Willie Seth Crain v. Florida (11th Cir. March 2019)

The Federal Docket

April 5, 2019

Appellate Jurisdiction/28 U.S.C. § 1291 – A § 2254 petitioner cannot appeal an order denying his motion for appointment of independent or substitute counsel while his § 2254 proceedings are still pending.

Throughout the course of the proceedings for his motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Willie Crain filed a motion for appointment of independent counsel and a motion for appointment of substitute counsel. The district court denied both.

The Eleventh Circuit held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider Crain’s subsequent appeals because the § 2254 proceedings were still pending and the district court’s orders denying Crain’s motions were not appealable orders under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, which grants appellate jurisdiction for “final decisions,” or Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp, 337 U.S. 541 (1949), which grants appellate jurisdiction for certain “collateral orders” that conclusively, and in an unreviewable way, decide an issue separate from the merits of the underlying case.

The orders denying Crain’s motions for substitute counsel did not fall under the “collateral-order doctrine” because they were not otherwise unreviewable. The Court noted that it could review those orders along with any potential denial of Crain’s § 2254 motion on the merits.

The Court acknowledged that the Court had recently reviewed a district court’s collateral order denying a § 2254 petitioner’s motion to substitute counsel (citing Chavez v. Sec’y, Fla. Dep’t of Corr, 742 F.3d 940 (11th Cir. 2014), but the Court distinguished that case, contending that the Court did not expressly address subject matter jurisdiction in that case, thus leaving the Court free to decide the jurisdictional question in Crain’s appeal.

Appeal from the Middle District of Florida

Per Curiam Opinion by Tjoflat, Marcus, W. Pryor

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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