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Roper v. McFadden

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division

February 11, 2016

Leonard Jarvis Roper, Petitioner,
Joseph McFadden, Warden, Respondent.


R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge

Petitioner Leonard Jarvis Roper, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, initiated this action by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See ECF Nos. 1 & 11. The matter is before the Court for consideration of Petitioner’s objections to the Report and Recommendation (R & R) of United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West.[1] See ECF Nos. 28 & 38. For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge’s R & R, grants Respondent’s motion for summary judgment, and dismisses Petitioner’s § 2254 petition with prejudice.

Background [2]

In 2009, Petitioner pled guilty to six drug charges in state court, and the plea court imposed an aggregate sentence of twenty years’ imprisonment. See ECF No. 18-1 at 3-29. The plea court denied Petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of the sentence, and the South Carolina Court of Appeals dismissed his direct appeal in 2011. See ECF Nos. 18-4, 18-10, 18-11, & 18-12. In 2012, Petitioner filed a state post-conviction relief (PCR) application, which the PCR court denied and dismissed with prejudice in 2013. See ECF No. 18-1 at 31-44, 191-222. After the South Carolina Supreme Court denied Petitioner’s petition for a writ of certiorari in January 2015, Petitioner filed the instant § 2254 habeas petition in February 2015 and amended it in March 2015. See ECF Nos. 1, 11 & 18-8.

Although Petitioner raised three grounds for relief in his § 2254 petition, he later withdrew the first and third grounds by way of his response in opposition to Respondent’s motion for summary judgment. See ECF No. 26 at 1, 4. Thus, Petitioner’s sole remaining ground for relief (Ground Two) was that plea counsel was ineffective for failing to move to withdraw Petitioner’s guilty plea or, alternatively, for not advising Petitioner that he could do so. See ECF No. 1 at 11 at 1-2; ECF No. 26 at 1-4. Respondent moved for summary judgment, arguing that Ground Two was procedurally defaulted and that Petitioner could neither prove cause and actual prejudice nor demonstrate that failure to consider Ground Two would result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. See ECF No. 18 at 21-33. Petitioner filed a response in opposition to Respondent’s motion for summary judgment. See ECF No. 26. In his response, Petitioner conceded Ground Two was procedurally defaulted but argued the default should be excused under Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. 1309 (2012), due to the ineffectiveness of his PCR counsel for not raising the issue. Id. at 2.

The Magistrate Judge issued an R & R recommending that the Court grant Respondent’s motion for summary judgment and dismiss Petitioner’s habeas petition with prejudice. See R & R, ECF No. 28. After receiving two extensions, Petitioner filed timely objections to the R & R. See ECF Nos. 31, 35, & 38.

Standard of Review

The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The Magistrate Judge’s recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the R & R to which specific objections are made, and it 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).

The Court must engage in a de novo review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge’s report to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate [Judge]’s proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of specific objections to the R & R, the Court reviews only for clear error, Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005), and the Court need not give any explanation for adopting the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199-200 (4th Cir. 1983).

Applicable Law

Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel must be reviewed under the two-part test enunciated in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). A habeas petitioner must first show counsel’s performance was deficient and fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Id. at 687-88. Second, the petitioner must show prejudice, meaning “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 688, 694.

The Strickland test applies to challenges to guilty pleas based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58-59 (1985). In the guilty plea context, the inquiry regarding counsel’s alleged deficiency hinges on whether the defendant knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered his plea. See Id. at 56 (stating that when “a defendant is represented by counsel during the plea process and enters his plea upon the advice of counsel, the voluntariness of the plea depends on whether counsel’s advice was within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases” (internal quotation marks omitted)). The prejudice component “focuses on whether counsel’s constitutionally ineffective performance affected the outcome of the plea process.” Id. at 59 (“In other words, in order to satisfy the prejudice requirement, the defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.”).

Before seeking federal habeas review of a claim, a petitioner ordinarily must raise the claim in state court by complying with state procedural rules and exhausting available state remedies. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991). “[W]hen a habeas petitioner fails to exhaust state remedies for a claim, federal review is not available until the petitioner either returns to state court with the claim or demonstrates that such an attempt would be futile, in which case the claim is treated as procedurally defaulted.” Gray v. Zook, 806 F.3d 783, 798 (4th Cir. 2015). To overcome a procedural default, a petitioner must demonstrate either (1) cause and resulting prejudice, or (2) that the failure to review the claim “will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.” Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750.

In Martinez v. Ryan, the United States Supreme Court established a “limited qualification” to the rule in Coleman and held inadequate assistance of counsel “at initial-review collateral review proceedings may establish cause for a prisoner’s procedural default of a claim of ineffective ...

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