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Hunt v. Warden of McCormick

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 18, 2016

Lynn Larry Hunt, Petitioner,
v.
Warden of McCormick, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Bruce Howe Hendricks United States District Judge

         Petitioner, Lynn Larry Hunt, (“Petitioner”), proceeding pro se, filed this application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 1.) In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d), D.S.C., the action was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kevin McDonald, for pretrial handling and a Report and Recommendation (“Report”). Magistrate Judge McDonald recommends that Respondent’s Motion for Summary Judgment be granted and Petitioner’s § 2254 petition be dismissed. (ECF No. 29.) The Report sets forth in detail the relevant facts and standards of law on this matter and the Court incorporates them without recitation.

         BACKGROUND

         Petitioner filed this action against Respondent alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. On July 27, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report; and on August 10, 2016, Petitioner filed his Objections. (ECF No. 31.) Having carefully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the Magistrate Judge has accurately and adequately summarized the disputed and undisputed facts relevant to this action. The Court has reviewed the objections, but finds them to be without merit. Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.[1]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the district court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the district 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). 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).

         In reviewing these pleadings, the Court is mindful of Petitioner’s pro se status. When dealing with a pro se litigant, the Court is charged with liberal construction of the pleadings. See, e.g., De’Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003). The requirement of a liberal construction does not mean, however, that the Court can ignore a petitioner’s clear failure to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim, or that the Court must assume the existence of a genuine issue of material fact where none exists. See United States v. Wilson, 699 F.3d 789, 797 (4th Cir. 2012).

         DISCUSSION

         The Magistrate Judge found that Ground One is without merit and the Court agrees. Ground One alleges that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate a potential alibi witness and for failing to produce the alibi witness at trial. (ECF No. 1 at 5.) The Magistrate Judge thoroughly discussed this claim and correctly concluded that the ruling of the state court was reasonable and that Petitioner failed to carry his burden of establishing counsel was ineffective as required by Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 886 (1984), and its progeny. (ECF No. 29 at 9-11.)

         The Court further agrees with the Magistrate Judge’s finding that Ground Two raises the same issue as that in Ground One and therefore is not a separate ground for habeas relief. Ground Two states that “the att[orney] and court made har[m]ful erro[r]s” concerning evidence of an alibi witness. (ECF No. 1 at 7.) The Magistrate Judge correctly determined that Petitioner was not entitled to habeas relief to the extent he alleged an error by his PCR counsel or PCR appellate counsel. (ECF No. 29 at 11-12); see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(i) (“The ineffectiveness or incompetence of counsel during Federal or State collateral post-conviction proceedings shall not be a ground for relief in a proceeding arising under section 2254.”). He correctly noted that while such an error could potentially excuse a procedural default, Petitioner’s grounds for relief had not been procedurally defaulted. (Id. at 12.) He also correctly found that any allegation of error by the PCR court had been addressed in the disposition of Ground One.[2] (Id.)

         Petitioner’s objections are only conclusory statements, meritless contentions, and arguments that the Magistrate Judge has already considered and rejected. Thus, the Court is tasked only with review of the Magistrate Judge’s conclusions for clear error. Because the Court agrees with the cogent analysis by the Magistrate Judge, it need not extensively discuss those same issues for a second time here. Therefore, the Court will overrule Petitioner’s objections.

         CONCLUSION

         After a thorough review of the Report, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that Petitioner’s objections are without merit. Accordingly, for the reasons stated above and by the Magistrate Judge, the Court overrules Petitioner’s objections, adopts the Report, and incorporates it herein. It is therefore ORDERED that Respondent’s motion for summary ...


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