United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Daniel L. Crowe, #250759, Petitioner,
Warden of Perry Correctional Institution, Respondent.
OPINION AND ORDER
BRUCE HOWE HENDRICKS, District Judge.
Petitioner Daniel L. Crowe, ("Petitioner"), proceeding pro se, filed this application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 1.) In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02, D.S.C., the action was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges, for pretrial handling and a Report and Recommendation ("Report"). Judge Hodges recommends that Respondent's motion for summary judgment be granted and Petitioner's § 2254 petition be dismissed, with prejudice. (ECF No. 46.) The Report sets forth in detail the relevant facts and standards of law on this matter and the Court incorporates them without recitation.
Petitioner filed this action against Respondent on September 23, 2014,  alleging, inter alia, ineffective assistance of trial counsel. On September 14, 2015, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report; and on October 13, 2015, Petitioner filed his Objections. (ECF No. 51.) The Court has reviewed the objections, but finds them to be without merit. Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report and Recommendation to which specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, the court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only "general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations." Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a timely filed, specific objection, the Magistrate Judge's conclusions are reviewed only for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).
As noted above, Petitioner filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report which the Court has carefully reviewed. Petitioner first objects that the Magistrate Judge erred in her "recitation of the procedural history" by attributing the actions taken in the post-conviction review ("PCR") process to Petitioner, rather than Petitioner's collateral counsel. (ECF No. 51 at 5.) Relatedly, Petitioner argues that the Magistrate Judge's statement that Petitioner filed his first PCR action "prior to the passage of 365 days" indicates that this PCR action was timely filed. ( Id. at 6.)
The Magistrate Judge provided a detailed procedural history of Petitioner's actions for PCR relief; correctly finding that the first PCR action was not timely filed, and, therefore, each of the grounds raised in the § 2254 petition are procedurally barred from review. (ECF No. 46 at 2-4.) As explained in the Report, Petitioner's conviction became final on October 18, 2000, the last date on which he could seek review in the United States Supreme Court. See Gonzalez v. Thaler, 132 S.Ct. 641, 653-54 (2012). Thus, pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), Petitioner had one year from October 18, 2000 to file his § 2254 petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A).
Contrary to Petitioner's objection, the Magistrate Judge explicitly recognized that "Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief ("PCR") through collateral counsel Richard H. Warder, Esq." (ECF No. 46 at 2.) She stated that Petitioner filed his first PCR action "prior to the passage of 365 days, " on August 21, 2001. (ECF No. 46 at 10.) Here, the Magistrate Judge was acknowledging that Petitioner filed the PCR action prior to the expiration of the one-year AEDPA statute of limitations. However, Petitioner needed to file his federal habeas petition within this limitations period, which he did not do, as discussed below.
The Magistrate Judge proceeded to find that Petitioner failed to file his first PCR action within the one-year state statute of limitations, which is triggered by a different date than that under § 2244(d)(1)(A). See S.C. Code Ann. § 17-27-45 ("An application for relief filed pursuant to this chapter must be filed within one year after the entry of a judgment of conviction or within one year after the sending of the remittitur to the lower court from an appeal or the filing of the final decision upon an appeal, whichever is later."). The state statute of limitations began to run when the remitter was sent following Petitioner's unsuccessful appeal of his conviction, on August 7, 2000. (ECF No. 33-7.) Because Petitioner did not file his first PCR action until over a year later on August 21, 2001, the PCR action was not timely filed. As a result, the circuit court found that it was not a "properly filed" application for state post-conviction relief and dismissed the first PCR action as untimely. (ECF No. 33-2 at 17.) The AEDPA statute of limitations was therefore never tolled-it expired on October 18, 2001. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2) (stating that the one-year period to file a § 2254 petition is tolled for the "time during which properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending"). Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge correctly found that Petitioner's federal habeas petition was procedurally barred because he did not file the § 2254 petition until roughly thirteen years later, on September 23, 2014. The Court finds that the Magistrate Judge did not err in her recitation of the procedural history, and Petitioner's first objection is therefore overruled.
Petitioner next objects that even if his § 2254 petition was untimely filed, he is entitled to equitable tolling. In Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631, 649 (2010), the United States Supreme Court recognized that the statute of limitations on petitions for federal habeas relief may be equitably tolled only if the petitioner shows, "(1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way and prevented timely filing." (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "Extraordinary circumstances" have been applied in two distinct situations. Harris v. Hutchinson, 209 F.3d 325, 330 (4th Cir. 2000). "In the first, the plaintiffs were prevented from asserting their claims by some kind of wrongful conduct on the part of the defendant. In the second, extraordinary circumstances beyond plaintiffs' control made it impossible to file the claims on time." Id. (citing Alvarez-Machain v. United States, 107 F.3d 696, 700 (9th Cir. 1996)).
Here, Petitioner argues that his PCR attorney's conduct constitutes "extraordinary circumstances" entitling him to equitable tolling. (ECF No. 51 at 7-8.) Specifically, Petitioner alleges that his PCR counsel acknowledged the untimely filing of the first PCR action and "assured that he (Warder) would get the case heard since the denial of the first PCR was his (Warder'[s]) fault for not timely filing the initial application." ( Id. at 5.)
Holland is instructive here. In Holland, the Court considered whether the conduct of the petitioner's attorney amounted to "extraordinary circumstances" sufficient to warrant equitable relief. 560 U.S. at 651-652. The Court found that the conduct must amount to more than "a garden variety claim of excusable neglect" and proceeded to find the petitioner's allegations that his attorney "failed to file [the] petition on time and appears to have been unaware of the date on which the limitations period expired" to suggest only "simple negligence." Id. at 651-52. These allegations are analogous to those made in the instant action. The Holland Court went on to recount further facts that suggested the presence of "extraordinary circumstances, " including the petitioner's remarkable diligence in seeking guidance from his attorney and his prompt efforts to remedy his attorney's failings. Id. at 652. However, such additional conduct is lacking here. Thus, ...