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Clark v. Magnusson

United States District Court, D. Maine

November 21, 2019

STEVEN CLARK, Petitioner,


          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         In this action, Petitioner Steven Clark, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, seeks relief from a state court conviction and sentence. (Petition, ECF No. 1.) Petitioner asserts that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to introduce certain evidence and call certain witnesses, among other claims. (Id.; Addendum, ECF No. 11.) The State argues that the state court correctly determined that counsel was not ineffective because in connection with the challenged conduct, he exercised reasonable strategic judgment and, in any event, Petitioner was not prejudiced by counsel's performance. (Answer, ECF No. 16.) The State asks the Court to dismiss the petition. After he filed the petition and after the State requested dismissal, Petitioner moved to amend the petition. (Motion, ECF No. 20.)

         I grant Petitioner's motion to amend the addendum to the petition, and after a review of the section 2254 petition, the State's request for dismissal, and the record, I recommend the Court grant the State's request and dismiss the petition.

         Factual Background and Procedural History

         In June 2007, following a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of one count of murder. (State v. Clark, Me. Super. Ct., Cum. Cty., CR-06-533, Docket Record at 3 - 4, 6.) Petitioner was sentenced to forty-three years of imprisonment. (Id. at 6.) The evidence showed that in February 2006, Petitioner and Robert Wagner spent a night drinking with another friend at a club before returning to Petitioner's house, where a conflict arose between Petitioner and Wagner. State v. Clark, 2008 ME 136, ¶ 3, 954 A.2d 1066, 1068. After the friend left, Petitioner shot Wagner twice and then sought to hide the evidence of the killing, and he enlisted his father and brother to help dispose of the body. Id. ¶¶ 4 - 6. Petitioner testified at trial that he shot Wagner in self-defense after Wagner held a knife to Petitioner's head; Petitioner claimed that he concealed the evidence because he feared the police as a result of prior interactions, including an occasion where Petitioner was maced and arrested. Id. ¶¶ 1, 5.

         Petitioner sought review of his sentence and appealed from his conviction. In February 2008, the Sentence Review Panel of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court denied Petitioner leave to appeal his sentence. (State v. Clark, Me. Sent. Rev. Panel, SRP-07-381, Docket Record.) In August 2008, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld the conviction. Clark, 2008 ME 136, ¶ 1.

         In February 2010, Petitioner filed a state petition for postconviction review. (Clark v. State, Me. Super. Ct., Cum. Cty., CR-10-1339, Docket Record at 1.) After a series of evidentiary hearings between September 2014 and August 2016, the state court denied the petition in October 2018. (Id. at 7 - 14; Postconviction Decision.) In February 2019, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court denied Petitioner's application for a certificate of probable cause to appeal the postconviction decision. (Clark v. State, Me. Law. Ct., CUM-18-454, Docket Record at 3.)


         A. Motion to Amend

         Petitioner's motion to amend is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15. See 28 U.S.C. § 2242 (habeas petitions “may be amended or supplemented as provided in the rules of procedure applicable to civil actions”); Rules Governing Section 2254 Proceedings, Rule 12 (providing that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply, to the extent they are not inconsistent with statutory provisions or the Rules Governing Section 2254 Proceedings).

         Rule 15(a)(1) permits a litigant to amend a pleading “once as a matter of course, ” subject to certain time constraints. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). However, when a party seeks to amend a complaint more than 21 days after the filing of a responsive pleading, the other party's consent or leave of court is required in order to amend the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). In such a case, the court is to grant leave to amend “freely” when “justice so requires.” Id.; see also Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (“In the absence of any apparent or declared reason-such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.-the leave sought should, as the rules require, be ‘freely given.'”).

         Although the original petition contained only one ground for relief, Petitioner referred to an “addendum to petition under separate cover” because the claims were too extensive to list in the standard form. (Petition at 7.) Because the Court did not initially receive an addendum, on March 14, 2019, the Court instructed Petitioner to file his supplemental claims by April 5, 2019. (Order, ECF Nos. 5, 7.) On April 10, 2019, Petitioner filed a motion to extend the time to supplement the petition, which motion Petitioner dated April 4. (ECF No. 8.) Petitioner asserted that his access to his legal materials and a typewriter were restricted due to a quarantine at the Maine State Prison. On April 11, 2019, the Court extended the deadline to April 26. (Id.; Order, ECF No. 9.)

         On May 2, 2019, Petitioner filed another motion to extend the deadline, which motion Petitioner dated April 25. (ECF No. 10.) Petitioner explained that he might miss the deadline for supplementing the Petition because he needed to get photocopies and could not do so until April 26. (Id.) Also on May 2, 2019, Petitioner filed a forty-six-page Addendum, dated April 26, with nine additional grounds for relief and numerous subparts. (Addendum, ECF No. 11.) In addition, Petitioner attached a copy of another forty-one-page addendum that he had previously filed with the state postconviction court. (State Postconviction Addendum, ECF No. 11-1.) On May 6, 2019, I granted Petitioner's second motion to extend the deadline and accepted Petitioner's filings. (Order, ECF No. 12.) On the same day, I ordered the State to respond to Petitioner's filings. (Order to Answer, ECF No. 13.)

         On May 16, 2019, Petitioner filed a motion, dated April 29, seeking leave to file a “Memorandum of Law” and asserting the same photocopy-related reason for delay. (Letter/Motion, ECF No. 14.) Interpreting this request for an additional filing as referring to the same Addendum that had already been accepted, the Court denied that motion as moot on May 17, 2019. (Order, ECF No. 15.) Apparently, however, within his addendum, Petitioner referred to a “Memorandum of Law” that he intended to be another document in support of his petition. (Addendum at 14, 38.)

         The State filed its response to the Petition and the Addendum on June 20, 2019. (Answer, ECF No. 16.) On June 24, 2019, Petitioner filed a motion to clarify the status of his filings. (ECF No. 18.) In that motion, Petitioner expressed concern that the Court did not docket or did not receive his memorandum of law. (Id.) Petitioner did not include a copy of a memorandum, instead offering to send it within two days of notification from the Court. (Id.) On June 25, 2019, the Court clarified that the petition and the supplement had been docketed. (Order, ECF No. 19.)

         On July 5, 2019, Petitioner filed a motion to amend the Addendum, which motion Petitioner dated June 28. (ECF No. 20.) Petitioner asserted that he sent his Memorandum of Law to the Court and the State on April 29, 2019, three days after sending his Supplement. (Id. at 1.) Neither the Court nor the State received a memorandum. (See Response to Motion to Amend, ECF No. 21.) After seeking and obtaining an extension of time to file his reply to the State's answer, Petitioner filed a reply on August 6, 2019. (ECF Nos. 22 - 24.) Finally, on August 12 and August 26, 2019, Petitioner filed a two-part, 116-page Memorandum of Law in connection with his prior motion to amend his Addendum. (Memorandum of Law, ECF Nos. 25, 27.) Petitioner apparently sent the documents on August 1, but maintains he originally sent them on April 29.

         Petitioner's filings generate some legitimate questions about Petitioner's efforts to comply with the filing deadlines. The Addendum resembles a typical memorandum of law, with detailed factual descriptions and legal arguments, rather than the short plain statements found in a form petition which is ordinarily accompanied by a separate memorandum. The circumstances-including a series of requests for extensions of time, the repeated use of the same justification for delay, and the failure to include the Memorandum for several months-raise the possibility that Petitioner attempted to circumvent or effectively extend the Court's filings deadlines without a legitimate basis.

         Nevertheless, challenges presented by the prison mail system could conceivably result in an oversight or mistake in the filing of the Memorandum of Law. In addition, Petitioner's pro se status might explain the confusion between terms like “addendum, ” “supplement, ” and a “memorandum” when he amended the petition. Because Petitioner's Memorandum of Law largely presents case authority and reiterates factual accounts included in the state court record, I grant Petitioner's motion to amend and consider his Memorandum of Law in assessing the petition.

         B. Legal Standards for § 2254 Petition

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court may apply to a federal district court for writ of habeas corpus “only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.”

         Absent circumstances not relevant to Petitioner's case, a petitioner is required to exhaust available state court remedies before he seeks federal habeas review. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c).[1] “Before seeking a federal writ of habeas corpus, a state prisoner must exhaust available state remedies, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), thereby giving the State the ‘opportunity to pass upon and correct' alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.” Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004) (quoting Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995) (per curiam)) (quotation marks omitted). In Baldwin, the Court noted that “[t]o provide the State with the necessary ‘opportunity,' the prisoner must ‘fairly present' his claim in each appropriate state court (including a state supreme court with powers of discretionary review), thereby alerting that court to the federal nature of the claim.” Id. (quoting Duncan, 513 U.S. at 365-66).

         To exhaust a claim fully in state court in Maine, a petitioner must request discretionary review by the Law Court. See 15 M.R.S. § 2131. The Supreme Court has held that a procedural default bars federal review absent a demonstration of cause for the default and prejudice to the petitioner:

In all cases in which a state prisoner has defaulted his federal claims in state court pursuant to an independent and adequate state procedural rule, federal habeas review of the claims is barred unless the prisoner can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law, or demonstrate that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.

Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991).[2]

         In Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), the Supreme Court recognized a “narrow exception” to its holding in Coleman, based on equity, not constitutional law: “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.” 566 U.S. at 9, 16. However, when the procedural default relates to post-conviction counsel's actions at the discretionary-review stage rather than at the initial-review stage of the collateral proceedings, habeas relief is not available:

The holding in this case does not concern attorney errors in other kinds of proceedings, including appeals from initial-review collateral proceedings, second or successive collateral proceedings, and petitions for discretionary review in a State's appellate courts. It does not extend to attorney errors in any proceeding beyond the first occasion the State allows a prisoner to raise a claim of ineffective assistance at trial . . . .

Martinez, 566 U.S. at 16 (citations omitted).

         As to federal habeas claims that were adjudicated on the merits in state court, the federal court may not grant relief unless (1) the state court decision was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); or (2) the decision was ...

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