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Mason v. Warden, Graham Correctional Institution

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

March 20, 2017

Julie Melton Mason, Petitioner,
v.
Warden, Graham Correctional Institution, Respondent.

          ORDER

          R. Bryan Harwell, United States District Judge

         Petitioner Julie Melton Mason, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, initiated this action by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See ECF No. 1. Respondent answered by filing a return and a motion for summary judgment. See ECF Nos. 16 & 17. The matter is now before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (R & R) of United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West.[1] See R & R [ECF No. 35]. The Magistrate Judge recommends granting Respondent's motion for summary judgment and dismissing Petitioner's § 2254 petition with prejudice. R & R at 2, 30. Petitioner has filed objections to the R & R. See Pet.'s Objs. [ECF No. 41].

         Background[2]

         The State of South Carolina indicted Petitioner on two counts of felony driving under the influence (DUI) resulting in death and two counts of felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury. ECF No. 16-1[3] at 72-79. Petitioner pled guilty to one count of felony DUI resulting in death, one count of reckless homicide, and two counts of felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury. Id. at 3-25. The state plea court sentenced her to twenty years' imprisonment on the conviction for felony DUI resulting in death, a consecutive sentence of ten years' imprisonment suspended on five years' probation for the reckless homicide conviction, and concurrent terms of fifteen years' imprisonment on the two convictions for felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury.[4] Id. at 25. Petitioner did not file a direct appeal.

         Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief (PCR) in state court. Id. at 27-34. After holding a hearing at which Petitioner and her plea counsel testified, the PCR court denied and dismissed the PCR application with prejudice. Id. at 40-71. Petitioner filed a Johnson[5] petition for a writ of certiorari from the denial of her PCR application, and the South Carolina Supreme Court denied the Johnson petition and remitted the case. See ECF Nos. 16-2, 16-3, 16-4, & 16-5.

         Petitioner then filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See ECF No. 1. Respondent answered by filing a return and a motion for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 16 & 17. The Magistrate Judge issued an R & R recommending that the Court grant Respondent's motion for summary judgment and dismiss Petitioner's § 2254 petition with prejudice. R & R at 2, 30. After receiving an extension of time, Petitioner filed timely objections to the R & R. See ECF Nos. 37, 38, & 41. Respondent filed a timely reply to Petitioner's objections. See ECF No. 43.

         Legal Standards

         I. Review of the Magistrate Judge's R & R

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The Magistrate Judge's recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the R & R to which specific objections are made, and it 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 must engage in a de novo review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge's report to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate [Judge]'s proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of specific objections to the R & R, the Court reviews only for clear error, Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005), and the Court need not give any explanation for adopting the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199-200 (4th Cir. 1983).

         II. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Reyazuddin v. Montgomery Cty., Md., 789 F.3d 407, 413 (4th Cir. 2015); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) (“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . .; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The facts and inferences to be drawn from the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Reyazuddin, 789 F.3d at 413, but the Court “cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations.” Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 569 (4th Cir. 2015).

         III. Federal Habeas Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254[6]

         Because Petitioner filed her petition after the effective date of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2254 governs review of her claims. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997); Breard v. Pruett, 134 F.3d 615, 618 (4th Cir. 1998). Under the AEDPA, federal courts may not grant habeas corpus relief unless the underlying state 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 presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). “Section 2254(d)(1) describes the standard of review to be applied to claims challenging how the state courts applied federal law, while § 2254(d)(2) describes the standard to be applied to claims challenging how the state courts determined the ...


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