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HERON v. COUGHLIN

United States District Court, Southern District of New York


August 11, 2003

MICHAEL OWEN HERON, PETITIONER -AGAINST- THOMAS A. COUGHLIN, III, COMMISSIONER, DANIEL A. SENKOWSKI, SUPERINTENDENT, RESPONDENTS

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry Pitman, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
On June 4, 2003, I issued an Amended Report and Recommendation ("Am. R & R") in this case recommending that the petition for a writ of habeas corpus be denied in its entirety.*fn1 Although agreeing with my ultimate recommendation that the petition be denied, respondents objected to parts of the Amended R & R, arguing, among other things, that I erred in concluding "that a state court's decision based on New York Criminal Procedure Law § 440.10(2)(a) is not a disposition on independent and adequate state grounds" sufficient to preclude federal habeas review (Respondents' Memorandum of Law ("Respondents' Mem."), at 2, annexed to affidavit of Cheryl D. Harris Object[ing] to Magistrate's Report and Recommendation, sworn to June 6, 2003). [ Page 2]

Treating respondents' objection as a motion to reargue this aspect of my Amended R & R, the motion is denied for the following reasons.

New York Criminal Procedure Law Section 440.10(2)(a) provides:

2. [T]he court must deny a motion to vacate a judgment when:
(a) The ground or issue raised upon the motion was previously determined on the merits upon an appeal from the judgment, unless since the time of such appellate determination there has been a retroactively effective change in the law controlling such issue
(N.Y. Crim. Proc. L. § 440.10(2)(a)).

Upon review of respondents' objection, I write to clarify my conclusion that "the denial of a motion pursuant to Section 440.10(2)(a) is a disposition that does not result in a procedural bar" (Am. R & R at 51). Although I agree that under some circumstances the denial (or prospective denial) of a claim pursuant to Section 440.10(2)(a) can result in a claim being procedurally barred, none of the circumstances that would give rise to a procedural bar were present in this petition. Whether Section 440.10(2)(a) gives rise to a procedural bar appears to turn on whether the claim in issue was properly exhausted for the purposes of federal habeas review.

For example, let us assume that a defendant raises his or her claims on direct appeal, where they are denied on the [ Page 3]

merits by the New York Court of Appeals. Thereafter, defendant raises a new claim through a Section 440.10 motion to vacate and erroneously re-asserts the same claims asserted on direct appeal. Pursuant to Section 440.10(2)(a), the court must deny the claims that were raised on direct appeal because they were "previously determined on the merits upon an appeal from the judgment." Here, Section 440.10(2)(a) operates as a procedural device to prevent a defendant from relitigating his or her claims in a state court collateral attack once they have been decided on direct appeal. However, since the claims were raised on direct appeal to the highest court in New York, there is no logical reason why their erroneous assertion in a state collateral proceeding should give rise to a procedural bar.

Under other circumstances, however, a dismissal pursuant to Section 440.10(2)(a) would give rise to a procedural bar. For example, assume a defendant raises his or her claims in the Appellate Division, where they are denied on the merits, but fails to assert these claims before the New York Court of Appeals. Thereafter, the defendant attempts to raise the same claims denied on direct appeal by way of a Section 440.10 motion. Here, defendant's claims are also denied on the basis of Section 440.10(2)(a) since they were "previously determined on the merits upon an appeal from the judgment." However, in this situation, on federal habeas review, the claims should be found to be [ Page 4]

exhausted, but procedurally barred, because the claims can no longer be asserted in the state courts. In this example, the claims would not have been appealed to the highest court in New York on direct appeal and state collateral relief pursuant to Section 440.10 is unavailable.*fn2

I concluded that the situation presented in this case was indistinguishable from the former example. In support of my conclusion that Section 440.10(2)(a) does not constitute a procedural bar under these circumstances, I cited the following passage from Taylor v. Kuhlmann, 36 F. Supp.2d 534, 546 (E.D.N.Y. 1999):

"A dismissal under § 440.10(2)(a) is not based on any procedural default. To the contrary, it is premised on a prior decision." Anderson v. Scully, No. Civ. 90-0171, 1991 WL 156234 at *3 (Aug. 7, 1991 S.D.N.Y.); see also, Hartley v. Senkowski, No. Civ. 90-0395, 1992 WL 58766 at *10 (Mar. 18, 1992 E.D.N.Y.) ("A procedural rule such as § 440.10(2)(a) acts neither as a procedural bar nor as a decision on the merits."). Thus, this "subsection applies only to claims that have been previously decided on the merits and does not constitute a state law ground for dismissal that is independent of the merits of petitioner's federal claims." Anderson, 1991 WL 156234 at *3, citing, Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 111 S.Ct. 2590, 115 L.Ed.2d 706 (1991). Therefore, since the trial court expressly relied on CPL § 440.10(2)(a) to deny petitioner's application, [ Page 5]
it cannot be said that the court relied on a procedural bar, and this court is not precluded from turning to the merits of these two claims.
(Footnotes omitted).

Respondents argue that "the Eastern District has taken an opposite position in decisions subsequent to Taylor" (Respondents' Mem. at 6, citing Artuz v. Bennett, 531 U.S. 4, 10 (2000); Jelinek v. Costello, 247 F. Supp.2d 212, 288 (E.D.N.Y. 2003); Katowski v. Greiner, 212 F. Supp.2d 78, 88 (E.D.N.Y. 2002); Harris v. Artuz, 99 Civ. 5019 (SAS), 2000 WL 358377 at *2-*3 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 7, 2000)). However, these cases are distinguishable from the facts presented in this petition and, for the most part, are examples of the second set of facts described above which do not affect the holding in Taylor v. Kuhlmann.

First, in Artuz v. Bennett, supra, 531 U.S. at 10, as respondents correctly assert, the Supreme Court does describe Section 440.10(2)(a) as a state procedural bar. The decision explains that as a result of this state procedural bar, "[m]otions to vacate that violate [this] provision[] will not be successful. . . ." Artuz v. Bennett, supra, 531 U.S. at 10 (emphasis added). The issue in Artuz v. Bennett, however, was the timeliness of the petition; not whether a claim denied pursuant to Section 440.10(2)(a) is procedurally barred on federal habeas review. Thus, the Supreme Court's characterization of Section 440.10(2)(a) is dicta. [ Page 6]

Second, the habeas corpus cases that have found Section 440.10(2)(a) to constitute a procedural bar have all involved situations where the claim in issue was not completely exhausted on direct appeal. For example, in Harris v. Artuz, supra, 2000 WL 358377 at *2-*3, the Honorable Shira A. Scheindlin, United States District Judge, found the petitioner's "third claim" was procedurally barred under Section 440.10(2)(a) because he "only raised his third claim on direct appeal to the Appellate Division" and "never sought leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals." Judge Scheindlin noted that Section 440.10(2)(a) prevented petitioner from attempting to exhaust this claim by way of a 440.10 motion to vacate. Therefore, because petitioner's claim was unexhausted and could no longer be presented to the state courts, Judge Scheindlin found that the claim was procedurally barred. 2000 WL 35877 at *3.

Similarly, in Richardson v. Greiner, 97 Civ. 5448 (MGC), 2003 WL 76994 at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 9, 2003), cited in Jelinek v. Costello, supra, 247 F. Supp.2d at 288, the Court denied the petition for a writ of habeas corpus where the petitioner failed to present his claims adequately to the New York Court of Appeals. The Court noted that:

Petitioner is now barred from making any additional leave application because his application for leave to appeal has already been denied by the New York Court of Appeals. New York Court Rules § 500.10(a), Bossett v. Walker. 41 F.3d 825, 829 (2d Cir. 1994), [ Page 7]
cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1052, 115 S.Ct. 1436, 131 L.Ed.2d 316 (1995), Alston, 210 F. Supp.2d at 419. Nor may he now seek collateral review in the state courts because his claims either could have been, or were in fact, raised on direct appeal. New York Criminal Procedure Law §§ 440.10(2)(a), (2)(c), Bossett at 829. Therefore, petitioner's claims are deemed exhausted for habeas review, but his procedural default is an independent and adequate state law ground for the judgment. . . .
2003 WL 76994 at *2. The Court found that petitioner's claims could no longer be exhausted and, therefore, denied his claims as procedurally barred.

Although Jelinek v. Costello cites Richardson v. Greiner for the proposition that Section 440.10(2)(a) is an adequate state procedural ground sufficient to bar habeas review, the Jelinek court did not explain in detail why it was applying Section 440.10(2)(a). Nevertheless, in that case, petitioner failed to raise his ineffective assistance of counsel claims on direct appeal and attempted to raise those claims, along with claims that he had raised on direct appeal, in a Section 440.10 motion to vacate. 247 F. Supp.2d at 254-56. Petitioner's motion to vacate was denied pursuant to both Section 440.10(2)(a) — issue raised was previously determined on the merits — and Section 440.10(2)(c) — although sufficient facts were in the record, petitioner unjustifiably failed to raise the claim on direct appeal. Presumably, Section 440.10(2)(c) applied to petitioner's ineffective-assistance claims since they were not [ Page 8]

raised on direct appeal. Therefore, although the Court noted that Section 440.10(2)(a) was an adequate state procedural ground barring habeas review, it appears that Section 440.10(2)(c), not Section 440.10(2)(a), was actually the pertinent statutory provision.

In contrast to the foregoing cases where petitioners presented unexhausted claims that were deemed procedurally barred, the state court here found that petitioner did raise this claim — that the police officers testified falsely at his trial — on direct appeal. It was subsequently exhausted when petitioner presented all the claims raised on direct appeal to the New York Court of Appeals. While petitioner did attempt to reargue this claim by way of a motion to vacate pursuant to Section 440.10, which was denied on the basis of Section 440.10(2)(a), this does not (and should not) preclude this Court from adjudicating petitioner's properly exhausted claim on habeas review.

Lastly, I note that the ramifications of a contrary result would be devastating to pro se petitioners, who, erring on the side of caution, raise all of their claims at each stage of review in order to minimize defaulting such claims as a result of the complex rules governing exhaustion in habeas cases. If respondent is correct, completely exhausted claims would become [ Page 9]

barred merely because an inmate was overly cautious in endeavoring to preserve his claims.

Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, respondents' motion for reargument is denied.


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