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Daniels v. Warden of Lee Correctional Institution

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

August 6, 2019

Gregory Daniels, Petitioner,
v.
Warden of Lee Correctional Institution, Respondent.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge.

         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R & R") of the Magistrate Judge (Dkt. No. 29) recommending that the Court grant Respondent's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 21) on 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 and grants Respondent's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         Petitioner Gregory Daniels is an incarcerated person proceeding pro se to seek habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. As the Magistrate Judge comprehensively details, in 2010 Petitioner was tried and found guilty by a jury of murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. (Dkt. No. 29 at 2.) He appealed his conviction and the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed. (Id. at 3.) Petitioner then filed and later amended an application for post-conviction relief, which the Circuit Court judge dismissed with prejudice following a hearing, finding in part that there was overwhelming evidence of guilt in the face of any contention of ineffective assistance of counsel. (Id. at 3-4, 19.) Petitioner now petitions for federal habeas relief on three grounds: (1) should the jury have not been instructed that it was "acting for the community"; (2) ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel and Brady violations or other prosecutorial misconduct; and (3) that the lower court erred in finding trial counsel did not ineffectively prepare and investigate. (Dkt. No. 1 at 5-8.) Respondent now moves to dismiss the petition, to which Petitioner responded in opposition.

         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."). Petitioner did not file any objections to the R & R so the Court reviews it for clear error.

         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

         A state prisoner who challenges matters "adjudicated on the merits in State court" can obtain federal habeas relief only if he 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). 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). The state court's application is unreasonable if it is "objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong." White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 419 (2014). Meaning, the 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 fairminded disagreement." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011).

         The state court's determination is presumed correct and the petitioner bears the burden of rebutting this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). The state court's decision "must be granted a deference and latitude that are not in operation" when the case is considered on direct review. Harrington, 562 U.S. at 101. This is because habeas corpus in federal court exists only to "guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems." Id. at 102 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 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. Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102. "If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be." Id.

         Before the petitioner may pursue federal habeas relief to this standard, he must first exhaust his state court remedies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). The 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)), which requires the petitioner to have "fairly present[ed] 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 omitted). 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. Banker, 517 F.3d 700, 714 (4th Cir. 2008). Rather, for a procedurally defaulted claim to be properly considered by the 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 v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991).

         III. ...


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