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Cameron v. Cunningham

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 9, 2014

GILBERT O. CAMERON, Petitioner,
v.
ROBERT CUNNINGHAM, SUPERINTENDENT, Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

KATHERINE POLK FAILLA, District Judge.

Petitioner Gilbert Cameron ("Petitioner"), who is proceeding pro se and is currently incarcerated, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (the "Petition") on August 19, 2013, against Superintendent Robert Cunningham of the Eastern Correctional Facility in Napanoch, New York. In it, Petitioner seeks review of his New York State court convictions for Burglary in the Second Degree, Tampering with a Witness in the Fourth Degree, Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree, and eight counts of Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree. United States Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein issued a Report and Recommendation dated March 28, 2014 (the "Report"), recommending that the Petition be denied. The Court has reviewed both the Report and Petitioner's April 9, 2014 Objection to that Report (the "Objection"), [1] and finds that the Report should be adopted in full. Accordingly, the Petition is denied.

BACKGROUND

The facts and procedural history of the instant action are set forth in the Report. ( See Dkt. #37). Nonetheless, a brief summary of the relevant facts is useful to this Court's analysis.

Petitioner was indicted by a grand jury in Bronx County on June 25, 2008, for various charges arising from an alleged physical assault and subsequent harassment of a complaining witness. (Report 1-2). After a bench trial, Petitioner was found guilty of one count each of Burglary in the Second Degree, Tampering with a Witness in the Fourth Degree, and Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree, as well as eight counts of Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree. ( Id. at 2).

The prosecution's evidence at trial would have allowed a reasonable jury to find that Petitioner had called a complaining witness numerous times threatening her with physical injury, attempted to force his way into her apartment, and eventually broke down the door of her home and physically assaulted her while her children watched. (Report 2). Petitioner then continued to make harassing calls after the assault. ( Id. ). Petitioner testified in his own defense, and asserted that he and the complaining witness were romantically involved, and that he was the father of one of her daughters. ( Id. ). At trial, the defense called an analyst at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, at Petitioner's "insist[ence], " who testified that a paternity test had revealed that Petitioner was not the child's father. ( Id. at 3). On November 4, 2010, Petitioner was sentenced principally to nine years' imprisonment. ( Id. at 1, 3).

Petitioner moved to vacate the judgment of conviction pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law § 440.10 on May 14, 2011; that motion was denied on November 28, 2011. (Report 3-4). Petitioner did not appeal the denial of that motion. ( Id. ). Separately, on November 13, 2012, the Appellate Division affirmed Petitioner's conviction. People v. Cameron, 100 A.D.3d 457 (1st Dep't 2012). Petitioner was denied leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals by decision dated July 16, 2013. People v. Cameron, 21 N.Y.3d 1014 (2013).

THE STANDARD OF REVIEW

A court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by a magistrate judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); Grassia v. Scully, 892 F.2d 16, 19 (2d Cir. 1989). A court may accept those portions of a report to which no "specific, written objection is made, " as long as the factual and legal bases supporting the findings are not clearly erroneous. See Greene v. WCI Holdings Corp., 956 F.Supp. 509, 513 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)); see also Thomas v. Am, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985). A magistrate judge's decision is clearly erroneous only if the district court is "left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234, 235, 242 (2001) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)).

To the extent that a petitioner makes specific objections to a magistrate judge's findings, the reviewing court must undertake a de novo review of the objections. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); United States v. Male Juvenile, 121 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 1997). Pro se filings are read liberally and interpreted "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Pabon v. Wright, 459 F.3d 241, 248 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, where objections are "conclusory or general, " or where the petitioner "simply reiterates his original arguments, " the report should be reviewed only for clear error. Walker v. Vaughan, 216 F.Supp.2d 290, 292 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

DISCUSSION

A. Petitioner's Grounds for Habeas Relief

The Petition itself, in addition to Petitioner's other filings before this Court and various New York state courts, are particularly difficult to follow. For this reason, Respondent asked Judge Gorenstein to dismiss the Petition pursuant to Rule 2 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in United States District Courts, arguing that the Petition was "rife with unintelligible arguments." (Report 9-10). In response, Judge Gorenstein declined to dismiss the Petition, noting that Petitioner had failed to object to Respondent's characterizations of the three claims arguably implicated by his Petition, and on that basis, the Court would construe his Petition as raising those three claims, as well as a fourth claim that the Court found to be implicated by the Petition.

Accordingly, the Court construed the Petition as raising the following grounds for habeas relief: (i) government officials falsified the results of a paternity test to reflect that Petitioner was not the biological father of the complaining witness' daughter; (ii) Petitioner was denied his rights to testify or to appear before the grand jury; (iii) Petitioner was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel, based upon his trial counsel's failure to request ...


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