United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division
JOHN R. WOOD, Petitioner,
BRYAN P. STIRLING, Commissioner, South Carolina Department of Corrections; and WILLIE D. DAVIS, Warden, Kirkland Reception and Evaluation Center, Respondents.
OPINION AND ORDER
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
John R. Wood (“Wood”) is a death row inmate in
the custody of the South Carolina Department of Corrections
(“SCDC”). He filed a writ of habeas corpus
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on September 19, 2013. This
matter is before the court for consideration of Wood's
objections to the Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) of United States Magistrate Judge
Paige J. Gossett, who recommends granting respondents'
motion for summary judgment and granting in part and denying
in part Wood's motion for an evidentiary hearing and to
expand the record. For the reasons stated below, the court
adopts the R&R, grants the respondents' motion for
summary judgment, and grants in part and denies in part
Wood's motion for further factual development.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was convicted by a jury and sentenced to death for the murder
of Trooper Eric Nicholson (“Nicholson”). The
R&R ably recites the facts of this case, as summarized by
the Supreme Court of South Carolina. In short, Wood was
driving a moped on I-85 in the Greenville area, and Nicholson
informed the dispatcher that he was going to pull Wood over.
Several witnesses observed the moped, followed by a trooper
with activated lights and sirens, take the off-ramp to leave
the interstate and turn right onto a frontage road. Nicholson
sped up to drive alongside the moped and then veered to the
left and stopped at a raised median to block the moped's
path. The moped came to a stop close to the driver's side
window of Nicholson's car.
stopping, Wood stood up over the moped, fired several shots
in the driver's side window, turned the moped around, and
fled. Officers heard Nicholson scream on the radio, went to
the scene, and found that Nicholson had been shot five times.
Both of Nicholson's pistols were secured in their
holsters, and eight shell casings were found at the scene.
While fleeing, Wood drove into a parking lot and jumped into
the passenger's seat of a Jeep. The police began pursuing
the Jeep, and Wood opened fired on the officers. One officer
was struck in the face by a bullet fragment, but he survived
the injury. Wood then abandoned the Jeep and hijacked a truck
but was eventually stopped and taken into custody.
was indicted in May 2001 in Greenville County for murder and
possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent
crime. ECF No. 45-3 at 74. At trial, Wood was represented by
attorneys John I. Mauldin, James Bannister, and Rodney Richey
(referred to collectively or individually as “trial
counsel”). On February 11, 2002, the jury found Wood
guilty of both charges and recommended a death sentence on
the murder charge, finding the aggravating factor of
murdering a state law enforcement officer during the
performance of his official duties. ECF Nos. 42-7 at 20; 43-3
at 25-27. On February 16, 2002, the state circuit court
sentenced Wood to death. ECF No. 43-3 at 30.
appealed his case to the Supreme Court of South Carolina. On
December 6, 2004, the Supreme Court of South Carolina
affirmed Wood's convictions and sentence. ECF No. 43-5 at
107. Wood petitioned for rehearing, which the court denied on
January 20, 2005. ECF No. 43-5 at 108. Then on July 28, 2005,
Wood filed a pro se application for post-conviction relief
(“PCR”). ECF No. 43-5 at 112. The PCR court
appointed attorneys to handle Wood's PCR proceeding. On
February 9, 2007, Wood filed an amended PCR application. ECF
No. 40-15. The PCR court held an evidentiary hearing from
March 6-8, 2007, ECF Nos. 44-1 at 34 through 44-7 at 8, and
on December 19, 2007, the PCR court dismissed Wood's
application, ECF Nos. 45-2 at 92 through 45-3 at 73. Wood
filed a motion to reconsider, which the PCR court denied. ECF
No. 45-4 at 21, 55. Wood then filed a petition for writ
certiorari with the Supreme Court of South Carolina. ECF No.
40-6. After the petition was fully briefed, the Supreme Court
of South Carolina denied Wood's petition on November 2,
2012, ECF No. 40-16, and issued a remittitur on November 26,
2012, ECF No. 40-8.
December 7, 2012, Wood commenced this action by filing a
motion for stay of execution and a motion to appoint counsel.
ECF No. 1. Wood then filed his petition for writ of habeas
corpus under § 2254 on September 19, 2013. ECF No. 85.
Wood contemporaneously filed a motion to stay his habeas
proceeding while he pursued his unexhausted claims in state
court. ECF No. 86. The court granted the motion to stay on
October 23, 2013. ECF No. 93.
September 26, 2013, Wood filed a second PCR application in
state court. ECF No. 134-1. On July 19, 2016, the PCR court
dismissed the application as untimely and improperly
successive under state law. ECF No. 135-1. Wood moved to
alter or amend the court's order, ECF No. 135-2, and the
PCR court denied that motion on August 3, 2017, ECF No.
135-3. This ended Wood's state court proceedings, and the
court lifted the stay in Wood's habeas proceeding on
August 29, 2017. ECF No. 126.
filed their motion for summary judgment on November 2, 2017.
ECF No. 136. Wood filed his response and traverse on December
17, 2017, ECF No. 150, and respondents replied on January 7,
2018, ECF No. 154. In addition, on December 17, 2017, Wood
filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing and an opportunity
to expand the record with respect to Grounds Four, Five,
Seven, and Ten. ECF No. 151. Respondents responded on January
2, 2018, ECF No. 153, and Wood replied on January 16, 2018,
ECF No. 160. On October 1, 2018, the magistrate judge issued
her report recommending that respondents' motion for
summary judgment be granted and her order granting in part
and denying in part Wood's motion for an evidentiary
hearing and expansion of the record. Wood filed timely objections
to the R&R and order on November 14, 2018. ECF No. 193.
Respondents replied to Wood's objections on November 28,
2018. ECF No. 194. Wood's claims are now ripe for
Magistrate Judge Review
magistrate judge makes only a recommendation to the court.
Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The
recommendation carries no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
court. Id. at 270-71. The court may “accept,
reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or
recommendations made by the magistrate judge . . . or
recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with
instructions.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court is
charged with making a de novo determination of any portion of
the R&R to which a specific objection is made.
Id. When a party's objections are directed to
strictly legal issues “and no factual issues are
challenged, de novo review of the record may be dispensed
with.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47
(4th Cir. 1982) (citation omitted). Analogously, de novo
review is unnecessary when a party makes general and
conclusory objections without directing a court's
attention to a specific error in the magistrate judge's
proposed findings. Id.
judges have “the authority to hear and determine any
pretrial matter pending before the court” except for
dispositive motions. United States v. Benton, 523
F.3d 424, 430 (4th Cir. 2008). A party may object to a
magistrate judge's order on a nondispositive matter
within 14 days of service of the order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a).
The district court reviews such orders for clear error. 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Springs v. Ally Fin.
Inc., 657 Fed.Appx. 148, 152 (4th Cir. 2016).
judgment shall be granted if the pleadings, the discovery and
disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show 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(c). “By its very terms, this standard
provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual
dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise
properly supported motion for summary judgment; the
requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material
fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). “Only disputes over facts that
might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law
will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.”
Id. at 248. “[S]ummary judgment will not lie
if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine,'
that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.
“[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's
function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine
the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a
genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249. The
court should view the evidence in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party and draw all inferences in its favor.
Id. at 255.
Standard for Relief
court's review of Wood's petition is governed by 28
U.S.C. § 2254, which was amended by the Antiterrorism
and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) of
1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1213. See Lindh v.
Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997). Section 2254(a) provides
federal habeas jurisdiction for the limited purpose of
establishing whether a person is “in custody in
violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the
United States.” This power to grant relief is limited
by § 2254(d), which provides as follows:
An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a
person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court
shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was
adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless
the adjudication of the claim -
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;
or (2) resulted in a decision that 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). The “contrary to” and
“unreasonable application” clauses contained in
§ 2254(d)(1) are to be given independent meaning-in
other words, a petitioner may be entitled to habeas corpus
relief if the state court adjudication was either contrary to
or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal
court decision can be “contrary to” clearly
established federal law in two ways: (1) “if the state
court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by
[the Supreme Court] on a question of law, ” or (2)
“if the state court confronts facts that are materially
indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and
arrives at a result opposite to [the Supreme Court].”
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000)
(plurality opinion). Section 2254(d)(1) restricts the source
of clearly established law to holdings of the Supreme Court
as of the time of the relevant state court decision. See
Id. at 412; see also Frazer v. South Carolina,
430 F.3d 696, 703 (4th Cir. 2005).
regard to “unreasonable” application of the law,
a state court decision can also involve an
“unreasonable application” of clearly established
federal law in two ways: (1) “if the state court
identifies the correct governing legal rule from [the Supreme
Court's] cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts
of the particular state prisoner's case, ” or (2)
“if the state court either unreasonably extends a legal
principle from [Supreme Court] precedent to a new context
where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend
that principle to a new context where it should apply.”
Williams, 529 U.S. at 407.
important to note that “an unreasonable application of
federal law is different from an incorrect application of
federal law, ” and that “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.” Id. at 410-11 (emphasis in
original). Indeed, “an ‘unreasonable application
of federal law is different from an incorrect application of
federal law,' because an incorrect application of federal
law is not, in all instances, objectively
unreasonable.” Humphries v. Ozmint, 397 F.3d
206, 216 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S.
petitioner seeking habeas relief under § 2254 may only
do so once the petitioner has exhausted all remedies
available in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A).
“To satisfy the exhaustion requirement, a habeas
petitioner must fairly present his claim 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). Under the doctrine of procedural default, “a
federal court will not review the merits of claims, including
constitutional claims, that a state court declined to hear
because the prisoner failed to abide by a state procedural
rule.” Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1, 9 (2012);
see also Lawrence v. Branker, 517 F.3d 700, 714 (4th
Cir. 2008) (explaining that generally “[f]ederal habeas
review of a state prisoner's claims that are procedurally
defaulted under independent and adequate state procedural
rules is barred.”).
“[t]he doctrine barring procedurally defaulted claims
from being heard is not without exceptions.”
Martinez, 566 U.S. at 10. One such exception occurs
when a prisoner seeking federal review of a defaulted claim
can show cause for the default and prejudice from a violation
of federal law. Id. “Inadequate assistance of
counsel at initial-review collateral proceedings may
establish cause for a prisoner's procedural default of a
claim of ineffective assistance at trial.” Id.
at 10. In order to establish such cause, the following
elements must be established:
(1) the claim of “ineffective assistance of trial
counsel” was a “substantial” claim; (2) the
“cause” consisted of there being “no
counsel” or only “ineffective” counsel
during the state collateral review proceeding; (3) the state
collateral review proceeding was the “initial”
review proceeding in respect to the
and (4) state law requires that an “ineffective
assistance of trial counsel [claim] . . . be raised in an
initial-review collateral proceeding.”
Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U.S. 413, 423 (2013) (quoting
Martinez, 566 U.S. at 14, 17-18). A claim is
“substantial” if it has “some merit.”
Martinez, 566 U.S. at 14.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
petitioner asserting ineffective assistance of counsel must
demonstrate that (1) his counsel's performance was
deficient, and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced the
petitioner. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668,
687 (1984). Counsel's performance is deficient when
“counsel's representation fell below an objective
standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 688. In
assessing counsel's performance, “a court must
indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls
within the wide range of reasonable professional
assistance.” Id. at 689. “Judicial
scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly
deferential[, ] and “[a] fair assessment of attorney
performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate
the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the
circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to
evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the
establish prejudice, “[t]he defendant must show that
there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's
unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would
have been different. A reasonable probability is a
probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the
outcome.” Id. at 694. When considering
prejudice in the context of a death penalty case, “the
question is whether there is a reasonable probability that,
absent the errors, the sentencer-including an appellate
court, to the extent it independently reweighs the
evidence-would have concluded that the balance of aggravating
and mitigating circumstances did not warrant death.”
Id. at 695.
“[s]urmounting Strickland's high bar is
never an easy task, ” Padilla v. Kentucky, 559
U.S. 356, 371 (2010), “[e]stablishing that a state
court's application of Strickland was
unreasonable under § 2254(d) is all the more difficult,
” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 105
(2011). The Supreme Court has explained that “[t]he
standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d)
are both ‘highly deferential.'” Id.
(quoting Strickland, 466 at 689). Therefore, a
court's review of an ineffective assistance counsel claim
under the § 2254(d)(1) standard is “doubly
deferential.” Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S.
111, 123 (2009).
raises two general objections to the R&R and various
specific objections to Grounds Three, Four, and Five.
makes two “general objections” to the R&R.
Objections must be “sufficiently specific to focus the
district court's attention on the factual and legal
issues that are truly in dispute.” Page v.
Lee, 337 F.3d 411, 416 n.3 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting
United States v. 2121 E. 30th Street, 73 F.3d 1057,
1060 (10th Cir. 1996)). Although Wood labels his initial
objections as “general, ” the court finds that
they are specific enough to warrant review.
Standard of Review
first objects to the standard of review employed by the
R&R. He argues that the R&R's discussion of
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86 (2011),
erroneously suggests that the standard of review enunciated
in Richter should apply to all § 2254(d) cases.
discussing the general principles of the § 2254 standard
of review, the R&R notes that “review of a state
court decision under the AEDPA standard does not require an
opinion from the state court explaining its reasoning.”
ECF No. 190 at 22 (citing Richter, 562 U.S at 98).
The R&R went on to explain that
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