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United States v. Coughlin

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 8, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CHARLES E. COUGHLIN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Royce C. Lamberth United States District Judge

         Before the Court is defendant Charles E. Coughlin's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [ECF Nos. 20$and 221], as well as his Motion to Expand the Record Pursuant to Rule of the Federal Rules Governing 28 U.S. § 2255 Proceedings. Defendant claims that his counsel was ineffective. Upon consideration of defendant's motion [204 and 221], the Government's opposition [241], defendant's reply [247], the entire record herein, and the applicable law, the defendant's motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Defendant's Victim Compensation Fund Claim

         Defendant Charles Coughlin was working at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. United States v. Coughlin, 821 F.Supp.2d 35, 38 (D.D.C. 2011). Defendant's desk was located seventy-five feet from the site of impact of the hijacked airplane that crashed into the building that day. Id. In December 2003, Defendant submitted a claim to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund ("VCF"), which Congress created to compensate individuals injured on September 11th. Id. He claimed that the plane's impact caused the ceiling overhead to cave in. Id. He also stated that he was struck by flying debris, and hit his head while engaged in the rescue effort. Id. In his submission to the VCF, he stated that this sequence of events caused him severe and permanent disabilities. Id. He argued that his collection of disabilities prevented him from participating in athletic activity, and the medical attention that they required forced him to take time off from work. Id. He also claimed that he was unable to complete routine household chores and was forced to pay others to complete them. Id. In his VCF claim, he included a collection often checks that were used to compensate others for such work. Id. The claim, however, only sought $180, 000 in compensation for his injuries and disabilities, and no compensation for the replacement services that he procured and other economic damages related to the injuries which he described. Id.

         The VCF initially denied defendant's claim due to its untimeliness. Id. at 38-39. Defendant appealed that determination on February 17, 2004, explaining his untimeliness and seeking a waiver of ineligibility that was available to rescue workers. Id. at 39. Defendant submitted additional documentation to support his appeal on February 20 and March 9, 2004, including medical records and a physician's report. Id. The VCF reversed its initial denial and notified the defendant that he was eligible for a presumed award of $60, 000 for noneconomic loss. Id. The VCF notified defendant that he could either accept the presumed award or request an appeal hearing. Id. On April 30, 2004, defendant's attorney notified the VCF of his client's request for an appeal hearing. Id.

         During the May 13, 2004 appeal hearing, defendant's attorney told the hearing officer that he requested the appeal hearing because the presumed award was "unfair and inadequate" and "provided no compensation for economic loss" to defendant. Id. (internal quotations omitted). Defendant elaborated by stating that his initial claim lacked a past, present, and future loss of earnings component. Id. Defendant submitted ten additional exhibits to support his appeal, nine of which centered on his economic-loss claim. Id. These nine exhibits included a letter detailing the time he had taken off from work for doctor's appointments and physical therapy; thirty two carbon copies of checks purportedly reflecting payments to outsiders for household services that he was no longer able to perform; and a six-part schedule detailing his past and future economic claims. Id.

         On June 1, 2004, the VCF returned its final decision, awarding defendant $331, 034: $ 151, 034 for economic damages, as well as the $ 180, 000 that he sought for noneconomic damages for his injury. Id.

         B. First Trial

         On October 31, 2008, a D.C. grand jury indicted defendant on five counts of mail fraud (one for each letter he sent to the VCF while pursuing his claim), one count of filing a false, fictitious and fraudulent claim, and one count of theft of government property. Id.

         On March 10, 2009, trial proceedings commenced against the defendant with Judge Kennedy presiding. Id. During the trial, the government contested defendant's allegation that he was injured on September 11, 2001. ECF No. 241 at 5. In response, the defense presented the expert testimony of Doctors Spiro Antoniades, Akhil Khanna, and Thorn Mayer, all of whom testified that defendant sustained a partial permanent disability during the attack on the Pentagon. ECF No. 206 at 8-9; ECF No. 221 at 8. These experts testified that defendant was being treated for a cervical spine injury following September 11, 2001. ECF No. 206 at 8-9; ECF No. 221 at 19. Ultimately, the jury acquitted the defendant of three counts of mail fraud (Counts Two, Three, and Five), but failed to reach a verdict on the other two mail fraud counts (Counts One and Four), the count of filing a false, fictitious and fraudulent claim (Count Six), and the count of theft of government property (Count Seven). Coughlin, 821 F.Supp.2d at 39.

         C. Second Trial

         Defendant's retrial commenced on June 8, 2009, despite defendant's objection that retrying the hung counts was barred under the Double Jeopardy Clause, in light of Yeager v. United States. Coughlin, 821 F.Supp.2d at 40; 557 U.S. 110 (2009). Defendant sought an interlocutory appeal of the Court's denial of his objection to the retrial. Coughlin, 821 F.Supp.2d at 39-40. After the Court denied his interlocutory appeal, defendant sought an emergency stay from the D.C. Circuit, which was granted. Id. at 40. Judge Kennedy ultimately declared a mistrial. Id.

         D. D.C. ...


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