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United States v. Reynolds

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 19, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JASON TODD REYNOLDS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Gladys Kessler United States District Judge

         Petitioner is Jason Todd Reynolds, an inmate in a federal prison, who was convicted of multiple felonies in 2011. Judgment as to Jason Todd Reynolds [Dkt. No. 73]. In 2014, Mr. Reynolds challenged his conviction under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that his attorney in his criminal trial had provided him with unconstitutionally ineffective assistance. [Dkt. No. 96]. Mr. Reynolds' Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 was fully briefed, and the Court held an evidentiary hearing on February 2 and 3, 2015 ("Evidentiary Hearing"). See Memorandum Order Denying Motion to Vacate at 6 [Dkt. No. 140]. Ultimately, on February 19, 2015, the Court denied Mr. Reynolds' Motion to Vacate his conviction. Id.

         Mr. Reynolds now asks this Court to vacate the judgment of February 19, 2015, alleging that various officials within the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") conspired to keep him from participating in the Evidentiary Hearing, and thereby committed a fraud on this Court and deprived him of his right to due process. Petition for Relief Under Federal Rule 60(b) and 60(d) ("Petition") [Dkt. No. 151]. In addition, Mr. Reynolds brings a number of ancillary claims alleging that: 1) an individual BOP official violated his constitutional rights; 2) various BOP officials have falsified his prison records, resulting in poorer conditions of confinement and the prospect of more time in prison; and 3) the Department of Justice has violated the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552. After consideration of the Petition, the Opposition [Dkt. No 155], and the Reply [Dkt. No. 158], and the entire record herein, Mr. Reynold's Petition will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 22, 2014, Mr. Reynolds filed a Motion to Vacate his conviction under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that his attorney for his trial, Edward Sussman, had provided him with ineffective assistance. [Dkt. No. 96]. Mr. Reynolds was represented by David Bernstein on the §2255 Motion challenging his conviction. On January 5, 2015, the Court scheduled an Evidentiary Hearing for February 2, 2015. [Dkt. No. 130].

         On or around January 14, 2015, the BOP informed Mr. Reynolds that it would not allow him to travel to the Evidentiary Hearing. BOP officials claimed that there had been a chickenpox outbreak at the prison where Mr. Reynolds was held and that medical tests confirmed that he lacked immunity to the chickenpox virus. Therefore, pursuant to BOP protocol, he was not permitted to travel as he posed a transmission risk. On January 21, 2015, Mr. Bernstein filed an Emergency Motion to Compel BOP to produce Mr. Reynolds at the Evidentiary Hearing. [Dkt. No. 131]. On January 28, 2015, the Court held a status conference, by telephone, to discuss the Emergency Motion. Subsequently, after informal negotiations between the Government and Mr. Bernstein, the parties agreed that Mr. Reynolds would appear by video. Exh. E to Opp'n [Dkt. No. 155-5].

         The Court then held the Evidentiary Hearing, as scheduled, on February 2 and 3, 2015, and Mr. Reynolds participated by video conference. Transcript of Motions Hearing Volume 1 ("February 2nd Transcript") at 5:19-21 (2015) [Dkt. No. 136]. The transcript of the hearing makes clear that Mr. Reynolds was able to testify fully on the morning of February 2, 2015, despite some technical issues. See id. at 59:19-22 (in which Mr. Bernstein concluded his questioning and Mr. Reynolds was dismissed); see also Id. at 9:25-10:1, 55:20-56:2 (discussing technical issues, although confirming that Mr. Reynolds was able to see, hear, and participate). At the conclusion of his testimony, the video feed Mr. Reynolds used to testify was disconnected, and he did not participate in the remaining day-and-a-half of the Evidentiary Hearing. Id. at 60:6-7; Transcript of Motions Hearing Volume 2 ("February 3rd Transcript") at 4:7-10 (2015) [Dkt. No. 137] (noting that Mr. Reynolds was not present for the second day of the Evidentiary Hearing).

         In response to the Court's question of whether his client had agreed that he would only testify and not appear electronically for the remainder of the hearing, Mr. Bernstein stated: "Well, actually, Your Honor, we never really entertained the possibility that he would be able to listen to the entire hearing because we thought we would only have video for two hours. But he did consent to give his testimony via the video. I did talk to him about that." February 2nd Transcript at 83:16-21; see also February 3rd Transcript at 4:7-10 (noting that "Mr. Reynolds has indicated his agreement for us to proceed without him being present"). After Mr. Reynolds' appearance at the Evidentiary Hearing, his Emergency Motion was terminated as moot because BOP had, in fact, allowed him to appear at the Evidentiary Hearing. MINUTE ORDER denying as moot Dkt. No. 131 Motion to Compel as to JASON TODD REYNOLDS (February 3, 2013) (available on ECF).

         In his present Petition, Mr. Reynolds makes a number of distinct claims. First, he alleges that BOP officials fabricated the results of the chickenpox tests in order to prevent him from appearing at the Evidentiary Hearing. He also alleges that, during the Evidentiary Hearing, his BOP case manager, Charles Wilson, disconnected the video feed after Mr. Reynolds had finished testifying, thereby preventing him from participating in the entirety of the Evidentiary Hearing. Petition at 16-17, 20-21. He argues that the cumulative effect of these actions was to deny him an ability to effectively participate in the Evidentiary Hearing, thereby depriving him of his Fifth Amendment right to due process and perpetrating a fraud on the Court. Id. Second, Mr. Reynolds argues that, by disconnecting the video feed, Mr. Wilson violated various constitutional rights held by Mr. Reynolds. Id. at 17-18, 20-21.

         Third, he claims that BOP officials deliberately falsified his prison records and, that if these records were corrected, he would be incarcerated for less prison time and eligible for improved conditions of confinement during the remaining time he is incarcerated. Petition at 23-36. Fourth and finally, Mr. Reynolds claims that the Government has not properly responded to a FOIA request he filed, requesting documents related to his incarceration. Petition at 36-38.

         II. CLAIMS UNDER FEDERAL RULE 60

         A. Preliminary Issues

         As a preliminary matter, there is some dispute as to what provisions of Rule 60 Mr. Reynolds relies on to bring this petition. See Opposition at 6-10. Mr. Reynolds' Petition is entitled "Petition for Relief Under Federal Rule 60(b) and 60(d)"; but each of those subdivisions contain several different bases on which a court may grant relief.

         Having reviewed Mr. Reynolds' Petition, it is readily apparent that he brings his claims regarding the conduct of the Evidentiary Hearing under subsections (b)(3), (b)(4), and (d)(3) of Rule 60. Throughout his filings, Mr. Reynolds repeatedly states that BOP's alleged attempts to prevent his participation in the Evidentiary Hearing were based on willful misrepresentations to the Court that he had chickenpox. This allegation clearly falls within the ambit of Rule 60(b)(3), which allows a court to relieve a party from a final judgment for "fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party, " as well as Rule 60(d)(3), which preserves the court's authority to "set aside a judgment for fraud on the court." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 60.

         Additionally, Mr. Reynolds repeatedly asserts that, as a result of these misrepresentations to the Court, he was unable to participate in the entirety of the Evidentiary Hearing, and that this violated his Fifth Amendment right to due process. This allegation clearly falls within the ambit of Rule 60(b)(4), which applies '"where a judgment is premised ... on a violation of due process that deprives a party of notice or the opportunity to be heard.'" United States v. Philip ...


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