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Lemons v. Warren

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 24, 2013

IAN LEMONS, Petitioner,
CHARLES WARREN et al., Respondents.


RENÉE MARIE BUMB, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon the Court's review of the submissions made thus far in this action, and it appearing that:

On April 13, 2012, Petitioner Ian Lemons ("Petitioner") submitted for filing a habeas petition ("Petition"), executed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction and sentence rendered by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division ("Law Division") on August 5, 2005. See Docket Entry No. 1, at 1, 5. Since the Petition arrived unaccompanied by Petitioner's filing fee or an in forma pauperis ("IFP") application, this Court notified Petitioner of his obligation to prepay the filing fee or duly obtain IFP status within thirty days. The Court also advised Petitioner of his rights under Mason v. Meyers , 208 F.3d 414 (3d Cir. 2000). See Docket Entry No. 2. When Petitioner failed to timely prepay his filing fee or seek IFP status, the Court directed termination of this matter. See Docket Entry No. 3.

In response, Petitioner submitted his filing fee and moved for restoration of this matter to the Court's active docket. See Docket Entry No. 4 and Docket Entry dated July 2, 2012. The Court granted Petitioner's motion, see Docket Entry No. 5, and directed Respondents to answer his challenges. See Docket Entry No. 5.

On August 27, 2012, Respondents filed their answer. See Docket Entries Nos. 9, 10. The answer did not contain Respondents' counter-statement of facts underlying Petitioner's conviction or a summary of the procedural developments. See Docket Entry No. 9. Moreover, with regard to each of Petitioner's challenges, Respondents failed to detail either the facts or federal law. Rather, Respondents disagreed with Petitioner's position, and "incorporate[d] the [unspecified, state-law-based] arguments set forth" in the prosecutorial briefs presented to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division ("Appellate Division"). Respondents were in agreement with the Appellate Division's ruling. See generally, Docket Entry No. 9. Respondents' references to 1, 384 pages of exhibits were summarized in an index consisting of abbreviations utilized in Petitioner's state litigation and not immediately discernable from the docket entries made in the instant matter. See Docket Entries Nos. 9, 10; see also generally, Docket Entry No. 9.

Moreover, Respondents asserted that several of Petitioner's claims addressed on the merits by the state courts during Petitioner's post-conviction relief ("PCR") proceedings should be dismissed by this Court as procedurally defaulted. Specifically, Respondents argued that because Petitioner could, but did not, raise those claims in his direct appellate proceedings, [1] or because the state courts elected not to expressly address the merits of Petitioner's claims, such claims are barred. See Docket Entry No. 9, at 13.

Meanwhile, Petitioner filed his traverse to Respondents' answer, requesting this Court to consider Petitioner's arguments raised: (1) by Petitioner's counsel; and (2) in Petitioner's "pro se brief." Docket Entry No. 13, at 1. However, since no counsel has ever been appointed to Petitioner in this matter, see Docket Entries Nos. 14, 15, there were no counseled submissions made on Petitioner's behalf, and all Petitioner's submissions at bar were filed pro se.

This Court cannot be expected to read over one thousand pages and correlate each exhibit to a particular docket entry. Nor should this Court attempt to analyze how the rulings from the state court address each of Petitioner's current challenges without any assistance from Respondents. Additionally, because Respondents assert that some of Petitioner's challenges are unexhausted and others are procedurally defaulted, and the Petition is "mixed, " clarification as to these issues is warranted.

While the failure to exhaust state remedies does not deprive a federal court of jurisdiction to consider the merits of a habeas corpus application, it is indeed a statutory requirement of every § 2254 petition that federal constitutional claims be raised and addressed on the merits in state court prior to the filing of a habeas petition in federal court.[2] See Granberry v. Greer , 481 U.S. 129, 131 (1987); Rose v. Lundy , 455 U.S. 509, 516-18 (1982); Toulson, 987 F.2d at 987. This means that both the legal theory and factual predicate of each claim presented for federal habeas review must be materially the same as those of the corresponding claim presented to all levels of state court.[3] See Picard v. Connor , 404 U.S. 270, 275-77 (1971). Where any available state procedure remains, even if only theoretically, the claims cannot be deemed exhausted. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (c).

Correspondingly, district courts are obligated to dismiss habeas petitions containing unexhausted claims, even if it is not likely that a state court will consider the claims on the merits. See Rose , 455 U.S. at 522; Banks v. Horn , 126 F.3d 206, 212-14 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Toulson, 987 F.2d at 989 ("Because no [New Jersey] court has concluded that petitioner is procedurally barred from raising his unexhausted claims and state law does not clearly require a finding of default, we hold that the district court should have dismissed the petition without prejudice for failure to exhaust state remedies"). Analogously, if a petition contains a mix of duly exhausted and unexhausted claims (such petitions are referred to as "mixed" petitions), the petition is also subject to dismissal for failure to exhaust unless: (1) the petitioner withdraws all his unexhausted challenges; or (2) the petitioner duly obtains "stay and abeyance" under Rhines v. Weber , 544 U.S. 269 (2005), with the goal of exhausting all his not-withdrawn unexhausted challenges in the state courts; or (3) the petitioner's unexhausted challenges are facially meritless and warrant denial of habeas relief under § 2254(b)(2) regardless of failure to exhaust. See Mahoney v. Bostel , 2010 U.S.App. LEXIS 3916, at *5-6 (3d Cir. Feb. 24, 2010).

However, a different analysis applies to those challenges with regard to which the petitioner cannot obtain state court review. Section 2254(b)(1)(B)(i) excuses exhaustion where there is "an absence of available State corrective process." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(B)(i); see also Duckworth v. Serrano , 454 U.S. 1, 3 (1981) (per curiam). A habeas petition containing claims that are unexhausted and: (1) expressly found procedurally barred from state review; and, in addition (2) left unaddressed by the state courts on their merits, cannot be dismissed as unexhausted because the doctrine of procedural default excuses failure to exhaust. See Toulson, 987 F.2d at 987; accord Coleman, 501 U.S. at 730-32. Still, while procedural default excuses exhaustion, it is a double-edged sword, i.e., the doctrine was not created as an incentive for state litigants to circumvent state court review. When the petitioner's failure to comply with a state procedural rule has actually prevented the state courts from reaching the merits of his federal claims, federal habeas review of those claims is ordinarily barred, see Ylst v. Nunnemaker , 501 U.S. 797, 801 (1991), "unless the habeas petitioner can show cause' for the default and prejudice' attributable thereto, or demonstrate that failure to consider the federal claim will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice." Harris, 489 U.S. at 262 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); accord Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750. Thus, the procedural posture of Petitioner's claims, as well as the substance of these claims and that of Respondents' position, require clarification. Accord Williams, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51959, at *6, n.1 ("[T]he Court's determination as to the merits of Petitioner's [habeas application] will be made only after the Court fully examines and satisfies itself as to the... record [accumulated in this matter]: acting otherwise would be equivalent to a violation of this Court's judicial mandate and ethical obligations").

IT IS, therefore, on this 23rd day of October 2013,

ORDERED that, within forty-five days from the date of entry of this Memorandum Opinion and Order, Petitioner shall file with the Clerk and serve upon Respondents an amended petition stating each ground Petitioner wishes to raise in this matter, and detailing the factual predicate and the legal claim asserted in each ground. Petitioner shall not conflate different claims by designating them as "sub-grounds"; rather, he shall designate each of his sub-grounds as an individual self-standing "ground." In the event each such Petitioner's ground was not presented to the Appellate Division and the Supreme Court of New Jersey during direct appellate review, or - in the alternative - was not presented to all three levels of the state court during his PCR review, Petitioner shall either withdraw his unexhausted grounds or duly seek stay and abeyance of this entire matter while Petitioner attempts proper exhaustion of those unexhausted grounds that Petitioner does not wish to withdraw. In the event Petitioner raised any ground that was dismissed by the state courts solely on a procedural basis and without reaching the merits of that ground, Petitioner shall either withdraw his procedurally defaulted grounds or duly seek excuse of procedural default by showing cause and prejudice or a fundamental miscarriage of justice (as to each particular defaulted ground). Petitioner is reminded that he is obligated to marshal all his challenges in his amended petition, and no claims raised in his original petition or the claim that he might wish to raise in his later submissions would be considered by this Court unless Petitioner first obtains leave from the Court of Appeals to file a second/successive § 2254 application; and it is further

ORDERED that, within forty-five days from the date of Petitioner's service of his amended petition upon Respondents, Respondents shall file with the Clerk an amended answer. That amended answer shall contain Respondents' counter-statement of facts and a summary of procedural developments that took place in the state courts. In addition, that amended answer shall address each of Petitioner's grounds by detailing the relevant facts and the governing Supreme Court precedent. Respondents shall neither make any generic arguments of their disagreement with Petitioner nor raise any arguments based on state law. In the event Respondents want to rely on federal law arguments raised during state proceedings, Respondents shall expressly detail the same, not assert any "incorporation by reference." Respondents also shall not assert any "reliance" on the position taken ...

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