United States District Court, D. Columbia
HAIDER KARRAR ZAIDI, Plaintiff, Pro se, LORETTO, PA.
UNITED STATES SENTENCING COMMISSION, BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA,
II, President of the United States, ERIC H. HOLDER, JR.,
Attorney General of the United States, JAMES B. COMEY, FBI
Director, Defendants: Kenneth A. Adebonojo, LEAD ATTORNEY,
U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.
OPINION & ORDER
BATES, United States District Judge.
2008, after several months of sexually explicit communication
by internet and phone, plaintiff Syed Haider Karrar Zaidi
traveled from Virginia to Ohio to meet a thirteen-year-old
girl and her mother. The " mother," however, was an
undercover police officer, and the " daughter"
entirely fictitious. Zaidi was arrested and eventually
convicted of attempted coercion and enticement of a minor
under 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b), and of traveling across state
lines for the purpose of engaging in sexual conduct with a
minor under 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b). He was sentenced in the
District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to two
concurrent terms of 128 months of imprisonment and ten years
of supervised release.
appealed his conviction and sentence, arguing (among other
things) that provisions of the federal Sentencing Guidelines
treating fictional minors as victims were contrary to the
pertinent criminal statutes, which in Zaidi's view
prohibited only conduct aimed at actual individuals. See
United States v. Zaidi, No. 10-3484, *6 (6th Cir. June
7, 2011). The Sixth Circuit rejected this argument, noting
that " all authorities are to the contrary."
Id. Zaidi then moved for habeas relief under 28
U.S.C. § 2255, raising essentially the same argument
(among others) again. The district court denied
Zaidi's motion, Zaidi v. United States, 2013 WL
978222 (N.D. Ohio Mar. 12, 2013), and the Sixth Circuit
rejected his request for a certificate of appealability,
Zaidi v. United States, No. 13-3289, slip op. at 2-3,
(6th Cir. Aug. 26, 2013).
as a criminal defendant, Zaidi decided to become a civil
plaintiff. He filed this suit, framed as a declaratory
judgment action, against the Sentencing Commission and other
federal defendants he holds responsible for implementing the
Sentencing Guidelines. His complaint asks the Court to
declare that the provisions of the Guidelines encompassing
fictitious victims are " unlawful and
unconstitutional," because these provisions "
constitute new 'laws' which only the United States
Congress has the power to make." Compl. [ECF No. 1] at
2, 30. He also asks the Court to declare that, as a result,
his conviction and sentence are " null and void."
Id. at 30.
moved to dismiss the case, and the Court granted that motion.
See July 22, 2015 Mem. Op. & Order [ECF No. 21]. Zaidi has
now moved for reconsideration. See Pl.'s Mot. for
Reconsideration [ECF No. 22]. His motion contains some points
that are well taken, and the Court has therefore decided to
vacate its prior opinion and order. But although the Court
has reconsidered its reasoning, the outcome remains the same.
No matter how this case is viewed, the Court concludes it
must be dismissed without reaching the merits of Zaidi's
claims. See Sinochem Int'l Co. v. Malaysia Int'l
Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 431, 127 S.Ct. 1184, 167
L.Ed.2d 15 (2007) (recognizing courts' " leeway to
choose among threshold grounds for denying audience to a case
on the merits" (internal quotation marks omitted)).
D.C. Circuit has recognized that sometimes a declaratory
judgment action is not really a declaratory judgment
action--but is instead a habeas corpus action. This follows
from the rule that any claim that " will necessarily
imply the invalidity of [a federal prisoner's]
confinement or shorten its duration" if successful must
be brought in habeas. Davis v. U.S. Sentencing
Comm'n, 716 F.3d 660, 666, 405 U.S.App.D.C. 93 (D.C.
Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, in Monk
v. Secretary of the Navy, for instance, when a military
prisoner sought a judgment that (among other things) would
" declare his conviction and sentence illegal and
void," the court concluded that his " action must
be construed as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus."
793 F.2d 364, 366, 253 U.S.App.D.C. 293 (D.C. Cir. 1986).
That he had " not requested immediate release" was
" immaterial," because " immediate release or
a new trial would follow automatically" in a subsequent
suit as a result of preclusion. Id. It was likewise
irrelevant that his suit sought back pay--a form of relief
unavailable in habeas--because that claim was " entirely
dependent upon the validity of his underlying
conviction." Id.; see also Rooney v.
Sec'y of Army, 405 F.3d 1029, 1031, 365 U.S.App.D.C.
326 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (" Rooney's declaratory
judgment action must . . . be treated as a habeas
suit fits this mold. Like Monk's, Zaidi's complaint
does not ask for immediate release, but does candidly request
that the Court declare his conviction and sentence "
null and void." Compl. at 30. Indeed, if not aimed at
invalidating his sentence, Zaidi's suit would not appear
to do anything at all. Unlike the plaintiff in Davis v. U.S.
Sentencing Commission, who sought a declaratory judgment that
would have allowed him to subsequently request a
discretionary sentence reduction, Zaidi's suit does not
seek (and would not create) such a stepping stone to
discretionary relief. See 716 F.3d at 666 (concluding that
Davis's claim could proceed outside habeas). And Zaidi
cannot seek a declaration of the challenged provisions'
unconstitutionality just for the sake of vindicating his view
of the law. Such a suit would not redress any concrete injury
and hence would fail for lack of Article III standing. See,
e.g., Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't,
523 U.S. 83, 102-04, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998).
The suggestion in Zaidi's complaint that his status
" as a United States Citizen and Taxpayer," Compl.
at 5, would by itself give him standing to challenge the
provisions is simply incorrect. See Ariz. Christian Sch.
Tuition Org. v. Winn, 563 U.S. 125, 131 S.Ct. 1436,
1441-46, 179 L.Ed.2d 523 (2011) (explaining the general rule
against taxpayer standing and the narrow exception for
certain challenges under the Establishment Clause).
Zaidi's suit must therefore be treated as a habeas
this Court cannot entertain such an application from Zaidi. A
federal prisoner like Zaidi is required to seek habeas relief
through a motion under § 2255 " unless it . . .
appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or
ineffective to test the legality of his detention." 28
U.S.C. § 2255(e). It does not appear that § 2255 is
an " inadequate or ineffective" way for Zaidi to
bring this challenge to his sentence, so § 2255 is the
mechanism he must use. See, e.g., Neal v. Gonzales,258 Fed.Appx. 339, 340 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (" The §
2255 remedy is not inadequate or ineffective simply because
§ 2255 relief has already been denied . . . ." ).
And that mechanism requires him to seek ...