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Orange v. Tilton

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


March 18, 2008

EUGENE ORANGE, PETITIONER,
v.
JAMES TILTON, SECRETARY, ET AL. RESPONDENT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Napoleon A. Jones, Jr. United States District Judge

ORDER: 1) ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE BATTAGLIA'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION; AND 2) DENYING PETITIONER'S MOTION TO STAY

Eugene Orange ("Petitioner"), a state prisoner proceeding pro se, has filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Petition") pursuant to 28. U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner failed to allege exhaustion of ground four of the petition and now seeks to stay-and-abey the petition and exhaust his unexhausted claim in state court. Before the Court is Magistrate Judge Anthony J. Battaglia's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") recommending that the Court deny Petitioner's motion to stay. For the reasons set forth below, this Court ADOPTS the R&R and DENIES Petitioner's motion to stay.

Factual Background

Petitioner is a California State Prisoner serving a sentence of 111 years to life in State Prison for (1) first degree murder, and (2) acquiring a credit card with intent to defraud.

Petitioner has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court raising four grounds for relief. (See Pet'r's Motion to Stay (Pet'r's Mot.) at 1.) Petitioner filed and exhausted the first three claims of his petition for writ of habeas corpus in state court. His fourth claim, ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, was not raised in state court. (See Pet'r's Mot.)

Procedural Background

On April 23, 2007, Petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which was dismissed by this Court on May 24, 2007, for failure to pay the filing fee. The Court also noted in its May 24, 2007 order, that the Petitioner failed to allege exhaustion of ground four of the Petition and advised Petitioner of the four options available to him.*fn1 On June 1, 2007, this Court granted Petitioner's application to proceed in forma pauperis, but stated that the action remained dismissed without prejudice while Petitioner selected among the four options identified by the Court in its May 24, 2007 order. On June 14, 2007, Petitioner filed a motion to stay the petition. On September 25, 2007, Respondent filed an opposition to the motion and on November 7, 2007, Petitioner filed a status report to inform the Court of his progress in exhausting ground four in state court.

Standard of Review

I. State Prisoner Habeas Corpus Standard

A federal court's duty in examining a state prisoner's habeas petition is governed by the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) a federal court may grant a habeas petition if the applicant is in custody "in violation of the Constitution of other laws or treaties of the United States." Pursuant to the AEDPA, a federal court may grant habeas corpus relief from a state court judgment only if the adjudication was (1) contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or (2) was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Early v Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 7-8 (2002).

A federal court may grant relief under the "contrary to" clause if (1) the state court applied a rule different from the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases, or (2) if it decided a case differently than the Supreme Court on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 73 (2003). The court may grant relief under the "unreasonable application" clause if the state court correctly identified the governing legal principle from Supreme Court decisions but unreasonably applied those decisions to the facts of a particular

Id. at 76. Additionally, the state court's factual determinations are presumed correct, and the petitioner carries the burden of rebutting this presumption with "clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

II. Reviewing a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

The district court's duties in connection with a magistrate judge's R&R are set forth in Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). See Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 72(b); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The district court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the report . . . to which objection is made," and "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); see also United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980). "When no objections are filed, the district court may assume the correctness of the magistrate judges findings of fact and decide the motion of the applicable law." Johnson v. Nelson, 142 F. Supp. 2d 1215, 1217 (S.D. Cal. 2001). "Under such circumstances, the Ninth Circuit has held that 'a failure to file objections only relieves the trial court of its burden to give de novoreview to factual findings; conclusions of law must still be reviewed de novo.'" Id. (Quoting Barilla v. , 886 F.2d 1514, 1518 (9th Cir. 1989).) Thus, the Court conducts a de novo review of any factual findings to which Petitioner objects and a de novo review of conclusions of law.

Discussion

Petitioner argues that the Court should stay the instant petition because ground four may be dispositive. (See Pet'r's Mot. at 1.) However, the stay-and-abeyance procedure is only available in limited circumstances, where the district court determines: (1) there is good cause for the petitioner's failure to exhaust his claims first in state court; (2) the unexhausted claims are not meritless; and (3) the petitioner has acted with reasonable diligence to exhaust the unexhausted claims. See Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 277-78 (2005).

In the R&R, Magistrate Judge Battaglia found that Petitioner had not demonstrated good cause for his failure to exhaust ground four in state court. (R&R at 2.) Petitioner has not alleged that the factual basis of this claim was newly discovered or could not have been discovered earlier through the exercise of reasonable diligence. (Id.) Petitioner claims that his counsel failed to argue that some evidence was improperly admitted. (See Pet'r's Mot.) As such, Petitioner has been aware of the factual predicates since at least the date of filing of the opening brief in his direct appeal. However, appellate counsel did raise the fourth claim to the state court of appeal,*fn2 so the issue was before the California Supreme Court regardless of whether it was presented as a distinct issue in Petitioner's Petition for Review. See Cal. R. Ct. 8.516(b)(2) (the court may decide an issue that is neither raised nor included in the petition for review if the case presents the issue and the court gives the parties an opportunity to brief and argue it). While Petitioner has acted with reasonable diligence, he has failed to meet the first two requirements set forth in Rhines. Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. at 277-78. As such, the Court ADOPTS Magistrate Judge Battaglia's R&R finding the requested stay inappropriate and therefore DENIES Petitioner's Motion to Stay. In addition to recommending Petitioner's motion be denied, the R&R recommends this Court allow the Petitioner an opportunity to delete the unexhausted claim and proceed only on exhausted claims. See Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509,522 (because a total exhaustion rule promotes comity and does not unreasonably impair the prisoner's right to relief, a district court must dismiss habeas petitions containing both unexhausted and exhausted claims).This Court ADOPTS the R&R's recommendation and allows Petitioner an opportunity to delete his unexhausted claim.

Conclusion

For the reasons set forth above, Petitioner's Motion to Stay is DENIED.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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