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Britton v. Lanigan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 26, 2019

LONNIE BRITTON, Petitioner,
v.
GARY LANIGAN, et al., Respondents.

          OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         1. Before the Court is Petitioner Lonnie Britton's (“Petitioner”) amended petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (D.E. 8 (“Amended Petition”).) The Amended Petition presents “mixed claims, ” which is a combination of claims on which he seeks federal habeas relief, most of which are unexhausted (meaning never fairly presented to the highest state court) and one of which is exhausted. The principal issue to be decided is procedural: How should this court exercise its discretion in addressing this mixed petition consistent with the total exhaustion requirement of 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(b)(1), (b)(2), & (c)? For the reasons stated herein, Petitioner shall be given thirty days from the date that this Opinion is entered on the docket to do one of the following:

         a. File a motion to stay this proceeding in order that he may exhaust his Unexhausted Claims (as defined below in this Opinion) in state court. In that motion, Petitioner must demonstrate all of the following: (i) that there is good cause why the Court should stay, rather than dismiss, the mixed Amended Petition, (ii) that the Amended Petition sets forth potentially meritorious claims, and (iii) that he has not engaged in intentionally dilatory tactics by failing to exhaust the claims made in the Amended Petition; or b. Submit a letter to this Court stating that he wants to dismiss all of the Unexhausted Claims in the Amended Petition and to proceed in this matter only on the Exhausted Claim (as defined below in this Opinion).

         Petitioner's failure to file a motion or submit a letter as described above may result in dismissal of the Amended Petition as a mixed petition.

         II. BACKGROUND

         2. Petitioner is a state-sentenced inmate incarcerated at South Woods State Prison. He originally submitted over five hundred pages in a civil rights complaint that he wished to file as a “protective petition.” The Court ordered the Clerk's Office to create a separate proceeding to consider his filing under § 2254.

         3. On June 6, 2017, the Court administratively terminated the petition for its use of the incorrect form. (D.E. 3.)

         4. Petitioner then submitted the correct form (D.E. 4), and on June 28, 2017 the Court reopened the matter for review.

         5. As noted in this Court's September 27, 2017 Opinion (D.E. 5 at 4), Petitioner's submissions initially appeared to raise six grounds for habeas relief. The Court dismissed Grounds One, Five, and Six with prejudice and allowed Petitioner thirty days to provide more specific facts supporting Grounds Two, Three, and Four. (D.E. 5 at 5-7.)

         6. On October 16, 2017, Petitioner filed his Amended Petition. (D.E. 8.)

         7. On or about January 3, 2019, Petitioner filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment against the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, the Warden of South Woods State Prison, and Gary Lanigan. (D.E. 16.) Neither that filing nor its largely incomprehensible claims relate to or alter in any way the total exhaustion doctrine analysis or the results of that analysis as set forth below in this Opinion.

         A. The Amended Petition

         8. Based on this Court's review of the Amended Petition, Ground One appears to allege that:

a. The trial court violated Petitioner's due process rights on August 13, 2014 “when issuing a summary order predicated on mental health claims” (Docket Entry 8 at 7 (referred to as “Summary Order Claim”));
b. The trial court violated Petitioner's constitutional rights by “ordering [Petitioner] forcibly and physically removed from the court ... without a clear and present danger ... while expressing information ...” (Docket Entry 8 at 7 (referred to as “Removal Claim”));
c. Petitioner was deprived of his constitutional right to counsel when Eric Shenkus, Esquire withdrew as his attorney (Id. (referred to as “Counsel Withdrawal Claim”)); and
d. Counsel Omar Aguilar, Esquire violated Petitioner's right to counsel by “display[ing] ‘gross negligence' [in] ... ignor[ing] [Petitioner's] requests ... to speak for myself and not to enter a plea or waive the reading of the indictment.” (Id. (referred to as “Counsel Performance Claim”).)

         9. In response to Ground One, Respondents contend that: there is nothing in the record even suggesting the events Petitioner alleges; he provides no factual basis for his claim and has not demonstrated any injury; and Petitioner's current incarceration is on the basis of his guilty plea ...


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