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Caldwell v. Roberts

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

March 7, 2016

Nathaniel Caldwell III, Petitioner,
v.
Warden Roberto Roberts, Respondent.

ORDER

Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge

This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, recommending summary judgment for Respondent and dismissal of the Petition for habeas relief. For the following reasons, the Court adopts the Report and Recommendation in part and declines to adopt it in part, grants summary judgment for Respondent, and dismisses the Petition.

I. Background

In 2007, a thirteen year-old girl communicated to Petitioner that she intended to run away from home. Petitioner, then about fifty-four years old, responded by kidnapping the girl.[1] He kept her in his apartment, raping and sodomizing her, according to the State, [2] until police were able to rescue her by using the tracking system on her mobile phone.[3]

Petitioner was indicted for kidnapping in June 2008. He was released on bond and absconded for two years, until he was apprehended. He pled guilty to kidnapping on July 15, 2010, and was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment and required to register as a sex offender. On July 5, 2011, Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief ("PCR"). An evidentiary hearing was held, and his application was thereafter denied on March 30, 2012. Petitioner appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which transferred his appeal to the South Carolina Court of Appeals. PCR appellate counsel raised one issue on appeal: Did the PCR court err in holding that Petitioner's guilty plea was voluntary. Petitioner also filed a pro se brief raising seven other issues (see R. & R. 3-4). On September 25, 2014, the Court of Appeals denied the appeal; its remittitur issued on October 13, 2014.

Petitioner filed the present Petition for a writ of habeas corpus on October 28, 2014, asserting six grounds for relief: (1) denial of direct appeal due to ineffective assistance of counsel, (2) insufficient evidence to sustain Petitioner's conviction, (3) ineffective assistance of counsel at trial, (4) due process and other constitutional violations due to defects with the indictment, (5) involuntary guilty plea, and (6) due process violations arising from errors by the PCR court. Respondent moved for summary judgment. On January 29, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued the Report and Recommendation before the Court, to which Petitioner timely objected.

II. Legal Standard

A. Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge

The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (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. The Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

When a proper objection is made to a particular issue, "a district court is required to consider all arguments directed to that issue, regardless of whether they were raised before the magistrate." United States v. George, 971 F.2d 1113, 1118 (4th Cir. 1992). However, "[t]he district court's decision whether to consider additional evidence is committed to its discretion, and any refusal will be reviewed for abuse." Doe v. Chao, 306 F.3d 170, 183 & n.9 (4th Cir. 2002). "[Attempts to introduce new evidence after the magistrate judge has acted are disfavored, " though the district court may allow it "when a party offers sufficient reasons for so doing." Caldwell v. Jackson, 831 F.Supp.2d 911, 914 (M.D. N.C. 2010) (listing cases).

B. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate if a party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), In other words, summary judgment should be granted "only when it is clear that there is no dispute concerning either the facts of the controversy or the inferences to be drawn from those facts." Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). "In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities in favor of the nonmoving party." HealthSouth Rehab. Hosp. v. Am. Nat'l Red Cross, 101 F.3d 1005, 1008 (4th Cir. 1996). The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323(1986).

Once the moving party has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings. Id. at 324. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. Under this standard, "[c]onclusory or speculative allegations do not suffice, nor does a 'mere scintilla of evidence'" in support of the non-moving party's case. Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co,, 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Phillips v. CSX Transp, Inc., 190 F.3d 285, 287 (4th Cir. 1999)).

C. Habeas Corpus

1. Standard for Relief

Claims adjudicated on the merits in a state court proceeding cannot be a basis for federal habeas corpus relief unless the decision was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, " or the decision "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), (2). Section 2254(d) codifies the view that habeas corpus is a '"guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, ' not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102-03 (2011) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332 n.5 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment)). "A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as 'fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision." Id. at 101 (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)); see also White, 134 S.Ct. at 1702 (stating that "'[a]s a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement'") (quoting Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103).

Therefore, when reviewing a state court's application of federal law, "a federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410 (2000); see also White v.Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014) (describing an "unreasonable application" as "objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong" and providing that "even clear error will not suffice") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Moreover, review of a state court decision does not require an opinion from the state court explaining its reasoning. See Harrington at 98 (finding that "[t]here is no text in [§ 2254] requiring a statement of reasons" by the state court). If no explanation accompanies the state court's decision, a federal habeas petitioner must show that there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief. Id. Pursuant to ยง 2254(d), a federal habeas court must (1) determine what arguments or theories supported or could have supported the state court's decision; and then (2) ask whether it is possible that fairminded jurists could disagree ...


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