United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
Petitioner, proceeding pro se, brought this action seeking relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (2012). (ECF No. 1.) This matter is before the court for review of the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation (“Report”) (ECF No. 33), recommending that Respondent’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF Nos. 14, 15) be granted and Petitioner’s action (ECF No. 1) be denied. The Report sets forth in detail the relevant facts and legal standards on this matter, and the court incorporates the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation herein without a recitation.
I. LEGAL STANDARD
A. The Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court that has no presumptive weight-the responsibility to make a final determination remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court reviews de novo only those portions of a Magistrate Judge’s Report to which specific objections are filed, and it reviews those portions not objected to-including those portions to which only “general and conclusory” objections have been made-for clear error. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983); Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The court may accept, reject, or modify-in whole or in part-the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
B. Summary Judgment
Summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). A genuine question of material fact exists where, after reviewing the record as a whole, the court finds that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Newport News Holdings Corp. v. Virtual City Vision, 650 F.3d 423, 434 (4th Cir. 2011).
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 123- 24 (4th Cir. 1990). The non-moving party may not oppose a motion for summary judgment with mere allegations or denials of the movant’s pleading, but instead must “set forth specific facts” demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1012 (4th Cir. 1991). All that is required is that “sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties’ differing versions of the truth at trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Mere unsupported speculation . . . is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ennis v. Nat’l Ass’n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995).
C. Relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, as codified in 28 U.S.C. § 2254, governs Petitioner’s federal habeas claims. Petitioners seeking relief pursuant to § 2254 usually must exhaust all available state court remedies before seeking relief in federal court. § 2254(b). Federal courts may not thereafter grant habeas corpus relief unless the underlying state adjudication comports with § 2254(d), which provides:
[a]n 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 with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.
§ 2254(d) (emphasis added).
A state court’s decision is contrary to clearly established federal law when it “applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth” by the United States Supreme Court or confronts facts essentially indistinguishable from a prior Supreme Court decision and “nevertheless arrives at a result different from [Supreme Court] precedent.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). In contrast, a state court’s decision involves an “unreasonable application” of “clearly established” federal law 1) “if the state court identifies the correct governing legal rule from this [Supreme] Court’s cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner’s case” or 2) “if the state court either unreasonably extends a legal principle from [Supreme Court] precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply.” Id. at 407.
In line with Williams, the Fourth Circuit has noted that an “unreasonable application” is not necessarily an “incorrect application” of federal law, explaining that “an incorrect application of federal law is not, in all instances, objectively unreasonable.” Humphries v. Ozmint, 397 F.3d 206, 216 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 413). Thus, to grant a habeas petition, a federal court must determine that the state courts’ adjudication of a petitioner’s claims was “not only incorrect, but that it was objectively unreasonable.” McHone v. Polk, 392 F.3d 691, 719 (4th Cir. 2004).
In making this determination, a federal court’s habeas review focuses on the state court decision that already addressed the claims, not “the petitioner’s free-standing claims themselves.” McLee v. Angelone, 967 F.Supp. 152, 156 (E.D. Va. 1997), appeal dismissed, 139 F.3d 891 (4th Cir. 1998). And a Petitioner who brings a habeas petition in federal court must rebut facts relied upon by the state court with “clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Cagle v. Branker, 520 F.3d 320, 324 (4th Cir. 2008) (“[F]or a federal habeas court to ...