 164 (“because [appellant] has not yet filed an actual § 2255 petition, there is no case or controversy to be heard, and any opinion ... render[ed] on the timeliness issue would be merely advisory.”). In reaching this conclusion, the court implicitly viewed proceedings under §§ 2254 and 2255 as different sides of the same coin for purposes of subject matter jurisdiction. See id.;Green v. United States, 260 F.3d 78, 82–83 (2d Cir.2001). That is, it essentially viewed § 2255 proceedings as civil actions separate from prisoners' underlying criminal cases, which is how motions under § 2254 have been viewed.

We disagree with the court's holding in Leon because, although certain aspects of a § 2255 proceeding may be considered civil,4 a § 2255 proceeding is a continuation of a defendant's federal criminal case. See infra pp. 169–74. As a result, under § 2255, a motion for an extension of time can be decided prior to a formal request for relief because the underlying prosecution satisfies Article III's case or controversy requirement.

A review of the legislative history of § 2255 clarifies this jurisdictional nuance. See United States v. Williams, 675 F.3d 275, 278 (3d Cir.2012) ( “Where the statutory language does not express Congress' intent unequivocally, a court traditionally refers to the legislative history and the atmosphere in which the statute was enacted in...

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192 practice notes
  • Family Civil Liberties Union v. State, Civ. No. 18-2597 (KM)(JBC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • May 29, 2019
    ...assert that this particular issue does not present an Article III case or controversy. (DE 42-1 at 55). See United States v. Thomas , 713 F.3d 165, 168 (3d Cir. 2013) ("A judicial decision rendered in the absence of a case or controversy is advisory, and federal courts lack power to render ......
  • United States v. Travillion, No. 12–4184.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • July 7, 2014
    ...is a further step in the criminal process,” United States v. Nahodil, 36 F.3d 323, 328 (3d Cir.1994); see also United States v. Thomas, 713 F.3d 165, 172 (3d Cir.2013) (noting that Section 2255 “creates a statutory remedy consisting of a motion before the court where a movant was convicted”......
  • Rubashkin v. United States, No. 13-CV-1028-LRR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • January 20, 2016
    ...2255 as distinguished from the civil character of a proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 2254" should not be overlooked); United States v. Thomas, 713 F.3d 165, 171-74 (3d Cir. 2013) (explaining that, although civil in some respects, it is clear that proceedings under § 2255 are "a continuation of ......
  • Garrett v. Murphy, s. 20-2719 & 21-2810
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • October 29, 2021
    ...unlike § 2254 proceedings, § 2255 proceedings are a "continuation of a defendant's federal criminal case." United States v. Thomas , 713 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013).7 See, e.g. , Sivan Gazit et al., Comparing SARS-CoV-2 Natural Immunity to Vaccine-Induced Immunity: Reinfections Versus Brea......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
192 cases
  • Family Civil Liberties Union v. State, Civ. No. 18-2597 (KM)(JBC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • May 29, 2019
    ...assert that this particular issue does not present an Article III case or controversy. (DE 42-1 at 55). See United States v. Thomas , 713 F.3d 165, 168 (3d Cir. 2013) ("A judicial decision rendered in the absence of a case or controversy is advisory, and federal courts lack power to render ......
  • United States v. Travillion, No. 12–4184.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • July 7, 2014
    ...is a further step in the criminal process,” United States v. Nahodil, 36 F.3d 323, 328 (3d Cir.1994); see also United States v. Thomas, 713 F.3d 165, 172 (3d Cir.2013) (noting that Section 2255 “creates a statutory remedy consisting of a motion before the court where a movant was convicted”......
  • Rubashkin v. United States, No. 13-CV-1028-LRR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • January 20, 2016
    ...2255 as distinguished from the civil character of a proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 2254" should not be overlooked); United States v. Thomas, 713 F.3d 165, 171-74 (3d Cir. 2013) (explaining that, although civil in some respects, it is clear that proceedings under § 2255 are "a continuation of ......
  • Garrett v. Murphy, s. 20-2719 & 21-2810
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • October 29, 2021
    ...unlike § 2254 proceedings, § 2255 proceedings are a "continuation of a defendant's federal criminal case." United States v. Thomas , 713 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013).7 See, e.g. , Sivan Gazit et al., Comparing SARS-CoV-2 Natural Immunity to Vaccine-Induced Immunity: Reinfections Versus Brea......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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