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Teamer v. Lewis

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

September 7, 2017

Nathaniel Teamer, Petitioner,
v.
Scott Lewis, Respondent.

          ORDER

          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner's objections to United States Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald's report and recommendation (“R & R”) (ECF Nos. 20 & 19). The Magistrate Judge recommends granting Respondent's summary judgment motion (ECF No. 12) and denying Petitioner's petition for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (ECF No. 1).

         Magistrate Judge McDonald issued his R & R on July 25. Petitioner filed his objections to the R & R on August 7, and Respondent filed a reply on August 21. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review.

         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). Parties may make written objections to the R & R within fourteen days after being served with a copy of it. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the R & R to which a specific objection is made, and it 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 seven of Petitioner's grounds for relief. Petitioner has raised objections to the R & R's analysis of grounds one, two, three, four, and six, while expressly waiving grounds five and seven. Accordingly, the Court will only address the non-waived grounds.

         I. Ground Two[1]

         The Magistrate Judge concluded that ground two was not subject to federal habeas review because the question of whether the trial judge should have severed Petitioner's burglary charge from the trial of his other charges is governed by state law. As noted by the Magistrate Judge, “[g]enerally, severance is a question of state law not cognizable in federal habeas proceedings.” Zeigler v. Bush, No. 0:14-cv-MGL-PJG, 2015 WL 3775901, at *18 (D.S.C. Sept. 22, 2015). “[A] defendant has no constitutional right to a severance unless he can make a strong showing of prejudice caused by a joint trial.” Id. (citing Fox v. Ward, 200 F.3d 1286, 1292 (10th Cir. 2000)).

         Petitioner contends that he was prejudiced by the trial judge's failure to sever the burglary charge because the failure effectively lowered the State's burden of proof such that the State no longer had to prove each element of each crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Petitioner further argues that he was prejudiced because the jury found him guilty on the basis of factors other than the facts of a particular crime. However, beyond that statement Petitioner has offered no evidence of prejudice. Additionally, the trial judge repeatedly emphasized in his jury instructions that the State had to prove each element of each offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The South Carolina Supreme Court rejected Petitioner's severance argument, and the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision meets § 2254(d)'s standards. Thus, Petitioner's objection as to ground two is overruled.

         II. Ground Six

         Petitioner's next ground for relief is that the South Carolina Supreme Court should have reviewed his claim that the PCR judge erred in finding his trial counsel was not ineffective when he failed to explore or investigate Petitioner's complaint against Donald Martin, Jr. regarding his alleged sexual assault of Erica Gray's minor daughter.[2]

         Although Petitioner's ground could also have been asserted as an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the Magistrate Judge correctly construed the ground, written by Petitioner's counsel, as a claim that the South Carolina Supreme Court should have reviewed the PCR judge's ruling. The decision of a state appellate court not to review the decision of a state PCR court only implicates state law, and “‘federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law.'” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991) (quoting Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990)). Accordingly, Petitioner's objection to ground six is overruled.

         III. ...


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