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McKnight v. Joyner

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

September 13, 2019

Tommy McKnight, #186781, Petitioner,
v.
Aaron S. Joyner, Respondent.

          ORDER

          Joseph F. Anderson, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Tommy McKnight (“Petitioner”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a petition seeking habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254 (“Petition”) on July 6, 2018. (ECF No. 1). On October 9, 2018, Respondent Aaron S. Joyner filed a motion for summary judgment (“Motion”). (ECF No. 20). Thereafter, Petitioner filed a Motion for Stay/Abeyance on March 18, 2019 and Respondent filed a response on March 25, 2019. (ECF No. 33, 34). On April 5, 2019, Petitioner filed a Motion for Extension of Time to submit a document. (ECF No. 37). This matter is before the Court on Respondent Aaron S. Joyner's (“Respondent”) Motion as to the Petition and Petitioner's Motions for Stay/Abeyance and Extension of Time. (ECF No. 20, 33, 37).

         After reviewing the pleadings, the Magistrate Judge assigned to this action[1] prepared a thorough Report and Recommendation (“Report”) and recommends that Petitioner's Motions be denied. (ECF No. 42, 33, 37). Further, the Magistrate Judge recommends Respondent's Motion be granted, and the Petition be denied. (ECF No. 20, 1). The Report sets forth, in detail, the relevant facts and standards of law on this matter, and this Court incorporates those facts and standards without a recitation. (ECF No. 42).

         Petitioner was advised of his right to file objections to the Report, which was filed by the Magistrate Judge on June 13, 2019. (ECF No. 42). Petitioner's objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation were due on August 1, 2019. (ECF No. 42). Petitioner filed his objections on August 5, 2019 and the Court accepted his late filing pursuant to the prisoner mailbox rule.[2]

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Review of Magistrate Judge's Report.

         A district court is required to conduct a de novo review only of the specific portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report to which objections are made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); see also Carniewski v. W.Va. Bd. of Prob. & Parole, 974 F.2d 1330 (4th Cir. 1992). In the absence of specific objections to portions of the Report, the Court is not required to give an explanation for adopting the Report. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983). Thus, the Court must only review those portions of the Report to which Plaintiff has made specific written objections. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 316 (4th Cir. 2005).

         “An objection is specific if it ‘enables the district judge to focus attention on those issues- factual and legal-that are at the heart of the parties' dispute.'” Dunlap v. TM Trucking of the Carolinas, LLC, No. 0:15-cv-04009-JMC, 2017 WL 6345402, at *5 n.6 (D.S.C. Dec. 12, 2017) (citing One Parcel of Real Prop. Known as 2121 E. 30th St., 73 F.3d 1057, 1059 (10th Cir. 1996)). A specific objection to the Magistrate Judge's Report thus requires more than a reassertion of arguments from the Complaint or a mere citation to legal authorities. See Workman v. Perry, No. 6:17-cv-00765-RBH, 2017 WL 4791150, at *1 (D.S.C. Oct. 23, 2017). A specific objection must “direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982).

         “Generally stated, nonspecific objections have the same effect as would a failure to object.” Staley v. Norton, No. 9:07-0288-PMD, 2007 WL 821181, at *1 (D.S.C. Mar. 2, 2007) (citing Howard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991)). The Court reviews portions “not objected to-including those portions to which only ‘general and conclusory' objections have been made-for clear error.” Id. (emphasis added) (citing Diamond, 416 F.3d at 315; Camby, 718 F.2d at 200; Orpiano, 687 F.2d at 47).

         Where an objection is “nonspecific, unrelated to the dispositive portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, or merely restate[s] . . . claims, ” the Court need not conduct any further review of that objection. Field v. McMaster, 663 F.Supp.2d 449, 452 (D.S.C. 2009); see also McNeil v. S.C. Dept. of Corrections, No. 5:12-2880-MGL, 2013 WL 1102881, at *1 (D.S.C. Mar. 15, 2013) (finding petitioner's objections to be without merit where the objections were “non-specific, unrelated to the dispositive portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report, and consist[ed] of a reassertion of the arguments” made in the petition); Arbogast v. Spartanburg Cty., No. 07:11-cv-00198-GRA, 2011 WL 5827635, at *2 (D.S.C. Nov. 17, 2011) (finding that plaintiff's objections were not specific where the objections were “general and conclusory in that they merely reassert[ed] that his conviction was wrongful.”).

         B. Summary Judgment.

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “[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.

         At the summary judgment stage, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Id. at 255. 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. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). 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. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel.

         To be entitled to relief on claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, a defendant must generally show (1) counsel's performance fell below objective standards of reasonableness, and (2) prejudice. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 694 (1984). There is a "strong presumption" counsel's "conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable assistance." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. Strickland requires a defendant to overcome the presumption that the challenged action taken by counsel might be considered sound trial strategy. Id. To prove prejudice, a defendant must show there is a reasonable probability, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the trial would have been different. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.

         Review of ineffective assistance of counsel claims in federal habeas proceedings is not simply a new review of the merits; rather, it is centered upon whether the state court decision was reasonable. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). The Supreme Court has cautioned "'[s]urmounting Strickland's high bar is never an easy task[, ]'" and establishing 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) (citation omitted). Each step in the review process requires deference to counsel and to the state court that previously reviewed counsel's actions. A petitioner must satisfy the highly deferential standards of § 2254(d) and Strickland "in tandem," making the standard "doubly" difficult. Harrington ...


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