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Welch v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

August 30, 2017

RICHARD C. WELCH, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOOV UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Richard C. Welch, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, filed a “Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, ” paid a $350 filing fee and $50 administrative fee, and served this action on the United States. This matter is before me on the government's motion to dismiss and Welch's response thereto. Having considered the record, I will grant the government's motion to dismiss.

         I.

         In his pleading, Welch challenges the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance as a violation of his due process rights. Welch asks me to declare that the controlled substance schedules in 21 U.S.C. § 812 and 21 C.F.R. §§ 1308.11(d)(23), (d)(31), are void as they relate to marijuana. Welch alleges that “[b]y virtue of its long-standing status in the [Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United Sates], ” marijuana is “well-known to be medically-safe and sound for administration to a human being . . . .” and, thus, “could never have been lawfully placed on Schedule I, either in the [Controlled Substance Act] or in the restatement by the Attorney General that is in effect today.” Welch also states that he “has been made to suffer loss of property and other rights by way of this wrongful enactment.”

         Welch is currently incarcerated in the Western District of Virginia. In 2012, after Welch pled guilty, this court convicted him of conspiring to manufacture more than 100 marijuana plants, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(B) and 846, and sentenced him to 150 months of incarceration.[1] United States v. Welch, Criminal Case No. 7:11cr00072-1 (W.D. Va. Aug. 15, 2012). Welch filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, challenging the validity of his guilty plea. Id. at Docket No. 69. The court denied the § 2255 motion and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed his appeal. Id. at Docket Nos. 80, 81, and 86. Thereafter, Welch filed a direct appeal of his criminal conviction, which the Fourth Circuit dismissed. United States v. Welch, No. 14-4247 (4th Cir. July 21, 2014).

         In 2016, Welch filed a “Motion for Declaratory Judgment and Conditional Motion to Vacate Criminal Judgment and Conviction, ” asking the court to vacate his criminal judgment on the basis that possession of marijuana should not be a crime because marijuana “was actually a lawful medicinal drug.” See United States v. Welch, Criminal Case No. 7:11cr00072-1, Docket Nos. 106-108 (W.D. Va. Aug. 3, 2016). The court construed and dismissed the pleading as an unauthorized, successive § 2255 motion. Id. at 109, 110.

         II.

         The government argues that Welch's instant pleading should be construed and dismissed as a successive § 2255 motion. However, Welch does not directly attack his criminal conviction or sentence and he does not ask to be released from incarceration early. Rather, he seeks a declaration that various laws are void.[2] In his response to the government's motion to dismiss, Welch states that he is not attempting to file a second or successive § 2255 motion and that, “[a]t some point in the relatively near future, [he] will be set free[, and he] would certainly face impending injury again as a result of cannabis/marijuana activity.” He further states that how he “uses the declaratory judgment for another remedy in the future is not within the four corners of the instant pleading.”

         To the extent Welch may be challenging his current conviction, I will construe his pleading as a § 2255 motion and grant the government's motion to dismiss it as an unauthorized, successive motion because he has already filed a § 2255 motion concerning the same criminal conviction, there are no new facts upon which Welch is relying, and he has not demonstrated that he has received permission from the Fourth Circuit to file a successive motion. See § 2255(h).

         III.

         To the extent Welch is trying to bring this action to challenge any future “injury” he may suffer “as a result of” his anticipated, future “cannabis/marijuana activity, ” I conclude that Welch lacks standing and, therefore, will grant the government's motion to dismiss.

         Article III of the United States Constitution limits the role of federal courts to the decision of cases and controversies. U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. “[T]he doctrine of standing has always been an essential component” of the case or controversy requirement. Marshall v. Meadows, 105 F.3d 904, 906 (4th Cir. 1997) (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)). To demonstrate standing, a plaintiff must establish that: 1) he has suffered an “injury in fact, ” meaning an injury that is “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent”; 2) a causal connection between the injury and conduct complained of, meaning that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant's actions; and 3) a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision from the court. Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61; Chambers Med. Techs. of S.C., Inc. v. Bryant, 52 F.3d 1252, 1265 (4th Cir. 1995). “The standing doctrine [] depends not upon the merits, but on whether the plaintiff is the proper party to bring the suit.” White Tail Park, Inc. v. Stroube, 413 F.3d 451, 460-61 (4th Cir. 2005) (citations and quotations omitted).

         With regard to the injury requirement, the Supreme Court has made clear that it is not necessary that a person expose himself to arrest or prosecution under a statute in order to challenge that statute in federal court. See Babbitt v. United Farm Workers Nat'l Union, 442 U.S. 289, 298 (1979); Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 458-60 (1974); Navegar, Inc. v. United States, 103 F.3d 994, 998 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Rather, a credible threat of present or future prosecution under a criminal statute itself works an injury that is sufficient to confer standing to mount a pre-enforcement challenge to that statute. N.C. Right to Life, Inc. v. Bartlett, 168 F.3d 705, 710 (4th Cir. 1999). The plaintiff must show that the regulation presents a credible threat of enforcement against the party bringing suit that is not “imaginary or wholly speculative.” Babbitt, 442 U.S. at 302. Fears of enforcement that are “imaginary or wholly speculative” are insufficient to confer standing. Id.

         Welch alleges that, “[a]t some point in the relatively near future, ” he “will be set free, ” and he “would certainly face impending injury again as a result of cannabis/marijuana activity.” According to the Bureau of Prison's inmate locator, Welch is scheduled to be released on August 9, 2021. See Federal Bureau of Prisons, Find an Inmate, https://www.bop.gov/inmateloc (last visited August 30, 2017). Welch has not demonstrated that he is subject to an actual or imminent threat of injury. He will be incarcerated for approximately four more years and it is wholly speculative that Welch will engage in “marijuana/cannabis activity” after his release from incarceration and that this anticipated future conduct will be criminal ...


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