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Grohs v. Main

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 27, 2018

STEVEN GROHS, Petitioner,
v.
MERRILL MAIN, Ph.D., Clinical Director Of The Special Treatment Unit and GURBIR GREWAL, Attorney General Of The State Of New Jersey, Respondents.

          Steven Grohs, Pro Se.

          Gurbir Grewal, Attorney General David L. DaCosta, Deputy Attorney General R.J. Hughes Justice Complex Office of the New Jersey Attorney General N.J. Department of Law and Public Safety Division of Law, Health & Human Services Section Attorneys for Respondents

          OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE, U.S. District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Steven Grohs (“Grohs”) has submitted an amended petition (“Amended Petition”) for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF[1] 3.) Respondents Merrill Main, Ph.D. and John J. Hoffman oppose the Amended Petition.[2] (Answer, ECF 9-1.) For the reasons stated herein, the Amended Petition shall be denied and no certificate of appealability shall issue.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Grohs has a history of child sex crimes, computer pornography and child exploitation, lewd assault, and related offenses throughout the period 1990 to 2009. (ECF 3-1 at 4; ECF 9-4 at 24-25.)

         On February 22, 2011, the State of New Jersey (“State”) filed a Petition for Civil Commitment of Grohs (“Commitment Petition”), with a supporting probable cause certification (ECF 9-4 at 21-28 and 33-36), under New Jersey's Sexually Violent Predator Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 30:4-27.24 to -.38 (“SVPA”). The Commitment Petition requested “that Grohs be declared a sexually violent predator and that, pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. § 30:4-27.28, Grohs be committed to the custody of the State of New Jersey Special Treatment Unit (STU), until such time as his condition has so changed that he is no longer a danger to society and is not likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if released.” (ECF 9-4 at 25.)

         The Deputy Attorney General's February 23, 2011 cover letter to the trial court clerk enclosing the Commitment Petition stated: “Pursuant to the Appellate Division in In re the Commitments of M.G. and D.C., 331 N.J.Super. 365 (App. Div. 2000), the Office of the Public Defender has been served with a copy of the Petition and supporting Clinical Certificates. Please have the judge reserve decision for seven days in order to provide the Public Advocate an opportunity to contest whether the State has established probable cause.” (ECF 10 at 20-21.)

         On February 23, 2011, the State served the Commitment Petition on the Office of the Public Defender via overnight mail. (ECF 9-4 at 37-38.)

         Judge Richard J. Geiger signed an Order For Temporary Civil Commitment (“the TCO”) (ECF 9-4 at 29-32; ECF 9-3 at 5-6) on February 24, 2011 -- i.e., two days after the State filed the February 22 Commitment Petition. (Id.) The TCO provided:

[I]t appearing to the Court from the Petition for involuntary civil commitment, Certifications and Clinical Certificates filed herein that . . . there is probable cause to believe that [Steven Grohs] suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes him likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined to a secure facility for control, care and treatment, and good cause having been shown,
IT IS on this 24th day of February, 2011 . . .
ORDERED that Steven Grohs be and hereby is temporarily committed to the State of New Jersey Special Treatment Unit ...; and it is ...
FURTHER ORDERED that at least 10 days prior to the date set for the final hearing in this matter, [the State Attorney General] shall cause notice of the hearing to be served upon Steven Grohs; Office of the Public Defender; Next of kin; [and] Southwoods State Prison.

(ECF 9-4 at 29-32.)

         Grohs was housed in Southwoods State Prison at time of his temporary commitment. (ECF 3-1 at 15.)

         In May 2012, Grohs filed a Motion to Dismiss the State's Commitment Petition (“the MTD”), arguing that the TCO was entered prematurely in violation of Due Process. (ECF 9-3 at 2-7; ECF 9-5 at 49-54.) In his May 22, 2012 Certification in support of the MTD, the public defender stated that Grohs had been in custody of the STU -- “the secure custodial facility for treatment of persons in need of commitment under the [SVPA]” --since March 3, 2011. Grohs' counsel argued that the Commitment Petition was “null and void because the temporary commitment court failed to afford Grohs an opportunity to be heard within the seven day rule” in violation of Due Process. (ECF 9-5 at 52-54.) Grohs' counsel further argued that he had waived his 20-day commitment hearing “because he currently has pending a postconviction relief petition to withdraw his guilt[y] [plea][, ] [and such waiver does not] preclude him from raising this [Due Process] issue at this time.” (Id. at 53-54.)

         On May 25, 2012, Grohs appeared with counsel before Judge Philip M. Freedman (“Judge Freedman”) of the Law Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey (ECF 9-3 at 9-16) because Grohs' counsel had sought[3] a hearing “concerning the fact that [Grohs] doesn't want to have to go to treatment [in STU] and talk about his crimes.” (ECF 9-3 at 10.) On the May 25th record, the court referred to the STU “rule indicating that he's got to go to process group” and to the court's prior adjudication of a case analogous to Grohs' “that was resolved on the basis of the individual going to process group and just not discussing his particular crimes.” (Id. at 10.) Judge Freedman suggested to Grohs that “even if you don't talk about your own [situation], you hear other people [in process group] talking and you can learn things there.” (Id. at 11.) Grohs' counsel confirmed on the record that he had raised this point with his client, but Grohs was “not amenable to that. He just feels that he could damage the posture of his appeals” -- the likelihood of which Judge Freedman questioned. (Id. at 11.)

         Judge Freedman referred to the court's hesitation to “interfer[e] with the operations of th[e] [STU] institution unless it's, you know, something that really rises to the level of a constitutional issue” (id. at 11), especially since the STU had given Grohs “a reasonable alternative, which is just to go and listen.” (Id.) Nevertheless, Grohs persisted in concerns of being “subjected to problems with other residents, which could jeopardize my safety and possibl[y] my release from this facility.” (Id. at 12.) Judge Freedman left resolution of that matter open to a future hearing: “I don't intend to do it today. We'll have to have a hearing. Then I'll make a ruling.” (Id.)

         Judge Freedman then turned to Grohs' MTD argument that his failure to receive seven days' notice from the State was “fatally defective to the [Commitment] [P]etition.” (Id. at 12.) The State argued at the May 25 hearing that “any ‘early' signing of the [TCO] should be absolutely immaterial” because “[a]t no time did Mr. Grohs ask for a probable cause hearing.” (Id. at 13.) The court questioned the State's “immateriality” contention because Judge Freedman said “the [SPVA] statute should [still] be complied with.” (Id.) According to the court, the “[pertinent] question [instead] is, [does] a violation of it deliberately or inadvertently taint or make commitment improper.” (Id. at 13.) Judge Freedman found that taint had not occurred because there was, in fact, probable cause to subject Grohs to civil commitment:

I note there's nothing in this certification to indicate that there was any probable cause sought[, ] [but] I reviewed the file and there's clearly probable cause.
The case was on before the Court a number of times. On March 13th, Mr. Grohs waived his 20 day hearing on the record. And on August the 2nd, he waived his commitment hearing on the record, because of the fact that he had post conviction relief pending.
[E]ven accepting for the sake of the motion that the facts stated in the certification of counsel are true, the failure to give seven days' notice does not rise to the level of a denial of procedural due process that would invalidate the civil commitment.
There's clearly probable cause in this file. [I]t's not as if a request for probable cause was filed afterwards and it was denied by the judge. [N]o one ever asked for a probable cause hearing. And there's clearly probable cause.
So, I'm going to deny the motion to dismiss.

(ECF 9-3 at 10-15; ECF 10 at 18-19.)

         On June 14, 2012, Grohs filed a Notice of Appeal. (ECF 9-5 at 56-59.) On September 25, 2012, the Appellate Division dismissed for ...


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