United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING AND ADOPTING
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE AND OVERRULING
FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
petitioner, John Walters (“Walters”), acting
pro se,  filed a petition (ECF No. 1) under 28
U.S.C. § 2254 for writ of habeas corpus by a person in
state custody. Walters is currently incarcerated in the
Huttonsville Correctional Center in Huttonsville, Randolph
County, West Virginia, serving consecutive terms imposed on
March 25, 2013 of forty (40) years for robbery, two to ten
(2-10) years for malicious assault and an additional one to
fifteen (1-15) years for burglary following his January 2013
guilty plea in the Circuit Court of Berkeley County, West
Virginia. ECF No. 26-22.
civil action was referred to the United States Magistrate
Judge James E. Seibert for initial review and report and
recommendation pursuant to Local Rule of Prisoner Litigation
Procedure 2 and then reassigned to United States Magistrate
Judge James P. Mazzone. The magistrate judge determined
summary dismissal was not warranted and the respondent was
directed to show cause why the petition should not be
granted. ECF No. 10. On July 6, 2018, the respondent filed an
amended answer which acknowledged that the petition was
timely filed (ECF No. 41) and thereafter, filed a
supplemental response (ECF No. 49) and a motion for summary
judgment addressing the merits of the petition. ECF No. 50. A
Roseboro notice was issued (ECF No. 52) and the
petitioner filed a response to the motion for summary
judgment. ECF No. 57. The respondent filed a reply in support
of the motion (ECF No. 59), and the petitioner filed a
sur-reply. ECF No. 65.
magistrate judge then entered a report and recommendation
(ECF No. 69) recommending that petitioner's § 2254
petition (ECF No. 1) be denied, the respondent's motion
for summary judgment (ECF No. 50) be granted, and this matter
be dismissed with prejudice. ECF No. 69 at 27. The magistrate
judge determined that the Supreme Court of Appeals of West
Virginia's resolution of the petitioner's state
habeas claim was a reasonable application of federal law, and
the petitioner has failed to establish that he is entitled to
relief. Id. at 26. Specifically, the magistrate
judge found that the analysis of the Supreme Court of Appeals
of West Virginia in determining Walters has not satisfied the
“prejudice prong” under Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), like the analysis of
the Circuit Court of Berkeley County, was wholly appropriate.
two orders granting extensions of time (ECF Nos. 72 and 75),
the petitioner filed his objections to the report and
recommendation. ECF No. 77. In his objections, the petitioner
reiterates the argument previously asserted in his response
in opposition to the motion for summary judgment that his
counsel's performance was deficient. Id. at 1.
Petitioner also generally asserts that the Supreme Court of
Appeals of West Virginia's application of
Strickland was unreasonable and that his trial
counsel's actions meet the prejudice prong of
Strickland and Missouri v. Frye, 132 S.Ct.
1399 (2012). Id. at 3-4.
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court must conduct a
de novo review of any portion of the magistrate
judge's recommendation to which objection is timely made.
Because the petitioner filed objections to the report and
recommendation, the magistrate judge's recommendation
will be reviewed de novo as to those findings to
which objections were made. As to those findings to which
objections were not filed, those findings and recommendations
will be upheld unless they are “clearly erroneous or
contrary to law.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).
Court's review of this habeas corpus petition is governed
by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
(“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A federal
habeas court may only consider whether a person is in custody
pursuant to a state court judgment “in violation of the
Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.”
28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The AEDPA requires federal courts
to apply a “highly deferential standard” when
conducting habeas corpus review of state court decisions and
“demands that state-court decisions be given the
benefit of the doubt.” Renico v. Lett, 559
U.S. 766, 773, 130 S.Ct. 1855, 176 L.Ed.2d 678 (2010)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). When an
issue raised in a petitioner's habeas petition has been
litigated before the state court on appeal, a petitioner is
entitled to habeas corpus relief only if he can show the
state court adjudication “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 “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).
2254 requires a federal court to presume the correctness of a
state court factual findings and only overturn them when an
error is “stark and clear.” Cagle v.
Branker, 520 F.3d. 320, 324-25 (4th Cir. 2008). A
federal court may not characterize the state court factual
determinations as unreasonable “merely because [it]
would have reached a different conclusion in the first
instance.” Wood v. Allen, 588 U.S. 290, 301
(2010). Instead, § 2254(d)(2) requires that the federal
courts accord the state trial court substantial deference.
Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269 (2015).
order for the petitioner to satisfy the two-prong test set
forth in Strickland for claims of ineffective
assistance of counsel, the petitioner must show that: (1)
counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of
reasonableness; and (2) counsel's performance prejudiced
the defendant. United States v. Basham, 789 F.3d
358, 371 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)).
incident giving rise to the petitioner's instant claim
occurred during the course of petitioner's underlying
criminal proceedings when petitioner learned that a more
lenient and pre-indictment March 9, 2012 plea offer was
mishandled by the public defender's office. It is not
disputed that this plea offer was not conveyed to petitioner
until it was discovered by petitioner's appointed
counsel, Thomas L. Stanley, and disclosed to petitioner in
July 2012 after it had expired and after the state had made a
less favorable offer. This Court notes that the parties do
not dispute, and the Supreme Court of Appeals of West
Virginia held, that petitioner's counsel provided
deficient representation by not relaying the March 9, 2012
plea offer. However, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West
Virginia determined, and the respondent asserts here, that
petitioner cannot satisfy the second prong of the
Strickland standard as he was not prejudiced.
the sole issue before this Court is whether the Supreme Court
of Appeals of West Virginia's application of the
“prejudice prong” of the Strickland