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Dodson v. Ballard

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

March 29, 2018

SHANE MONROE DODSON, Petitioner,
v.
DAVID BALLARD, Warden, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DECLINING TO ADOPT THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, DENYING PETITIONER'S CROSS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND GRANTING RESPONDENT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The petitioner, Shane Monroe Dodson (“Dodson”), acting pro se, [1] filed a petition (ECF No. 1) under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for writ of habeas corpus by a person in state custody. Dodson is currently incarcerated in Mount Olive Correctional Complex, serving an enhanced life sentence as a recidivist for his April 6, 2011 convictions of daytime burglary and domestic battery in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, West Virginia.

         This civil action was referred to the United States Magistrate Judge for initial review and report and recommendation pursuant to Local Rule of Prisoner Litigation Procedure 2. United States Magistrate Judge James E. Seibert entered a report (ECF No. 33), recommending that petitioner's § 2254 petition and cross motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 29) be granted, and that respondent's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 20) be denied. The magistrate judge further recommended that “the decision of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals (“WVSCA”) be reversed, and the case be remanded to the Circuit Court of Jefferson County for entry of an order that the plea offer in dispute is to be re-offered to Petitioner.” ECF No. 33 at 10.

         The respondent filed timely objections (ECF No. 34) to the report and recommendation.

         I. Background

         The petitioner appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia (“WVSCA”) alleging prosecutorial misconduct, that the trial court erred in not granting his request for a new trial, and that the verdict was not supported by evidence. The WVSCA denied his appeal on February 11, 2013. On February 21, 2013, petitioner filed a petition for habeas corpus in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, West Virginia alleging prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel leading up to his trial. After holding an omnibus hearing, the Jefferson County Circuit Court found that the petitioner had received ineffective assistance of counsel during the plea bargaining phase of his trial and granted him habeas corpus relief. Specifically, the Circuit Court determined that Dodson's trial counsel had erroneously advised Dodson of the law applicable to the charges against him and that Dodson had relied on this erroneous advice when he rejected a plea agreement offered by the State. By written order, the Circuit Court ordered the State to re-offer Dodson the plea offer. ECF No. 21-2. The State appealed, and the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia (the “WVSCA”) ultimately overturned the Circuit Court's order. The WVSCA held that petitioner “did not meet the requisite showing to prevail on his Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.” ECF 1-2 at 8. Accordingly, on April 7, 2016, the decision of the Circuit Court was reversed, and the case was remanded with instruction that an order denying petitioner habeas relief be entered. Petitioner then filed the instant action on September 23, 2016, asking the Court to reverse the decision of the WVSCA.

         Respondent filed a response to petitioner's petition (ECF No. 19) as well as a motion for summary judgment with a memorandum in support. ECF Nos. 20, 22. On May 24, 2017, Attorney Chris Petersen filed a notice of appearance on behalf of petitioner. ECF No. 25. Petitioner then filed a response to respondent's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 28) and a cross motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 29). Respondent filed both a reply to petitioner's response to respondent's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 30), as well as a response in opposition to petitioner's cross motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 31). Petitioner then filed a reply to respondent's response to petitioner's cross motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 32.

         This civil action was referred to United States Magistrate Judge James E. Seibert for a report and recommendation. ECF No. 33. The magistrate judge noted that “[t]he only of Petitioner's claims that was accepted by the Circuit Court was that Petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel during the plea negotiations stage of the underlying criminal case” and that “the Circuit Court found that counsel was not ineffective during the trial stage of the proceedings.” The magistrate judge then noted that “only the plea negotiations are relevant for our purposes.” The magistrate judge reviewed the omnibus hearing proceedings regarding the discussions between petitioner and his former counsel as to the portion of the underlying case involving plea negotiations, the Circuit Court's decision and order granting the petitioner's habeas petition and ordering the State to re-tender the plea offer to the petitioner, and the WVSCA's three-prong standard of review on appeal. Upon review, the magistrate judge found that “[i]n the instant case, the WVSCA does not posit an abuse of discretion with respect to the final order and ultimate disposition, nor do they mention a clearly erroneous finding with respect to the factual findings.” ECF No. 33 at 8. The magistrate judge states, “[i]n reviewing the record, the Court does not see evidence of either. Thus, the WVSCA only takes issue with the Circuit Court on [] its determination that Petitioner did in fact receive ineffective assistance from his counsel in the plea bargaining stage.” Id. The magistrate judge found that, under the third prong, the WVSCA reviewed petitioner's ultimate legal claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, which they determined was a question of law, de novo. ECF No. 33 at 8. The magistrate judge, in reviewing the decision of the WVSCA and its application of the Strickland test, noted that since the WVSCA found that the Circuit Court erred in finding Mr. Lambert's performance to be deficient under an objective standard of reasonableness, they declined to access the Circuit Court's finding under the second prong of Strickland. Upon review of the WVSCA's conclusion that the Circuit Court made no “explicit credibility assessments, ” the magistrate judge found that the Circuit Court did, in fact, make credibility determinations as to the testimony of the petitioner and his former counsel at the omnibus hearing. The magistrate judge adds that “it is inarguable that the Circuit Court was in the best position to make this determination” as the Circuit Court was “the same Court [that] oversaw the underlying trial, and the habeas proceeding that ensued.” ECF No. 33 at 9. The magistrate judge found that the [Circuit Court's] Order is a credibility determination in and of itself.” ECF No. 33 at 9. The magistrate judge concluded by stating:

Once the WVSCA's reasoning that the Circuit Court failed to make an express credibility determination is dispelled, it becomes apparent that the Circuit Court was well within its discretion to find that Mr. Lambert's performance in the plea bargaining portion of the underlying case was deficient under an objective standard of reasonableness. INDEED, IF ONE TAKES PETITIONER'S VERSION OF EVENTS TO BE ACCURATE, A FINDING OF INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL IS THE ONLY CONCLUSION TO BE MADE.

ECF No. 33 at 9 (emphasis in original).

         Based on the foregoing, the magistrate judge recommended that “Petitioner's § 2254 petition and Cross Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 29) be GRANTED, and that Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20) be DENIED. The Court further recommends that the decision of the WVSCA be reversed, and the case be remanded to the Circuit Court of Jefferson County for entry of an order that the plea offer in dispute is to be re-offered to Petitioner.” ECF No. 33 at 10.

         The magistrate judge stated, “[a]ny party may, within fourteen [14] days of the filing of this recommendation, file with the Clerk of Court written objections identifying those portions of the recommendation to which objection is made and the basis for such objections. A copy of any objections shall also be submitted to the United States District Judge of record. Failure to timely file objections to this recommendation will result in waiver of the right to appeal from a judgment of this Court based upon such recommendation.” Id.

         Respondent filed objections to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation (ECF No. 33) and states that “this Court should reject the R&R for any of three reasons.” ECF No. 34 at 1. First, respondent argues that, “the analysis in the R&R intrudes upon a question of state law-namely, the standard of review and level of deference the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia (“WVSCA”) applies to factual findings made (or not made) by a state circuit court-that falls outside the scope of post-conviction collateral review prescribed in 28 U.S.C. § 2254.” Id. Second, respondent argues that, “the WVSCA's factual determinations were not unreasonable in light of the record and, therefore, the R&R's conflicting factual determinations violate 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2).” Id. Finally, respondent argues that, “the R&R's ultimate recommendation that this Court reverse the WVSCA should be rejected because it is evident that the WVSCA reasonably applied the facts to the relevant, applicable law.” Id. Respondent asserts that while the report and recommendation “disagrees” with the WVSCA's determination that there were no such credibility determinations made by the Circuit Court, and thus, did not grant deference to the Circuit Court's findings of fact, “the question of the extent to which, if at all, the WVSCA applies deference to the credibility findings of the inferior West Virginia state courts is inherently a question of state law.” ECF No. 34 at 3. Respondent argues that the magistrate judge's “finding violates the scope of habeas review as it is evident that this issue involves the WVSCA's interpretation of its own state case law, and, on questions of such law, the WVSCA is the ultimate authority.” Id. Thus, respondent asserts, “the R&R may ‘disagree' with how the WVSCA applied West Virginia law, but it is erroneous to recommend reversal of such a decision.” ECF No. 34 at 4. Respondent also asserts “[t]he point discussed above is sufficient, standing alone, for this Court to reject the R&R as it would have this Court pass beyond the scope of § 2254 review and delve into questions of state law. However (and arguing purely in the alternative) even if this Court were to conclude the R&R's analysis does not unlawfully (and unconstitutionally) intrude upon a question of state law, the WVSCA's factual determinations were not unreasonable and, therefore, relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2) is inappropriate, and the portion of the R&R rejecting the WVSCA's factual determinations should not be adopted by this Court.” ECF No. 34 at 1. Specifically, respondent asserts that the WVSCA's factual findings are entitled to a presumption of correctness which the R&R does not recognize, the report and recommendation improperly considers the findings of the state circuit court in concluding that the WVSCA's credibility determinations were unreasonable, and that the WVSCA's credibility determinations are supported by the record. Lastly, respondent argues that the report and recommendation's ultimate recommendation-that this Court should reverse the WVSCA-should be rejected because it is evident that the WVSCA reasonably applied the facts to the relevant, applicable federal law. ECF No. 34 at 11. Respondent concludes by stating “[t]he WVSCA's adjudication of Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim was neither an unreasonable application of federal law nor a decision based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.” ECF No. 34 at 12. Respondent argues that this Court should reject the report and recommendation, deny petitioner's cross motion for summary judgment, and grant respondent's motion for summary judgment. In the alternative, this Court should reject the report and recommendation and remand this case back to the magistrate judge for entry of additional recommendations.

         II. A ...


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