Seventh Circuit Holds Rule 60(b) Does Not Provide District Court with Authority to Instruct Circuit Court How to Remedy Errors in Appellate Filings

September 14, 2017 11:51 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Zachary Johnson

Research Attorney, Illinois Appellate Court, First District 

In Chambers v. United States, No. 16-2977, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied defendant Keith Chambers’ Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment in his habeas corpus proceeding.

In the decision, the Seventh Circuit discussed the district court’s authority to provide relief under Rule 60(b) and held that the rule does not provide a district court the authority to instruct a circuit court what to do, i.e., Chambers could not use a Rule 60(b) motion to direct the Seventh Circuit to allow him to file a pro se memorandum in support of his request for a certificate of appealability.

In 2008, Chambers pled guilty to distributing and possessing child pornography (18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2)(A), (a)(5)(B)), and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Chambers voluntarily dismissed his direct appeal. He filed a motion challenging his sentence (28 U.SC. § 2255) based on ineffectiveness of his trial counsel. The district court appointed representation for Chambers (“appointed counsel”) and conducted a hearing on the motion. It concluded that his trial counsel’s performance was not deficient and denied the § 2255 motion. The district court declined to issue a certificate of appealability.

Chambers appealed to the Seventh Circuit and, as the Seventh Circuit stated in its decision, “that is when things went awry.” Although appointed counsel was listed as counsel of record on appeal, he refused to represent Chambers, but did not file a motion to withdraw. Chambers contacted the clerk and district court for help, but was ultimately unsuccessful in getting appointed counsel removed so that he could file a pro se memorandum in support of his request for a certificate of appealability. In February 2013, the Seventh Circuit declined to issue the certificate.

Thereafter, Chambers unsuccessfully filed a motion to recall the mandate and a § 2244(b) application. He then asked the district court for relief from the judgment under Rule 60(b), which gave rise to the appeal in this case.

In his Rule 60(b) motion, Chambers argued that he was deprived of his opportunity to be heard when he was prevented from filing a pro se memorandum in support of his request for a certificate of appealability. The district court concluded that it lacked the authority to direct the appellate court to allow Chambers’ memorandum in support of his request and, therefore, denied his Rule 60(b) motion.

On appeal to the Seventh Circuit, Chambers argued the district court had the authority to grant relief based on the new and unforeseeable circumstances. The government argued that Chambers was relitigating an issue that the Seventh Circuit had already considered and rejected.

In the decision, the Seventh Circuit distinguished Chambers’ circumstances from those in cases where the district court remedied errors made in filing an appeal. The court explained that “all of the cases Chambers cite[d] involved errors either committed or properly remedied in the district court.”

The Seventh Circuit held that the proper vehicle to remedy an error in the circuit court is a motion to recall the mandate, which serves the same purpose as Rule 60(b) does in the district court. But therein lies the problem, as the Seventh Circuit held: “Chambers sought that relief and we rejected it. He cannot now relitigate that claim in the district court through the vehicle of Rule 60(b).”

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s order finding it did not have authority to consider Chambers’ Rule 60(b) motion. The court briefly addressed the merits of his Rule 60(b) motion and memorandum in support of a certificate of appealability, determining that they would have been unsuccessful.


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