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United States v. Montalvo

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


August 20, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL L. MONTALVO, DEFENDANT.

ORDER

A jury convicted Michael L. Montalvo of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise ("CCE"), 21 U.S.C. § 848, and the court sentenced him to life imprisonment. Defendant subsequently brought a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The court denied his motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. Defendant then sought relief from that judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), and the court denied his motion, as well as two subsequent motions for reconsideration. Defendant now moves once more for reconsideration of the denial of his Rule 60(b) motion.*fn1

I. Factual and Procedural Background

In Richardson v. United States, the Supreme Court held that in order to find a defendant guilty under the CCE statute, the jury "must unanimously agree not only that the defendant committed some 'continuing series of violations[,]' but also that the defendant committed each of the individual 'violations' necessary to make up that 'continuing series.'" 526 U.S. 813, 815 (1999). Since defendant was convicted before the Court decided Richardson, the jury did not receive the instruction that Richardson now requires. (See United States v. Montalvo, No. 89-062, Mag. Judge's Findings & Recs. 36, adopted in full, Docket No. 889 (E.D. Cal. July 11, 2001).)

Defendant subsequently brought a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Id. at 1-2.) This court found that while the failure to instruct the jury pursuant to Richardson was not harmless error, defendant's claim was precluded by the anti-retroactivity principle of Teague v. Lange, 489 U.S. 288 (1989). (See id. at 39-40.) Defendant then filed an appeal challenging the court's conclusion that Richardson was not retroactive; the government opposed the appeal, but did not file a cross-appeal addressing the harmless-error issue. (Def.'s Mot. for Relief (Docket No. 1050) at 2; see Pl.'s Mot. to Dismiss (Docket No. 1052) at 3-4.)

The court of appeals affirmed this court's order, but on different grounds; it found that Richardson applied retroactively, but the failure to give the instruction to the jury was harmless error. United States v. Montalvo, 331 F.3d 1052, 1059 (9th Cir. 2003) (per curiam).

Defendant subsequently brought a motion for relief from final judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In that motion, defendant cited Greenlaw v. United States, 128 S.Ct. 2559 (2008), to argue, inter alia, that due to the government's failure to file a cross-appeal, the court of appeals was without jurisdiction to determine whether the Richardson-error was harmless. Therefore, defendant argued, the judgment of the court of appeals was "void" under Rule 60(b)(4). Defendant reiterated the same or substantially similar arguments under Rule 60(b)(5) and (6).

In an Order issued on November 17, 2008, this court denied defendant's motion; as to defendant's argument pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4), the court specifically held that it had "no jurisdiction to review orders of the [c]court of [a]ppeals" and to adjudge them "void." United States v. Montalvo, No. 97-2015, 2008 WL 4937624, at *1 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 17, 2008) (citing In re Sasson, 424 F.3d 864, 876 (9th Cir. 2005); Peterson v. Brooks, No. 07-2442, 2008 WL 4072700, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 29, 2008)). The court subsequently denied two motions for reconsideration filed by defendant, as well as his request for a certificate of appealability.

Presently before the court is defendant's motion for reconsideration of the court's November 17, 2008 Order in light of Phelps v. Alameida, 569 F.3d 1120 (9th Cir. 2009).

II. Discussion

In Phelps, the Ninth Circuit clarified the "analytical approach[] to Rule 60(b)(6) motions." Id. at 1134-35. Previously, Ninth Circuit precedent instructed that Rule 60(b)(6) could never provide relief due to subsequent changes in governing law. See Tomlin v. McDaniel, 865 F.2d 209, 210 (9th Cir. 1989) (affirming the denial of a Rule 60(b)(6) motion because "the judgment [at issue]... became final before the laws changed"). Phelps, however, recognized that this per se rule was inconsistent with the Supreme Court's decision in Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524 (2005), which "did not hold that denial of the motion was required because it rested on a subsequent change in the law." 569 F.3d at 1132. Instead, the Supreme Court affirmed the denial of a Rule 60(b)(6) motion because it "did not exhibit the 'extraordinary circumstances' required to grant Rule 60(b)(6) relief." Id. Because the analyses of Tomlin and Gonzalez were thus "clearly irreconcilable," the Ninth Circuit in Phelps concluded that "Tomlin's per se approach has been overruled" and that a "'case by case inquiry' is required." Id. at 1133-34.

Defendant's reliance on Phelps appears to be two-fold. First, defendant appears to contend that Phelps is itself an intervening change in the governing law and, under its own holding, should direct the court to revisit its November 17, 2008 Order. In other words, defendant argues that Phelps is an intervening change in the law that governs intervening changes in the governing law. Second, defendant contends that since Phelps implicitly contemplates that district courts can re-open cases that have been previously adjudicated by appellate courts if there is an intervening change in the law, this court's conclusion that it had "no jurisdiction to review orders of the [c]court of [a]ppeals" was erroneous. Montalvo, 2008 WL 4937624, at *1.

First, while Phelps clearly signals a change in the law of the Ninth Circuit, Tomlin's per se analysis did not factor into this court's November 17, 2008 Order. As that Order recounts, defendant's prior claim under Rule 60(b)(6) simply reiterated his contention that the judgment of the court of appeals was void pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4). See id. at *2. Therefore, while Phelps indeed modifies the application of Rule 60(b)(6) in certain respects, this court did not have occasion to apply Rule 60(b)(6) in a manner implicated by Phelps's holding.

Nonetheless, the instant motion indicates that the court was not sufficiently indulgent when it considered defendant's previous argument under Rule 60(b)(6). Although defendant did not expressly state that he sought relief under Rule 60(b)(6) due to an intervening change in the law, that argument was reasonably apparent from the tenor of his motion. Furthermore, while the court remains skeptical as to its power to declare a ruling of the court of appeals "void" under Rule 60(b)(4) for lack of jurisdiction,*fn2 defendant correctly notes that Phelps contemplates that district courts may grant relief from a final judgment under Rule 60(b)(6) where an appellate court's ruling in a case has been subsequently abrogated. See Phelps, 569 F.3d at 1128-29, 1141-42 (reversing the district court for failing to grant the petitioner's Rule 60(b)(6) motion, which would have effectively reversed the Ninth Circuit's previous determination that the petition was untimely).

Despite having reconsidered this aspect of the November 17, 2008 Order, the court nonetheless concludes that Rule 60(b)(6) does not provide defendant the relief he seeks because the intervening authority he cites--Greenlaw v. United States, 128 S.Ct. 2559 (2008)--does not change the governing law in his case.

In Greenlaw, the district court imposed a sentence on the defendant of 442 months. 128 S.Ct. at 2562-63. The defendant appealed, contending that his sentence should have been no longer than 180 months. Id. Although the government did not file a cross-appeal, the court of appeals increased the defendant's sentence to 622 months because the district court erroneously imposed a ten-year consecutive sentence instead of a twenty-five year consecutive sentence. Id. at 2563-64. After granting certiorari, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the court of appeals under the cross-appeal rule, which instructs that "an appellate court may not alter a judgment to benefit a nonappealing party." Id. at 2565.

Unlike Greenlaw, the court of appeals in this case did not "alter" this court's judgment "to the benefit" of the government. In Greenlaw, the judgment of the court of appeals effectively increased the defendant's sentence and therefore increased the benefit redounding to the government; here, however, the judgment of the court of appeals provided the government with the identical benefit it received from the judgment of this court, namely, the denial of defendant's petition for habeas corpus. As the Ninth Circuit has explained:

So long as the appellee does not seek to "enlarge" the rights it obtained under the district court judgment, or to "lessen" the rights the appellant obtained under that judgment, appellee need not cross-appeal in order to present arguments supporting the judgment.

Thus, if the district court enters a judgment that denies all relief to a plaintiff, and the plaintiff appeals from that judgment, a defendant-appellee seeking to uphold the judgment need not cross-appeal and may urge affirmance on any ground appearing in the record. If the court of appeals agrees with the plaintiff-appellant and alters the judgment in some way, it provides relief that was not provided by the district court, and thereby "enlarges" the rights of the plaintiff-appellant and "lessens" the rights of the defendant-appellee. But if the court of appeals agrees with the defendant-appellee and sustains the judgment, it only affirms what the district court did. Even if it affirms on the alternative ground, its decision leaves the parties where the district court left them. In that event, the court of appeals does not "enlarge" the rights of the defendant-appellee or "lessen" the rights of the plaintiff-appellant.

Francisco Jose Rivero v. City & County of San Francisco, 316 F.3d 857, 862 (9th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). In light of this explication of the cross-appeal rule, it is plain that the court of appeals was not precluded from affirming this court's denial of defendant's § 2255 motion on alternative grounds.

Accordingly, although the Ninth Circuit's recent decision in Phelps v. Alameida, 569 F.3d 1120 (9th Cir. 2009), has led the court to question part of the analysis in its November 17, 2008 Order, the court will nonetheless deny defendant's motion for reconsideration because Greenlaw v. United States, 128 S.Ct. 2559 (2008), does not present an intervening change in the law governing defendant's case.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that defendant's motion for reconsideration be, and the same hereby is, DENIED.


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