Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, January 11, 2016

Salmona: No mandamus subject matter jurisdiction to enforce plea agreement

In U.S. v. Salmona, No. 15-12659 (Jan. 8, 2016), the Court held that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate an inmate’s claim that the government breached its plea agreement when it failed to make him serve his sentence in a federal prison, as opposed to a state prison. Salmona’s plea agreement provided that in exchange for his cooperation, the government would allow him to serve a state sentence in federal custody. The agreement also provided that in the event Salmona gave false testimony, the promise of immunity would be void. Salmona gave false testimony, and the government relied on this breach to rescind the plea agreement, including its promise to have Salmona serve his state sentence in federal prison. Salmona then brought an action in the district court, seeking to enforce the federal custody provision of his plea agreement. The Court found that the mandamus statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1361, was the only basis for Salmona’s claim, but this requires a showing that the government owed Salmona a clear nondiscretionary duty. Here, it was “disputable” whether the government could rescind the entire plea agreement, based on Salmona’s false testimony, because this was a “substantial” breach of the plea agreement. The Court noted a Second Circuit case holding that the government could rescind a plea agreement when the defendant was in material breach of the agreement. [Note: this Second Circuit case did not involve a plea agreement, as here, that specified the government’s remedy [voiding a promise of immunity] in the event the defendant gave false testimony]. Because it was disputable whether Salmona was entitled to relief, he did not satisfy the jurisdictional requirement of showing a clear non-discretionary duty.