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MacKenzie v. Cunningham

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 23, 2014



NELSON S. ROMN, District Judge.

John MacKenzie ("Petitioner"), an inmate at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Woodbourne, New York, proceeding pro se, seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Now pending before the Court is a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") issued by Magistrate Judge Paul E. Davison, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), recommending that the petition be denied in its entirety. Petitioner has filed objections to the R&R with the Court, which reiterate certain arguments made to Judge Davison. For the following reasons, the Court adopts the R&R, and the petition is denied and dismissed. The Court presumes familiarity with the factual and procedural background of this case, the underlying criminal proceeding, and Petitioner's state collateral challenges to his parole denials.


A. Habeas Petition Reviewing a State Court Decision

When a claim has been adjudicated on the merits in a state court proceeding, a prisoner seeking habeas relief must establish that 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." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); Cousin v. Bennett, 511 F.3d 334, 337 (2d Cir. 2008). Any state court findings of fact are presumed correct unless the petitioner rebuts the presumption with clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

B. Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

A magistrate judge may "hear a pretrial matter [that is] dispositive of a claim or defense" if so designated by a district court. FED. R. CIV. P. 72(b)(1); accord 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). In such a case, the magistrate judge "must enter a recommended disposition, including, if appropriate, proposed findings of fact." FED. R. CIV. P. 72(b)(1); accord 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Where a magistrate judge issues a report and recommendation.

[w]ithin fourteen days after being served with a copy, any party may serve and file written objections to such proposed findings or recommendations as provided by rules of court. A judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. A judge of the 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); accord FED. R. CIV. P. 72(b)(2), (3). However, a district court "may adopt those portions of the Report to which no objections have been made and which are not facially erroneous." Wilds v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 262 F.Supp.2d 163, 170 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (quoting La Torres v. Walker, 216 F.Supp.2d 157, 159 (S.D.N.Y. 2000)). The clearly erroneous standard also applies when a party makes only conclusory or general objections, or simply reiterates his original arguments. See Ortiz v. Barkley, 558 F.Supp.2d 444, 451 (S.D.N.Y. 2008).

Courts "generally accord[] leniency" to objections of pro se litigants and construe them "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Milano v. Astrue, No. 05 Civ. 6527 (KMW) (DCF), 2008 WL 4410131, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 26, 2008) (internal quotations and citations omitted). However, the pro se party's objections "must be specific and clearly aimed at particular findings in the magistrate's proposal, such that no party be allowed a second bite at the apple' by simply relitigating a prior argument." Pinkney v. Progressive Home Health Servs., No. 06 Civ. 5023 (LTS) (JCF), 2008 WL 2811816, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 21, 2008) (quoting Camardo v. Gen. Motors Hourly-Rate Employees Pension Plan, 806 F.Supp. 380, 381-82 (W.D.N.Y. 1992)).


Petitioner's habeas petition challenges the New York State Division of Parole, Parole Board's prior denials of Petitioner's parole, by asserting four claims: (1) New York's parole statute (Executive Law § 259-i) is unconstitutionally vague; (2) the Parole Board repeatedly denied Petitioner his due process rights by denying him parole based upon that unconstitutionally vague statute; (3) the Parole Board decisions were predetermined and unconstitutionally influenced by a biased deputy commissioner; and (4) the Parole Board decisions constituted a "continuous deliberate denial of due process" because they lacked any rational basis and, thus, were arbitrary and capricious. See Habeas Petition ("Pet.") at 4 (dkt. no. 1).[1]

With respect to Petitioner's first and second claims, the "void-for-vagueness" challenges, Judge Davison found that Petitioner fully exhausted the claims for purposes of habeas review. Judge Davison therefore reviewed the merits de novo and found that the first claim, a facial challenge to the statute, fails because: (a) Petitioner did not demonstrate the absence of any circumstances under which the statute could be valid; and (b) New York's parole scheme does not confer a liberty interest in parole, such that Petitioner did not demonstrate infringement upon a fundamental right.

Judge Davison likewise found that Petitioner's second claim, the as-applied challenge to certain Parole Board decisions, fails because: (a) the Parole Board concededly balanced applicable statutory criteria and gave each criterion what weight the Board saw fit; and (b) the absence of ...

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