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Caldwell v. Roberts

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

October 17, 2016

Nathaniel Caldwell III, #341823, Petitioner,
Warden Roberto Roberts, Respondent.


          Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner's motion to reconsider the Court's order granting summary judgment for Respondent (Dkt. No. 45-1 at 3-14). Petitioner also seeks a certificate of appealability. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the motion.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was indicted for kidnapping in June 2008. He was released on bond and absconded for two years, until he was apprehended. He pled guilty to kidnapping on July 15, 2010, and was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment and required to register as a sex offender. On July 5, 2011, Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief ("PCR"). An evidentiary hearing was held, and his application was thereafter denied on March 30, 2012. Petitioner appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which transferred his appeal to the South Carolina Court of Appeals. PCR appellate counsel raised one issue on appeal: Did the PCR court err in holding that Petitioner's guilty plea was voluntary. Petitioner also filed a. pro se brief raising seven other issues (see Dkt. No. 39 at 3-4). On September 25, 2014, the Court of Appeals denied the appeal; its remittitur issued on October 13, 2014.

         Petitioner filed the a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on October 28, 2014, asserting six grounds for relief: (1) denial of direct appeal due to ineffective assistance of counsel, (2) insufficient evidence to sustain Petitioner's conviction, (3) ineffective assistance of counsel at trial, (4) due process and other constitutional violations due to defects with the indictment, (5) involuntary guilty plea, and (6) due process violations arising from errors by the PCR court. Respondent moved for summary judgment. On January 29, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued the Report and Recommendation before the Court, which the Court adopted in part on March 7, 2016. (Dkt. No. 39). The Magistrate Judge found the petition to be untimely filed and to have no merit on any asserted ground for relief. The Court disagreed with the Magistrate Judge's analysis of the timeliness of the petition, but fully agreed with the Magistrate Judge's analysis of the merits.

         On September 27, 2016, the Court received a letter from Petitioner claiming he mailed a motion to reconsider to the Clerk on March 28, 2016 that was never filed on the docket. (Dkt. No. 42.) In support of his assertion, Petitioner attached prison postage records showing a mailing to the Clerk on March 28, 2016, and correspondence with Respondent counsel that could be read as confirming that the motion had been served on opposing counsel. (Id.) The Court ordered Respondent to file any relevant communications with Petitioner, which Respondent promptly did. (Dkt. No. 45.) That filing includes a motion to reconsider dated March 26, 2016. (Id. at 3-14.) Substantial evidence suggests the motion to reconsider found at docket entry 45-1, pages 3 to 14, was timely filed under Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266 (1988), on March 28, 2016, and there is no evidence to the contrary. The Court therefore will consider Petitioner's motion to reconsider the Court's order of March 7, 2016 as timely filed.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs motions to alter or amend a judgment but does not provide a standard for such motions. The Fourth Circuit provides "three grounds for amending an earlier judgment: (1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998). "Rule 59(e) motions may not be used, however, to raise arguments which could have been raised prior to the issuance of the judgment, nor may they be used to argue a case under a novel legal theory that the party had the ability to address in the first instance." Id. at 403 (citations omitted). Rule 59(e) provides an "extraordinary remedy that should be used sparingly." Id. (citation omitted).

         III. Discussion

         Petitioner seeks reconsideration by rearguing the grounds asserted in his Petition, apparently meaning to assert the Court's denial of those grounds is "clear error of law." As set forth below, Petitioner's arguments are all meritless.

         A. Ground One

         Petitioner argues that he was denied the right to appeal his plea and sentence. The Court held this argument procedurally barred because the issue was not ruled on by the PCR court, raised in a Rule 59(e) motion, or raised in Petitioner's PCR appeal. Petitioner seeks reconsideration of that holding, arguing, "failure of a state appellate court to mention a federal claim does not mean the claim was not presented to it." (Dkt. No. 45-1 at 4.) But the Court has his PCR application- which makes no mention of any denial of appellate rights. The Court also has his PCR appellate brief (both his pro se brief and his counsel's brief)-which make no mention of any denial of appellate rights. The argument first appears in apro se motion to supplement pro se brief filed on September 5, 2014-over four years after the direct appeal deadline-with the South Carolina Supreme Court, in support of Petitioner's PCR petition for a writ of certiorari. (Dkt. No. 17-5.) The South Carolina Supreme Court denied Petitioner's motion to supplement his brief. (Dkt. No. 17-7.) The argument is procedurally barred.

         The Court also held Petitioner failed to assert a meritorious issue that could have been raised on appeal Petitioner seeks reconsideration by repeating his disagreement with the solicitor's statement, made during the factual recitation at Petitioner's plea hearing, at his that he "raped and sodomized" the child he kidnapped. As the Court noted in its order of March 7, 2016, if Petitioner disagreed with the facts recited by the State, he had a right to have the issued tried by a jury of his peers. (Dkt. No. 39 at 1 n.2.) He chose not to. Although Petitioner correctly asserts he was not charged with "rape and sodomy, " he was charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor in the second degree and lewd act upon a minor. (Dkt. No. 17-1 at 98.) Those charges were dropped as part of the favorable plea bargain negotiated by Petitioner's highly competent trial counsel when Petitioner told his trial counsel that he wanted to avoid a trial, presumably because he believed he would be convicted:

This Court also finds that the Applicant failed to prove that counsel had a plausible basis to object to the solicitor's factual recitation which included a comment that the Applicant "raped and sodomized" the child, where the factual recitation was apparently based upon the victim's statement of events; furthermore, the Applicant was not prejudiced ...

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