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Carruthers v. Warden of Lee Correctional Institution

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

August 26, 2019

Alan Bruce Carruthers, 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. 48) recommending that the Court grant Respondent's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 19.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts the R & R as the order of the Court to grant respondent's motion for summary judgment and dismiss the petition.

         I. Background

         Petitioner Alan Bruce Carruthers is a prisoner at the Lee Correctional Institution in the South Carolina Department of Corrections. He filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Dkt. No. 1.) Petitioner plead guilty to first degree criminal sexual conduct ("CSC") with a minor. (Dkt. No. 18-1 at 13.) The court sentenced petitioner to thirty years of imprisonment with credit for time served and directed that the sentence run concurrent to petitioner's federal charges. (Id. at 35-36.) The court also ordered petitioner to undergo abuse and pedophilia counseling during incarceration. (Id. at 36.) Petitioner appealed his conviction, which the South Carolina Court of Appeals confirmed on June 8, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 18-2; 19-4.) Petitioner filed a PCR application on March 7, 2011, which counsel amended on August 14, 2013. (Dkt. No. 18-1 at 38-44, 133-140.) The amended PCR application sets forth multiple claims for ineffective assistance of counsel, which were all denied by court order after an evidentiary hearing. (Dkt. No. 18-1 at 133-140, 141-153.) Appellate counsel filed a notice of appeal on March 22, 2016 followed by a Johnson v. State, 364 S.E.2d 201 (1988) petition for writ of certiorari on October 17, 2016.[1](Dkt. Nos. 18-6; 18-7.) Petitioner filed a pro se Johnson petition on December 2, 2016. (Dkt. No. 18-8.) On March 7, 2018, the South Carolina Supreme Court denied certiorari and the Lexington County Clerk of Court filed the remittitur on March 23, 2018. (Dkt. Nos. 18-9; 18-10.)

         The Petitioner filed a writ of habeas corpus on July 19, 2018 seeking relief on four grounds. (Dkt. No. 1.) Subsequently, the Magistrate Judge granted petitioner's motion to amend the petition. (Dkt. Nos. 25, 31.) Petitioner now seeks relief on five grounds: (1) prosecutorial misconduct and fraud upon the court; (2) counsel's misadvise to petitioner regarding sentencing; (3) plea counsel's failure to investigate and challenge evidence introduced at the plea hearing; (4) challenge to the validity of South Carolina's first degree CSC with a minor statute; and (5) ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to advise petitioner that the State's photographs were illegally obtained and should have been suppressed. (Dkt. No. 37.) Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment and petitioner filed a motion in opposition. (Dkt. Nos. 19, 44.) Petitioner filed objections to the R & R on August 7 and August 21, 2019. (Dkt. Nos. 52, 54.)

         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 filed objections to the R & R and the Court conducts a de novo review.

         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 Tramp., 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 relief in federal court 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). Meaning, 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)). This 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, 311 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). For a procedurally defaulted claim to be properly considered by the federal habeas court, the petitioner must "demonstrate cause for the ...


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