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Cooper v. Stevenson

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

June 15, 2016

Duval Melvin Cooper, Petitioner,
v.
Warden Robert M. Stevenson, III, Respondent.

          ORDER

          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner’s objections to United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett’s report and recommendation (“R & R”) (ECF Nos. 47 & 32). The Magistrate Judge recommends granting Respondent’s summary judgment motion (ECF No. 24) and denying Petitioner’s petition for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

         Petitioner’s objections were due February 8, 2016. Having received no objections by February 11, the Court reviewed the R & R, adopted it, and granted judgment for Respondent (ECF Nos. 37 & 38). However, Petitioner later demonstrated that he did not receive a copy of the R & R until after his deadline had already expired. The Court granted him until April 29 to file objections. Petitioner filed objections on April 28. In order to consider those objections, the Court hereby vacates its February 11 order and judgment.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The R & R has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility for making a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). This Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the R & R to which a timely, specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify the Magistrate Judge’s findings and recommendations in whole or in part. Id. Additionally, the Court may receive more evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. Id. A party’s failure to object is taken as the party’s agreement with the Magistrate Judge’s conclusions. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985). Absent a timely, specific objection-or as to those portions of the R & R to which no specific objection is made-this Court “must ‘only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.’” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee’s note).

         DISCUSSION

         The Magistrate Judge recommends granting summary judgment on all four of Petitioner’s asserted grounds for relief. Petitioner’s objections relate to his first, third, and fourth grounds.

         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         At trial, Petitioner’s counsel moved for directed verdict, arguing that the State had not established Petitioner possessed the drugs he was on trial for trafficking. The trial court denied the motion. In Ground 1 of his habeas petition, Petitioner argues the trial court erred.

         The question before this Court is not “whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). Rather, it is whether the South Carolina Court of Appeals’ decision-that there was sufficient evidence to support Petitioner’s convictions-was an objectively unreasonable application of the Jackson standard. Williams v. Ozmint, 494 F.3d 478, 489 (4th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). After reviewing the trial transcript and the Court of Appeals’ opinion, the Magistrate Judge concluded Petitioner has not shown that the Court of Appeals applied Jackson unreasonably.

         Petitioner purports to object to that conclusion. However, he merely quotes the R & R, disagrees with the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion, and restates arguments from his petition and his memorandum in opposition to Respondent’s summary judgment motion. The Court summarily rejects this improper objection. See, e.g., Anderson v. Dobson, 627 F.Supp.2d 619, 623 (W.D. N.C. 2007) (stating an objection “that merely restates the arguments previously presented” or “does nothing more than state a disagreement with a magistrate’s suggested resolution” is not sufficient to trigger de novo review (citation and quotation marks omitted)).

         Nevertheless, this Court has carefully reviewed the Magistrate Judge’s analysis of Ground 1. The Court concludes the analysis is correct[1] and adopts it.

         II. Trial in Petitioner’s Absence

         In Ground 2, Petitioner claims trial counsel was ineffective for not preventing the trial from proceeding in Petitioner’s absence. The Magistrate Judge thoroughly analyzed Ground 2 and concluded it lacks merit. However, the Court declines to adopt that analysis. Petitioner withdrew Ground 2 in his memorandum in opposition to Respondent’s summary judgment motion. As that claim is no longer before the Court, a decision on its merits is unnecessary. See Sanders v. McFadden, No. 6:15-cv-492-RMG, 2016 WL 430485, at *3 (D.S.C. Feb. 3, 2016) (declining to adopt magistrate ...


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