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Putnam v. Yeldell

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

February 11, 2019

Martina Putnam, #334375 Petitioner,
Warden Yeldell, Respondent.



         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R & R") of the Magistrate Judge (Dkt. No. 32) recommending Defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted to dismiss Petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts the R & R as the Order of the Court, grants Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 19), dismisses Petitioner's petition and denies a Certificate of Appealability.

         I. Background

         Martina Putnam is a state prisoner proceeding pro se to petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Dkt. No. 1.) This case arises from the Petitioner's 2009 state court conviction for homicide of her infant son by child abuse. Petitioner directly appealed that conviction, which was denied. Her subsequent application for post-conviction relief was denied, which the South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed. Her petition for a rehearing was denied, as was her petition to the South Carolina Supreme Court for certiorari.[1]

         Petitioner now seeks federal habeas relief on eight specific grounds: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to secure trial witnesses; (2) "information gained by someone other than law enforcement and not Mirandized by police"; (3) no Miranda given; (4) extraordinarily high bond of $250, 000; (5) "law enforcement used an officer to create information used at trial to substantiate State's claims"; (6) counsel failed to "question persons on the stand offering no reasons for the lack of information in the discovery process and not asking for release of custody"; (7) counsel failed "to actually go to the crime scene"; and (8) "[p]rior to indictment petitioner asked for habeas corpus and asked for new representation and was denied on both without explanation; after a twenty-three month wait the indictment handed down was no more than exact copy of the warrant." (Dkt. No. 1 at 6-11.) Defendant Warden Yeldell moves to dismiss the petition on summary judgment (Dkt. No. 19), to which Petitioner filed a response in opposition (Dkt. No. 23) and Defendant replied (Dkt. No. 30). Petitioner also filed objections to the R & R. (Dkt. No. 34.)

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Review of R&R

         The Magistrate Judge makes a recommendation to the Court that has no presumptive weight and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. See, e.g., Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Where there are specific objections to the R&R, the Court "makes a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." Id. In the absence of objections, the Court reviews the R & R to "only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note; see also Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983) ("In the absence of objection ... we do not believe that it requires any explanation.").

         B. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate if a party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In other words, summary judgment should be granted "only when it is clear that there is no dispute concerning either the facts of the controversy or the inferences to be drawn from those facts." Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). "In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities in favor of the nonmoving party." HealthSouth Rehab. Hosp. v. Am. Nat'l Red Cross, 101 F.3d 1005, 1008 (4th Cir. 1996). The movant has the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant has made this threshold demonstration, to survive summary judgment the respondent must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. at 324. Under this standard, "[c]onclusory or speculative allegations do not suffice, nor does a 'mere scintilla of evidence'" in support of the non-moving party's case. Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Phillips v. CSX Transp, Inc., 190 F.3d 285, 287 (4th Cir. 1999)).

         C. Federal Habeas Relief Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254

         Habeas corpus in federal court exists only to "guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Federal habeas is neither an alternative to state-court relief nor an additional chance to appeal erroneous state-court rulings. See Id. The preference for, and deference to, state courts is borne out in the various constraints placed on federal courts. See Shoop v. Hill, 139 S.Ct. 504, 506 (2019) (per curiam) (stating § 2254 "imposes important limitations on the power of federal courts to overturn the judgments of state courts in criminal cases"); see also Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (stating § 2254 "reflect[s] a presumption that state courts know and follow the law" (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).

         For instance, a state prisoner who challenges matters "adjudicated on the merits in State court" cannot get relief in federal court unless she shows that the state court's decision "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court" or "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). Meaning, a state court's ruling must be "so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fair minded disagreement." Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103.

         Federal courts must also defer to state courts' factual determinations, which are presumed correct unless and until the prisoner rebuts that presumption with clear and convincing evidence. § 2254(e)(1). In addition, before a state prisoner may try to overcome those high hurdles, two rules steer her to first pursue all relief available in the state courts. See § 2254(b)(1). The first, known as exhaustion of remedies, requires a prisoner to present her claims to the highest state court with jurisdiction to decide them. Stewart v. Warden of Lieber Corr. Inst.,701 F.Supp.2d 785, 790 (D.S.C. 2010). A federal court cannot grant a prisoner's habeas petition until she exhausts her state-court remedies. § 2254(b)(1), (c). The second rule, called procedural default, comes into play when a prisoner failed to present a claim to the state courts at the appropriate time and has no means of doing so now. Stewart, 701 F.Supp.2d at 790. Federal courts may not consider a procedurally defaulted ...

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