United States District Court, D. South Carolina
May 7, 2014
Johnny M. Vanover, Jr., #349153, Petitioner,
Warden Kershaw Correctional Institution, Respondent.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
THOMAS E. ROGERS, III, Magistrate Judge.
A Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 was submitted to the court by a state prison inmate appearing pro se. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B), and D.S.C. Civ. R. 73.02(B)(2)(c), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in such pro se cases and to submit findings and recommendations to the district court. See 28 U.S.C. § § 1915(e); 1915A (as soon as possible after docketing, district courts should review prisoner cases to determine whether they are subject to summary dismissal).
Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review was made of the pro se Petition filed in this case. The review was conducted pursuant to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915, 1915A, and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, and in light of the following precedents: Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir. 1995); Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir. 1983); Boyce v. Alizaduh, 595 F.2d 948 (4th Cir. 1979).
This court is required to construe pro se petitions liberally. Such pro se petitions are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court is charged with liberally construing a petition filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007). When a federal court is evaluating a pro se petition the petitioner's allegations are assumed to be true. De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 630 n.1 (4th Cir. 2003). The requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).
Furthermore, this court is charged with screening Petitioner's lawsuit to determine if "it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court." Rule 4 of Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts; see Rule 1(b) of Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts (a district court may apply these rules to a habeas corpus petition not filed pursuant to § 2254). Following the required initial review, it is recommended that the Petition submitted in this case be summarily dismissed.
Johnny M. Vanover, Jr. ("Petitioner") indicates that he is currently serving an eight year sentence imposed on January 4, 2012 after a guilty plea to two counts of pointing and presenting a firearm. The Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus filed in this case should be dismissed because Petitioner has obviously not fully exhausted his state remedies. With respect to his 2012 convictions and sentences, Petitioner's sole federal remedies are a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and possibly, but less commonly, a writ habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, either of which can be sought only after Petitioner has exhausted his state court remedies. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b); Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court, 410 U.S. 484, 490-91 (1973) (exhaustion also required under 28 U.S.C. § 2241); Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275-76 (1971); Moore v. De Young, 515 F.2d 437, 442-43 (3d Cir. 1975) (exhaustion required under 28 U.S.C. § 2241). Exhaustion "preserves the respective roles of state and federal governments and avoids unnecessary collisions between sovereign powers. States are allowed to vindicate their interest in prompt and orderly administration of justice, while the federal judiciary upholds its responsibility to prevent the exercise of illegitimate authority." Fain v. Duff, 488 F.2d 218, 224 (5th Cir. 1973) (citing Braden ). Such considerations should not be dispensed with lightly.
Section 2254's exhaustion requirement provides:
(b)(1) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless it appears that -
(A) the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State; or
(B) (I) there is an absence of available State corrective process; or
(ii) circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the applicant.
(2) An application for a writ of habeas corpus may be denied on the merits, notwithstanding the failure of the applicant to exhaust the remedies available in the courts of the State.
(3) A State shall not be deemed to have waived the exhaustion requirement or be estopped from reliance upon the requirement unless the State, through counsel, expressly waives the requirement.
c) An applicant shall not be deemed to have exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State, within the meaning of this section, if he has the right under the law of the State to raise, by any available procedure, the question presented.
§ 2254(b), (c). This doctrine requires that before a federal court will review any allegations raised by a state prisoner, those allegations must first be presented to the state's highest court for consideration. See Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. at 276. Before a federal court may consider a habeas claim under § 2254, the petitioner must give the state court system "one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's appellate review process....'" Longworth v. Ozmint, 377 F.3d 437, 447-48 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting from O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999)). That "complete round" of appellate review also includes "discretionary review" such as the filing of a petition for writ of certiorari to the South Carolina Supreme Court seeking review of the dismissal of a PCR application. Id. at 448. The South Carolina Supreme Court has specifically stated, "[W]hen the claim has been presented to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, and relief has been denied, the litigant shall be deemed to have exhausted all available state remedies." Re Exhaustion of State Remedies in Criminal and Post-Conviction Relief Cases, 321 S.C. 563, 564, 471 S.E.2d 454, 454 (1990) (specifically addressing criminal and post-conviction relief appeals). If any avenue of state relief is still available, the petitioner must proceed through the state courts before requesting a writ of habeas corpus in the federal courts. Richardson v. Turner, 716 F.2d 1059, 1062 (4th Cir.1983); Patterson v. Leeke, 556 F.2d 1168 (4th Cir.1977). Therefore, in a federal petition for habeas relief, a petitioner may present only those issues that were presented to the South Carolina Supreme Court through direct appeal or through an appeal from the denial of a PCR application, regardless of whether the Supreme Court actually reached the merits of the claim.
In the instant case, it does not appear from the allegations contained in the Petition that Petitioner filed an appeal of the denial of his PCR application. Petitioner indicates in his Petition that his PCR hearing was held, and a decision rendered on November 20, 2013. His initial filings with this Court were docketed on that same day. Accordingly, it is apparent that the grounds for relief raised in the Petition filed in this case have not yet been considered and addressed by courts of the State of South Carolina. This failure to exhaust available state remedies is fatal to this case.
Accordingly, it is recommended that the Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in this case be dismissed without prejudice, for failure to exhaust available state remedies.