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United States v. Springer

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

November 13, 2017

LINDSEY KENT SPRINGER, Defendant-Appellant.

         D.C. No. 4:09-CR-00043-SPF-1 (N.D. Oklahoma)

          Grant R. Smith, Assistant Federal Public Defender (Virginia L. Grady, Federal Public Defender with him on the briefs), Denver, Colorado, for Appellant.

          Jeffrey Brian Bender, Attorney Tax Division (Caroline D. Ciraolo, Acting Assistant Attorney General; David A. Hubbert, Acting Assistant Attorney General; S. Robert Lyons, Chief of Criminal Appeals & Tax Enforcement Policy Section; Gregory Victor Davis, Attorney Tax Division; Alexander P. Robbins, Attorney Tax Division; Danny C. Williams, United States Attorney; and Loretta F. Radford, Acting United States Attorney, with him on the briefs), Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

          Before PHILLIPS, McHUGH, and MORITZ, Circuit Judges.


          McHUGH, Circuit Judge.


         Mr. Springer, a federal prisoner acting without counsel, brought this appeal of the district court's denial of his motion for collateral relief based on an alleged fraud on the conviction court.[1] The district court resolved the issue on the merits, ruling that Mr. Springer's fraud-on-the-court claim is frivolous. Mr. Springer's appeal of that decision raises questions concerning the intersection of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act's (AEDPA) rules regarding second or successive collateral attacks on a conviction or sentence and the inherent, equitable powers of the courts. Specifically, Mr. Springer contends that claims of fraud on the court fall outside the jurisdictional restrictions imposed by AEDPA and are instead governed by the United States Supreme Court's decision in McQuiggin v. Perkins, 133 S.Ct. 1924 (2013). And Mr. Springer argues that the direction from the Supreme Court in McQuiggin is so clear that this panel can depart from our contrary precedent in United States v. Baker, 718 F.3d 1204, 1208 (10th Cir. 2013) (holding that claims of fraud on the court are barred if raised in a second or successive motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 unless the conditions imposed by 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h) are met).

         We first conclude that the Supreme Court's decision in McQuiggin does not supersede our decision in Baker. Consequently, we hold that we may not exercise jurisdiction over Mr. Springer's appeal in the absence of Certificate of Appealability (COA). Next, we construe Mr. Springer's notice of appeal as a request for a COA, but deny that request based on a clear procedural bar. Because we lack subject matter jurisdiction, we dismiss this appeal.


         In April 2010, Lindsey Springer was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States, tax evasion, and willful failure to file tax returns. This court affirmed his convictions and sentence on direct appeal. United States v. Springer, 444 Fed.Appx. 256, 259 (10th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (unpublished). Years later, Mr. Springer filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, raising seventy-six grounds for collateral relief. The district court dismissed most of the arguments as procedurally barred, and denied the remaining claims on the merits. We denied a certificate of appealability (COA). United States v. Springer, 594 Fed.Appx. 554, 554-55 (10th Cir. 2015) (unpublished).

         Mr. Springer then filed the "Motion to Enjoin Enforcement of the Judgment Dated April 28, 2010, Based upon Several Frauds on the Court [Motion to Enjoin], " that is the subject of this appeal. In his Motion to Enjoin, Mr. Springer alleged that government attorneys defrauded the conviction court by concealing their lack of authorization to prosecute him. The district court summarily denied the motion, stating: "Over the years, Mr. Springer has made similar arguments challenging the authority of prosecutors and the court, all of which have been rejected. Further discussion of these frivolous arguments is not necessary. The motion is DENIED." Mr. Springer filed a timely notice of appeal.

         The government moved to dismiss the appeal, in part because it claimed Mr. Springer's Motion to Enjoin was in substance a second or successive § 2255 motion, and he has neither obtained authorization from this court to proceed in the district court, nor obtained a COA to proceed in this court.[2] Mr. Springer responded that he does not need authorization for a fraud-on-the-court claim, citing McQuiggin. We did not rule on the motion to dismiss and instead issued an order appointing Mr. Springer counsel to address the specific question of whether McQuiggin impacts our holding in Baker. We reserved the question of whether Mr. Springer is entitled to a COA. The government's motion to dismiss is now granted.


         Mr. Springer's appeal challenges the district court's order that denied his Motion to Enjoin on the ground that his fraud-on-the-court claim is frivolous. But before we may address the merits of his appeal, we must determine whether Mr. Springer's claims-although not characterized as such-seek collateral relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. That is because AEDPA imposes two jurisdictional barriers to our review.

         First, if AEDPA governs Mr. Springer's claim, we must decide whether a certificate of appealability (COA) should issue. Where required, a COA is a prerequisite to this court's exercise of jurisdiction, and 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1)(B) plainly requires petitioners to obtain a COA to appeal any "final order in a proceeding under section 2255." The COA stage "is not coextensive with a merits analysis." Buck v. Davis, 137 S.Ct. 759, 773 (2017). Instead, we are limited to determining whether Mr. Springer "has shown that 'jurists of reason could disagree with the district court's resolution of his constitutional claims or that jurists could conclude the issues presented are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further.'" Id. (quoting Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 327 (2003)). In Buck, the Supreme Court warned the lower courts that "[t]his threshold question should be decided without full consideration of the factual or legal bases adduced in support of the claims, " because "[w]hen a court of appeals sidesteps the COA process by first deciding the merits of an appeal, and then justifying its denial of a COA based on its adjudication of the actual merits, it is in essence deciding an appeal without jurisdiction." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Thus, we begin our analysis here by determining whether the district court's order denying Mr. Springer's Motion to Enjoin was issued in a "proceeding under section 2255." If we answer that question in the affirmative, we are limited to granting or denying a COA before we can proceed further. 28 U.S.C. § 2253; see also Buck, 137 S.Ct. at 773 (A "prisoner whose petition for a writ of habeas corpus is denied by a federal district court does not enjoy an absolute right to appeal. Federal law requires that he first obtain a COA from a circuit justice or judge."). We may only grant a COA if Mr. Springer "has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right." 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). And because the district court denied the motion on the merits, we would ordinarily answer that question by determining whether Mr. Springer has "demonstrate[d] that reasonable jurists would find the district court's assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong." Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000).

         But here, we face a second jurisdictional hurdle: whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to decide the Motion to Enjoin on the merits. Because Mr. Springer has already submitted an initial petition under § 2255, his motion to the district court, if within the scope of AEDPA, is a second or successive motion falling under § 2255(h). As such, this court must grant authorization[3] before the district court may exercise jurisdiction over that second or successive motion. When a district court is confronted with an unauthorized motion, it "does not even have jurisdiction to deny the relief sought in the pleading." United States v. Nelson, 465 F.3d 1145, 1148 (10th Cir. 2006). Instead, the court has only two options: it must either dismiss the motion or, if it is in the interests of justice, transfer the motion to the circuit court for authorization. In re Cline, 531 F.3d 1249, 1252 (10th Cir. 2008) (describing factors the district court must consider in determining whether to transfer for authorization); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1631.

         In contrast, if Mr. Springer is correct that his Motion to Enjoin based on a claim of fraud on the court is excused from compliance with AEDPA, the district court properly exercised subject matter jurisdiction over the matter and properly reached the merits. Under those circumstances, this court has jurisdiction to review the district court's decision on the merits. Accordingly, we must decide whether AEDPA is applicable before we can assess our own jurisdiction over this appeal.

         We resolve that question in favor of the government, holding that McQuiggin does not clearly undermine our decision in Baker. As a result, this panel may not entertain this appeal in the absence of a COA. And because Mr. Springer has not made "a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right, " 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2), we deny COA and dismiss the appeal with instructions to the district court to vacate its decision.

         A. The Motion to Enforce is a Second or Successive § 2255 Petition Governed by AEDPA.

         1. Our Appellate Jurisdiction

         Before we may examine the district court's jurisdiction, we must first define the limits of our appellate jurisdiction. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't , 523 U.S. 83, 94 (1998) (holding that on every appeal, "the first and fundamental question is that of jurisdiction, first, of this court, and then of the court from which the record comes") (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted); In re Lang, 414 F.3d 1191, 1195 (10th Cir. 2005) ("[T]he question of this Court's jurisdiction (i.e., our appellate jurisdiction) is antecedent to all other questions, including the question of the subject matter of the District Court.") (internal quotation marks omitted). "Jurisdiction is a threshold question that a federal court must address before reaching the merits, even if the merits question is more easily resolved and the party prevailing on the merits would be the same as the party that would prevail if jurisdiction were denied." Payton v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 337 F.3d 1163, 1167 (10th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). "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." Steel Co., 523 U.S. at 94-95 (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted). And irrespective of what we determine concerning our jurisdiction over this appeal, we do have the power to decide the threshold issue of whether such jurisdiction exists. See United States v. Ruiz, 536 U.S. 622, 628 (2002) ("[I]t is familiar law that a federal court always has jurisdiction to determine its own jurisdiction.").

         As discussed, Congress has limited our jurisdiction to review a "final order in a proceeding under section 2255, " such that the petitioner must first obtain a COA before we have the power to act on the appeal. See 28 U.S.C. § 2253. Cf. United States v. Harper, 545 F.3d 1230, 1232 (10th Cir. 2008) ("Before we may address the merits of [the defendant's] filing, we are necessarily confronted with the question whether a district court's dismissal order for lack of jurisdiction in these circumstances qualifies as a 'final order' under 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1) & (B), such that Mr. Harper must obtain a COA in order to appeal."). There is no dispute that the district court order here is final. See Harper, 545 F.3d at 1233 (holding an order is "final" when "the district court's decision effectively terminated the petitioner's ability to proceed before that court"); In re Universal Serv. Fund Tel. Billing Practice Litig. v. Sprint Commc'ns Co., 428 F.3d 940, 942 (10th Cir. 2005) (holding that a decision is "final" when it "ends the litigation on the merits and leaves nothing for the court to do but execute the judgment") (internal quotation marks omitted). So, we now consider whether Mr. Springer seeks relief pursuant to § 2255, and whether the district court was therefore proceeding "under" § 2255.

         2. Mr. Springer's Argument

         Although Mr. Springer does not characterize his motion as one seeking habeas relief, it "is the relief sought, not his pleading's title, that determines whether the pleading is a § 2255 motion." Nelson, 465 F.3d at 1149; see also Baker, 718 F.3d at 1208 ("Call it a motion for a new trial, arrest of judgment, mandamus, prohibition, coram nobis, coram vobis, audita querela, certiorari, capias, habeas corpus, ejectment, quare impedit, bill of review, writ of error, or an application for a Get-Out-of-Jail card; the name makes no difference. It is substance that controls." (internal quotation marks omitted)); United States v. Torres,282 F.3d 1241, 1242 (10th Cir. 2002) (construing a "petition for writ of error coram nobis and/or petition for writ of audita querela" as a second or successive ยง 2255 motion). Mr. Springer's characterization of his claim is not dispositive because, "to allow a petitioner to avoid the bar against ...

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