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Salerno v. New Jersey Attorney General

May 10, 2006

EDWARD SALERNO, PETITIONER,
v.
NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hayden, District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the Court on petitioner Edward Salerno's petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons stated below, the petition will be dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust state court remedies.

I. BACKGROUND

According to the allegations contained in the petition, petitioner, Edward Salerno ("Salerno"), is a civilly committed person under the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predators Act, N.J.S.A. 30:4-21.1, et seq., currently confined at the Special Treatment Unit, Annex B, in Avenel, New Jersey. Salerno challenges the judgment and order of involuntary commitment issued on August 28, 2001. He states that he filed an appeal from this order, and the appeal is currently pending. (Petition at ¶¶ 9(a), 11(d)).

II. ANALYSIS

A. Pro Se Pleading

Salerno brings his habeas petition as a pro se litigant. A pro se pleading is held to less stringent standards than more formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). A pro se habeas petition and any supporting submissions must be construed liberally and with a measure of tolerance. See Royce v. Hahn, 151 F.3d 116, 118 (3d Cir. 1998); Lewis v. Attorney General, 878 F.2d 714, 721-22 (3d Cir. 1989); United States v. Brierley, 414 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969), cert. denied, 399 U.S. 912 (1970).

B. Exhaustion Analysis

A state prisoner applying for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court must first "exhaust[] the remedies available in the courts of the State," unless "there is an absence of available State corrective process[] or ... circumstances exist that render such process ineffective ... ."*fn1 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1). See also Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 515 (1982); Lambert v. Blackwell, 134 F.3d 506, 513 (3d Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 532 U.S. 919 (2001) (finding that "Supreme Court precedent and the AEDPA mandate that prior to determining the merits of [a] petition, [a court] must consider whether [petitioner] is required to present [his or her] unexhausted claims to the [state's] courts").

The exhaustion requirement is intended to allow state courts the first opportunity to pass upon federal constitutional claims, in furtherance of the policies of comity and federalism. Granberry v. Greer, 481 U.S. 129 (1987); Rose, 455 U.S. at 516-18. Exhaustion also has the practical effect of permitting development of a complete factual record in state court, to aid the federal courts in their review. Rose, 455 U.S. at 519.

A petitioner must exhaust state remedies by presenting his federal constitutional claims to each level of the state courts empowered to hear those claims, either on direct appeal or in collateral post-conviction proceedings. See, e.g., O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838 (1999) ("requiring state prisoners [in order to fully exhaust their claims] to file petitions for discretionary review when that review is part of the ordinary appellate review procedure in the State"); Ross v. Petsock, 868 F.2d 639 (3d Cir. 1989); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c) ("An applicant shall not be deemed to have exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State, within the meaning of this section, if he has the right under the law of the State to raise, by any available procedure, the question presented.") Once a petitioner's federal claims have been fairly presented to the state's highest court, the exhaustion requirement is satisfied. Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971); Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 350 (1989).

The petitioner generally bears the burden to prove all facts establishing exhaustion. Toulson v. Beyer, 987 F.2d 984, 987 (3d Cir. 1993). This means that the claims heard by the state courts must be the "substantial equivalent" of the claims asserted in the federal habeas petition. Picard, 404 U.S. at 275. Reliance on the same constitutional provision is not sufficient; the legal theory and factual predicate must also be the same. Id. at 277.

Where any available procedure remains for the applicant to raise the question presented in the courts of the state, the applicant has not exhausted the available remedies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c).

In the present case, the petition, on its face, shows that Salerno has failed to exhaust his state court remedies with respect to his involuntary commitment. He admits that he has filed a direct appeal from the order of commitment, and the appeal is still pending. Therefore, it is obvious that the claims asserted in Salerno's petition have not been fully exhausted before the highest court in New Jersey. Accordingly, the Court is constrained to dismiss the entire ...


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