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Messam v. Laclair

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 9, 2014

RONALD MESSAM, Petitioner,
DARWIN LaCLAIR, SUPERINTENDENT, Franklin Correctional Facility Respondent.


LORNA G. SCHOFIELD, District Judge.

Petitioner Ronald Messam brings this pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction for assault in the second degree and criminal mischief in the second degree (the "Petition"). This case was referred to the Honorable James C. Francis IV for a report and recommendation (the "Report"). The Report was filed on May 5, 2014, and recommends that the writ be denied. Petitioner timely submitted objections to the Report (the "Objections").[1] For the following reasons, the Report is adopted, and the Petition is denied.


A. Factual Background

The facts relevant to the Petition are set out in the Report and summarized here.[2] In late May 2008, Petitioner was arrested on charges of assault that were later dismissed. On account of his allegedly peculiar conduct, he was admitted to the Bellevue Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Petitioner was discharged from the hospital, but after again exhibiting disturbed behavior while in custody awaiting arraignment, he was readmitted to the hospital. While at Bellevue, Petitioner became agitated and attacked several of the hospital staff, including Nurse Erlina Acampado, pinning her against the wall and punching her in the face at least five times. Petitioner also threatened to kill some of the nurses who tried to restrain him, and destroyed hospital property by shattering several plexiglass windows with the base of a table he tore apart.

On October 6, 2008, a grand jury in New York County indicted Petitioner on charges of second degree and third degree assault, attempted third degree assault, second degree and fourth degree criminal mischief, and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree. Beginning on June 16, 2010, a jury trial took place in the Supreme Court of New York, New York County. The prosecution called a number of witnesses, including Ms. Acampado. Ms. Acampado testified that Petitioner broke her nose, requiring surgery, and that she was diagnosed with a dislodged jaw approximately one month after the incident. Medical records, photographs and testimony from other witnesses were consistent with Ms. Acampado's account. Witnesses also provided testimony concerning the property damage sustained by the hospital. The defense called only Petitioner as a witness. Petitioner testified that he had not harmed any person or property intentionally, and denied causing injury, intentional or unintentional, to Ms. Acampado. According to Petitioner, his version of the events was corroborated by hospital security cameras. Petitioner's assertion regarding the security cameras was contradicted by a prosecution witness who claimed that the cameras provided live footage, but no recording.

Defense counsel argued in his summation that there was "no question that people were injured on that afternoon. And that Mr. Messam was the cause of that. The issue in this case is whether he is legally responsible for his actions." The jury convicted Petitioner on all charges except for third-degree possession of a weapon. Petitioner was sentenced to an aggregate prison term of ten years plus five years of supervised release.


A reviewing court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The district court "may adopt those portions of the report to which no specific, written objection' is made, as long as the factual and legal bases supporting the findings and conclusions set forth in those sections are not clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Adams v. N.Y. State Dep't of Educ., 855 F.Supp.2d 205, 206 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985)).

The court must undertake a de novo review of any portion of the report to which a specific objection is made on issues raised before the magistrate judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); United States v. Male Juvenile, 121 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 1997). When a party makes only conclusory or general objections, or simply reiterates the original arguments made below, a court will review the report strictly for clear error. Crowell v. Astrue, No. 08 Civ. 8019, 2011 WL 4863537, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 12, 2011) (citation omitted). Even when exercising de novo review, "[t]he district court need not... specifically articulate its reasons for rejecting a party's objections...." Morris v. Local 804, Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 167 F.Appx. 230, 232 (2d Cir. 2006).

Where a state court has reached the merits of a federal claim, habeas relief under §2254 may not be granted unless the state court's decision was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(d)(1), (d)(2). State court factual findings "shall be presumed to be correct" and the petitioner "shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." Id. § 2254(e)(1).

"A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit" is not unreasonable "so long as fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision." Ramos v. Racette, 726 F.3d 284, 287-88 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786 (2011)).


The Petition seeks habeas relief on three[3] grounds: (1) insufficient evidence to support a conviction of second degree assault; (2) insufficient evidence to support a conviction of criminal mischief in the second degree; and (3) ineffective ...

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