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Holland v. Stirling

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

March 30, 2018

Lemond C. Holland, Petitioner,
Bryan Stirling, Respondent.



         Petitioner Lemond C. Holland, who is represented by counsel, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.) for a Report and Recommendation on Respondent's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 11.) Petitioner filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 16), and Respondent replied (ECF No. 17). Having carefully considered the parties' submissions and the record in this case, the court finds that Respondent's motion should be granted and the Petition denied.


         Petitioner was indicted in April 2006 by an Horry County Grand Jury for murder, assault and battery with intent to kill, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. (App. at 552-60, ECF No. 10-3 at 75-83.) He was tried in the Horry County Court of General Sessions on June 11-13, 2007, during which he was represented by Robert N. Richardson, Jr., Esquire, and Jeffrey E. Johnson, Esquire. (App. at 1, ECF No. 10-1 at 3.) Petitioner was convicted on all counts and sentenced to an aggregate term of fifty-five years' imprisonment. (App. at 377, ECF No. 10-2 at 70.)

         Petitioner appealed his convictions and sentences to the South Carolina Court of Appeals on November 17, 2008. (App. at 397, ECF No. 10-2 at 90.) The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision in a published opinion on August 18, 2009. (App. at 453, ECF No. 10-2 at 146.) Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to seek review from the South Carolina Supreme Court, which was denied. (App. at 530, ECF No. 10-3 at 53.) The Court of Appeals issued a remittitur on February 10, 2012. (App. at 480, ECF No. 10-2 at 173.)

         Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief (“PCR”) on January 18, 2013 in the Horry County Court of Common Pleas. (App. at 539, ECF No. 10-3 at 62.) An evidentiary hearing was held on February 3, 2015, during which Petitioner was represented by Ralph Wilson, Esquire. (App. at 570, ECF No. 10-3 at 93.) At the hearing, Petitioner raised claims that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately question the forensic pathologist about another witness's testimony, for giving improper advice about Petitioner testifying in his own defense, and for failing to present the assault victim's testimony. (App. at 661, ECF No. 10-3 at 184.) The PCR court granted relief on Petitioner's claims that trial counsel failed to adequately question the forensic pathologist and failed to present the assault victim's testimony. (App. at 642-44, ECF No. 10-3 at 165-67.) Respondent moved to alter or amend the PCR court's order. (App. at 646, ECF No.10-3 at 169.) The PCR court granted Respondent's motion and dismissed Petitioner's application, finding trial counsel was not ineffective on the claims upon which the court had previously granted relief. (App. at 665-69, ECF No. 10-3 at 188-92.)

         Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, seeking review from the South Carolina Supreme Court. (ECF No. 10-5 at 1.) Petitioner raised two issues in the petition, both concerning whether the PCR court erred in reversing its original decision on his claims that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately question the forensic pathologist. (ECF No. 10-5 at 3.) The Supreme Court transferred the petition to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, which denied the petition and issued a remittitur on October 16, 2017. (App. at 531-32, ECF No. 10-3 at 54-55.)


         The Petition for a writ of habeas corpus raises the following issues:

Ground One:Trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel when he failed to adequately cross examination [sic] State witness, Dr. Edward Proctor, Jr., the pathologist who conducted the autopsy of the decedent.
Ground Two:Trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel when he failed to recall the State's key witness, Dr. Edward Proctor, Jr., the pathologist who conducted the autopsy of the decedent, after the State presented the testimony of Jeffrey Bennick, whose testimony provided factual information that would have been instrumental in soliciting opinion testimony which would have been substantially favorable to the defense.

(Pet., ECF No. 1 at 12-14.)


         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the [moving party] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party may support or refute that a material fact is not disputed by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “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). Rule 56 mandates entry of summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         In deciding whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[o]nly 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.” Id. at 248.

         The moving party has the burden of proving that summary judgment is appropriate. Once the moving party makes this showing, however, the opposing party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but rather must, by affidavits or other means permitted by the Rule, set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), (e); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

         B. Habeas Corpus Standard of Review

         In accordance with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), claims adjudicated on the merits in a state court proceeding cannot be a basis for federal habeas corpus relief unless the decision was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” or the decision “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)(1), (2). When reviewing a state court's application of federal law, “a federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410 (2000); see also White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014) (describing an “unreasonable application” as “objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong” and that “even clear error will not suffice”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 100 (2011); Humphries v. Ozmint, 397 F.3d 206 (4th Cir. 2005); McHone v. Polk, 392 F.3d 691 (4th Cir. 2004). Moreover, state court factual determinations are presumed to be correct and the petitioner has the burden of rebutting this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 101 (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)); see also White, 134 S.Ct. at 1702 (stating that “ ‘[a]s a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement' ”) (alteration in original) (quoting Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103). Under the AEDPA, a state court's decision “must be granted a deference and latitude that are not in operation” when the case is being considered on direct review. Harrington, 562 U.S. at 101. Moreover, review of a state court decision under the AEDPA standard does not require an opinion from the state court explaining its reasoning. See id. at 98 (finding that “[t]here is no text in [§ 2254] requiring a statement of reasons” by the state court). If no explanation accompanies the state court's decision, a federal habeas petitioner must show that there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief. Id. Pursuant to § 2254(d), a federal habeas court must (1) determine what arguments or theories supported or could have supported the state court's decision; and then (2) ask whether it is possible that fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding of a prior decision of the United States Supreme Court. Id. at 102. “If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.” Id. Section 2254(d) codifies the view that habeas corpus is a “ ‘guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, ' not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Id. at 102-03 (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332 n.5 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment)).

         C. Exhaustion Requirements

         A habeas corpus petitioner may obtain relief in federal court only after he has exhausted his state court remedies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). “To satisfy the exhaustion requirement, a habeas petitioner must present his claims to the state's highest court.” Matthews v. Evatt, 105 F.3d 907, 911 (4th Cir. 1997), abrogated on other grounds by United States v. Barnette, 644 F.3d 192 (4th Cir. 2011); see also In re Exhaustion of State Remedies in Criminal and Post-Conviction Relief Cases, 471 S.E.2d 454, 454 (S.C. 1990) (holding that “when the claim has been presented to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, and relief has been denied, the litigant shall be deemed to have exhausted all available state remedies.”). To exhaust his available state court remedies, a petitioner must “fairly present[] to the state court both the operative facts and the controlling legal principles associated with each claim.” Longworth v. Ozmint, 377 F.3d 437, 448 (4th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Thus, a federal court may consider only those issues which have been properly presented to the state appellate courts with jurisdiction to decide them. Generally, a federal habeas court should not review the merits of claims that would be found to be procedurally defaulted (or barred) under independent and adequate state procedural rules. Lawrence v. Branker, 517 F.3d 700, 714 (4th Cir. 2008); Longworth, 377 F.3d 437; see also Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991). For a procedurally defaulted claim to be properly considered by a federal habeas court, the petitioner must “demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law, or demonstrate that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.” Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750.

         D. Respondent's Motion ...

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