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Jenkins v. Pate

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

September 30, 2016

Casey Jenkins, #349382
v.
John R. Pate, Respondent.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Petitioner Casey Jenkins (“Petitioner”) filed this pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (“Petition”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 alleging ineffective assistance of plea counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, and an involuntary plea. (ECF No. 1.) Respondent John R. Pate (“Respondent”) filed a Return (ECF No. 37) and moved for Summary Judgment on Petitioner's claims. (ECF No. 38.) Petitioner responded by filing a Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 52.)

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.), the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Kaymani D. West for pre-trial handling. On May 26, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) recommending the court grant Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 38), deny Petitioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 52), and deny the Petition. (ECF No. 1.) This review considers Plaintiff's Objections to the Report (“Objections”) filed July 15, 2016. (ECF No. 71.) For the reasons set forth herein, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report and DISMISSES this Petition (ECF No. 1) with prejudice.

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge's factual synopsis is accurate and incorporates it by reference. This court will thus focus on the facts pertinent to the analysis of Petitioner's Objections. The relevant facts, viewed in a light most favorable to Petitioner, are as follows.

         On September 10, 2008, Petitioner was charged by the grand jury in Berkeley County with trafficking in cocaine in excess of 200 grams. (ECF No. 37-1 at 73.) On January 18, 2012, Petitioner, represented by Attorney J. Mitchell Lanier (“plea counsel”), appeared in General Sessions Court to enter a guilty plea to a lesser-included offense of the charged crime (trafficking in cocaine twenty-eight to one hundred grams, first offense).[1] (Id. at 4.) Both Petitioner and plea counsel indicated that they agreed with the plea. (Id. at 6.) Petitioner stated he was satisfied with plea counsel's representation, and plea counsel said that he had fully investigated the matter and had shared the results of his investigation with Petitioner. (Id. at 6-7.) Petitioner agreed that the plea was in his best interest. (Id.) Plea counsel did not object during Solicitor's soliloquy when Solicitor mentioned recorded calls made between a confidential informant and Petitioner. (Id. at 9.) Though Petitioner expressed concern about corruption within the ranks of the police officers, Petitioner stated that he “accepted responsibility.” (Id. at 15.) The court sentenced Petitioner to eight years in prison. (Id. at 17.)

         Petitioner filed a post-conviction relief (“PCR”) application on July 17, 2012, raising multiple issues, including ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAC”), and due process violations. (Id. at 21.) After Petitioner submitted multiple amendments and motions, and Respondent filed its Return, an evidentiary hearing on Petitioner's PCR application was convened in Charleston on January 13, 2014, before the Honorable Kristi Lea Harrington (“PCR Judge”). (Id. at 76.) In an Order dated February 28, 2014, the PCR Judge denied Petitioner's PCR application and dismissed the case with prejudice. (Id. at 121-22.) No post-hearing motions were filed. The PCR counsel for Petitioner filed a Notice of Appeal on March 10, 2014. (ECF No. 37-3.) On October 29, 2014, a Writ of Certiorari to the South Carolina Supreme Court was filed on Petitioner's behalf. (ECF No. 37-4.) The South Carolina Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari without making specific findings on any of Petitioner's issues (ECF No. 37-6), and issued the Remittitur on March 20, 2015. (ECF No. 37-7.) On May 26, 2015, Petitioner filed a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. (ECF No. 1-3.) This court accepts that Petitioner has exhausted his state-court remedies prior to seeking habeas corpus relief, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Magistrate Judge's Report is made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina. The Magistrate Judge's Report is only a recommendation to this court, and 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 is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objections are made. Id. 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).

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials in the record show 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). In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must weigh all evidence and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the district court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant 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. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist which give rise to a genuine issue. See Id. at 324. Under this standard, the existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the petitioner's position is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Likewise, conclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude the granting of the summary judgment motion. See Ross v. Commc'ns Satellite Corp., 759 F.2d 355, 365 (4th Cir. 1985). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         Additionally, pro se filed documents should be “liberally construed, ” held to a less stringent legal standard than those complaints or proceedings drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). However, even liberally construed, objections to a Report must specifically identify portions of the Report and the basis for those objections. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Petitioner timely filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation on July 15, 2016.[2] (ECF No. 71.) However, though Petitioner outlines his objections in great detail, reiterating each of the five grounds[3] brought up in his Petition and in the Report, very little new information is brought to this court's attention that was not sufficiently addressed by the Magistrate's Report. The new information that Petitioner does present in his Objections mostly revolve around claims relating to IAC.

         Petitioner argues that the Magistrate Judge erred by concluding his IAC claims regarding plea counsel's handling of an audio tape were without merit. In support of his claim, Petitioner submits a July 1, 2013 letter written by Attorney George B. Bishop Jr., (“Attorney Bishop”) to Petitioner. (ECF No. 71-1.) The letter references the audio tape and Petitioner's plea counsel. (Id.) Unfortunately for Petitioner, the letter itself falls outside the federal court's habeas review under § 2254(d)(1). The Court in Cullen v. Pinholster found that the district court should not have considered additional evidence that had not been available to the state courts, because the federal habeas scheme “leaves primary responsibility with the state courts, ” and that to permit new evidence in a federal habeas court ...


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