United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
OPINION & ORDER
TIMOTHY M. CAIN, District Judge.
This matter is before the court on pro se Petitioner Clifton Donell Lyles' ("Lyles") petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2), D.S.C., all pre-trial proceedings were referred to a magistrate judge. On January 28, 2016, Magistrate Judge Thomas E. Rogers, III, filed a Report and Recommendation ("Report") recommending Respondent's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 64) be granted and the petition denied. (ECF No. 75). Lyles timely filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 77).
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 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).
I. Procedural History/Background
In his Report, the magistrate judge set forth the facts and procedural history, and the court adopts and incorporates that summary by reference. Briefly, Lyles was tried in his absence before a jury for trafficking crack cocaine and convicted. He was sentenced to thirty (30) years and fined $50, 000. At trial, Lyles was represented by retained counsel, James Shadd, III.
Lyles' appeal counsel filed an Anders  brief on direct appeal and Lyles filed a pro se brief raising eight issues. The South Carolina Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal. Lyles then filed a petition seeking a writ of certiorari with the South Carolina Supreme Court. The South Carolina Supreme Court denied the petition. State v. Lyles, 673 S.E.2d 811 (S.C. 2009). Lyles then filed an application for post-conviction relief ("PCR") alleging ineffective assistance of counsel on several grounds. After a hearing, the PCR court dismissed the application and subsequently filed a Rule 59(e) motion. Lyles filed a second application for PCR, which the PCR court conditionally dismissed as successive. However, the PCR court also granted Lyles a belated review of the dismissal of his first PCR, pursuant to Austin v. State, 409 S.E.2d 395 (S.C. 1991), whereby a petitioner can petition the South Carolina Supreme Court for a review of a dismissal of a PCR application where PCR counsel failed to appeal the dismissal. PCR counsel filed a Johnson  petition and Lyles filed a pro se response raising five issues. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Lyles' petition and, after review pursuant to Johnson, denied the petition for a writ of certiorari of the dismissal of Lyles' first PCR.
In 2008, while his state PCR proceedings were pending, Lyles also filed a petition in this court seeking federal habeas relief raising eight grounds for relief. Lyles v. Warden, C/A No. 4:08-cv-1884-PMD (D.S.C. May 14, 2008). This action was dismissed without prejudice, so that Lyles could exhaust his state remedies. After his state PCR proceedings concluded, on March 24, 2014, Lyles filed the instant petition for habeas relief raising eight grounds for relief. (ECF No. 1, Petition). In this petition, Lyles stated that he wanted to raise all the issues he had raised in his first habeas petition and he attached the Report and Recommendation from his 2008 habeas action which set forth those issues. (Pet. 1-1 at 3). After the State filed its return and motion for summary judgment, Lyles filed a motion to amend his habeas petition. (ECF No. 35). The magistrate judge granted the motion, ordered Lyles to file one concise proposed amended habeas petition, and deemed the State's summary judgment motion moot. (ECF No. 39).
Lyles filed a second motion to amend with an attached proposed amended habeas petition, but he specifically stated it was to be added to his currently pending petition. (ECF No. 42). The State filed a response to the motion to amend noting that the magistrate judge had ordered Lyles to file one concise petition, and asking that the court accept the new proposed amended petition and replace the original petition with it. (ECF No. 44). The magistrate judge entered an order stating that, unless either party objected within fifteen days, he was going to grant the motion to amend and substitute the proposed amended petition. (ECF No. 45). Lyles filed a response stating that he did not intend to replace his original petition with the proposed amended petition, and that he wanted "all duplicate grounds be merged." (ECF No. 49). The State did not file any response. Thereafter, the magistrate judge granted Lyles' motion to amend and stated that the amended petition was not to replace the original petition. (ECF No. 51). The magistrate judge ordered the Clerk to "file this amended petition and attach the original petition to be one complete amended petition." Id. Thereafter, the amended petition was filed. (ECF No. 52, Am. Petition), and the State subsequently filed a return and second motion for summary judgment (ECF Nos.63 and 64).
In his Report, the magistrate judge separately addressed each ground raised in each document, and noted when appropriate where the claims are duplicative. The magistrate judge found that the majority of Lyles' claims were procedurally barred, as they were not raised and ruled on in his state court proceedings, or were barred pursuant to Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465, 494 (1976), because Lyles had a full and fair opportunity to raise his Fourth Amendment claims in state court. (Report at 24, 26, 28, 30, 34-35, 36, 39-40, 44, 65, 67) (discussing Lyles' arguments on Fourth Amendment violations in regard to the search warrant and arrest, failure to knock-and-announce when executing the search warrant,  violations of Franks,  Payton,  and Brady,  alleged perjury of the several State's witnesses, and denial of equal protection). The magistrate found several other claims not cognizable in a federal habeas action court because the claims do not address federal law. Id. at 34, 36, 45, 57, 58, 59, 62, 64, and 66 (discussing Lyles' arguments regarding the confidential informant's identity, and chain of custody). Finally, the magistrate judge addressed numerous claims on the merits, including most of those that he deemed procedurally barred, and found that these claims were without merit. Id. at 34, 36-39, 40-41, 41-43, 45-46, 47-50, 50-53, 53-54, 54-56, 60-61, 61-62., 63-64, 65, and 66. (discussing alleged Franks, Batson, Brady, and Doyle  violations).
The court has reviewed Lyles' objections and, for the most part, they reiterate the arguments he made before the magistrate judge. General objections that merely reiterate arguments presented to the magistrate judge lack the specificity required under Rule 72, and have the same effect as a failure to object, or as a waiver of such objection. See Veney v. Astrue, 539 F.Supp.2d 841, 845 (2008). However, Lyles does raise several specific objections, which the court addresses below.
In accordance with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), a federal court may not grant relief on a habeas claim previously adjudicated on the merits in state court unless that adjudication:
(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 ...