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Taylor v. Dunn

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 12, 2018

JARROD TAYLOR, Petitioner,
v.
JEFFERSON S. DUNN, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, Respondent.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM H. STEELE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This closed death-penalty habeas matter comes before the Court on Petitioner's Motion to Alter or Amend the Court's Judgment Dismissing the Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (doc. 52).

         I. Procedural Background.

         On January 25, 2018, the undersigned entered a comprehensive 147-page Order (doc. 50) and Judgment (doc. 51) denying Jarrod Taylor's Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus by Prisoner in State Custody under Death Sentence (doc. 25), in its entirety. The January 25 rulings also denied a certificate of appealability (“COA”) on all claims, grounds and issues presented.

         Taylor now moves for reconsideration of five specifically enumerated aspects of the January 25 Order and Judgment. In particular, Taylor requests the following relief: (i) reconsideration of the finding that Claim III.B.i.b (ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failure to investigate alibi evidence from Steve “Blue” Blackmon) is not exhausted; (ii) reconsideration of the findings that Claim III.C (penalty-phase ineffective assistance of counsel) is procedurally barred and that petitioner failed to demonstrate prejudice resulting from any deficient performance; (iii) reconsideration of the finding that Claim III.B.ii.a (ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failure to challenge admission of a duffel bag, wallet, and purse) is procedurally barred; (iv) issuance of a COA as to whether Hurst v. Florida applies retroactively to Taylor's case; and (v) issuance of a COA on whether disallowed claims from Taylor's Second Amended Rule 32 Petition and Revised Second Amended Rule 32 Petition are procedurally defaulted and on the related Claim X (violation of due process and fundamental fairness because Alabama courts ostensibly did not allow Taylor a fair opportunity to litigate his claims).

         II. Analysis.

         A. Legal Standard for Motion to Reconsider.

         Taylor's Motion to Alter or Amend is governed by Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As a matter of well-settled law, a dissatisfied federal litigant is not entitled to reconsideration of anything and everything, merely because he disagrees with a court's decision. To the contrary, “[t]he only grounds for granting a Rule 59 motion are newly-discovered evidence or manifest errors of law or fact.” United States v. Marion, 562 F.3d 1330, 1335 (11thCir. 2009) (citation and internal marks omitted); see also Hamilton v. Secretary, Florida Dep't of Corrections, 793 F.3d 1261, 1266 (11th Cir. 2015) (“A Rule 59(e) motion can be granted based only on ‘newly-discovered evidence or manifest errors of law or fact.'”) (citation omitted). To prevail on a Rule 59(e) motion, “[t]he losing party must do more than show that a grant of the motion might have been warranted; he must demonstrate a justification for relief so compelling that the district court was required to grant the motion.” Maradiaga v. United States, 679 F.3d 1286, 1291 (11th Cir. 2012) (citations and internal marks omitted); see also Kolawole v. Sellers, 863 F.3d 1361, 1372 (11th Cir. 2017) (similar).

         Authority is legion for the proposition that motions to reconsider under Rule 59 “may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n.5, 128 S.Ct. 2605, 171 L.Ed.2d 570 (2008) (citation omitted).[1] Rule 59(e) does not afford an unsuccessful litigant “two bites at the apple.” American Home Assur. Co. v. Glenn Estess & Associates, Inc., 763 F.2d 1237, 1239 (11th Cir. 1985). Nor are such motions properly filed “as a kneejerk reaction by a dissatisfied federal court loser.” Lee v. Thomas, 2012 WL 3137901, *2 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 1, 2012); see also Hughes v. Stryker Sales Corp., 2010 WL 2608957, *2 (S.D. Ala. June 28, 2010) (rejecting notion that motions to reconsider “are appropriate whenever the losing party thinks the District Court got it wrong”). “They are neither appeal substitutes nor a ‘dry run' to test arguments in anticipation of a forthcoming appeal.” Lee, 2012 WL 3137901, at *2.

         These black-letter principles guide and inform the undersigned's analysis of Taylor's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment.

         B. Claim III. B.i.b (Ineffective Assistance as to Witness “Blue”).

         Petitioner's first ground for seeking relief under Rule 59(e) relates to Claim III.B.i.b. In this claim, which consumes four pages of his § 2254 Petition, Taylor alleged that trial counsel furnished ineffective assistance by failing to locate and interview a witness named Steve “Blue” Blackmon. (Doc. 25, ¶¶ 154-60.) According to the § 2254 Petition, Blackmon would have testified that Taylor, driving a new Mustang, arrived at the apartment complex where Blackmon lived shortly after 7:00 p.m. on the night of the murders, that Taylor and Blackmon spoke for 30-45 minutes, and that Blackmon never saw McMillan during that interval. (Id., ¶ 155.) The gravamen of Claim III. B.i.b was that Blackmon's testimony would have (i) “tended to establish that Mr. Taylor was not present at the dealership at the time of the murders, ” because gunshots were heard at 6:50 p.m. and the apartment complex was a six-minute drive from the murder location; (ii) “contradicted Mr. McMillan's claim that he arrived at Ms. Matthews's home at the same time as Mr. Taylor;” and (iii) rebutted Doneshia Matthews' “clearly unreliable” testimony “that Mr. McMillan arrived approximately 5-15 minutes after Mr. Taylor.” (Id., ¶¶ 156-57.)

         In the January 25 Order, this Court found that Claim III.B.i.b was not exhausted. (Doc. 50, at 76-77.) In so concluding, the Court emphasized the marked difference between the “Blue” ineffective assistance claim as presented to state courts in Taylor's Rule 32 Petition and that articulated in his § 2254 Petition. Indeed, the ineffective assistance claim that Taylor raised to the state courts relating to “Blue” was framed as follows:

“[Doneisha] Matthews testified that Mr. Taylor arrived at her home, alone, in the Mustang, between 6:00 and 6:10 p.m. … She said that she called her neighbor, ‘Blue, ' and that he came over to speak with Mr. Taylor. … According to Matthews' testimony, McMillan arrived approximately 5-15 minutes after Mr. Taylor …. In contrast, McMillan claims he arrived at Matthews' home within 3-5 minutes of Mr. Taylor and that Mr. Taylor was just getting out of the Mustang Upon information and belief, trial counsel made no effort to locate and interview ‘Blue' to verify Matthews's version of the events.”

(Vol. 22, R-56, at ¶ 143 (emphasis added).) Upon a side-by-side comparison of the ineffective assistance claim presented in Paragraph 143 of Taylor's Corrected First Amended Rule 32 Petition, and that presented in Claim III.B.i.b of his § 2254 Petition, this Court determined that the claim had not been fairly presented to the state courts and that it therefore was not exhausted. On its face, petitioner's theory in the Rule 32 proceedings was vastly different from that in the § 2254 Petition. Indeed, Taylor argued to the state courts that his trial counsel was ineffective in not locating Blackmon because Blackmon would have “verified” Doneisha Matthews' trial testimony (as compared to that of McMillan) that Taylor had arrived in the Mustang between 6:00 and 6:10 p.m., and that McMillan had arrived 5-15 minutes later. By contrast, Claim III.B.i.b in these federal habeas proceedings was that trial counsel was ineffective in not locating Blackmon because Blackmon would have undercut the trial testimony of Matthews as to both the time of Taylor's arrival and McMillan's presence or lack thereof.

         The divergence between the character of these claims is so great that they are, for all practical purposes, fundamentally different. Thus, the January 25 Order concluded that Claim III.B.i.b was not exhausted because it flunked the “fair presentment” requirement that the petitioner “present his claims to the state court such that a reasonable reader would understand each claim's particular legal basis and specific factual foundation.” French v. Warden, Wilcox State Prison, 790 F.3d 1259, 1270 (11th Cir. 2015) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Given the obvious, bedrock differences between Claim III.B.i.b and the “Blue” ineffective-assistance claim set forth in Taylor's Corrected First Amended Rule 32 Petition, it was not error (much less manifest error) for the January 25 Order to conclude that the claim was not exhausted because the fair presentment requirement was not satisfied.[2]

         More importantly, Taylor's exhaustion argument as it relates to Claim III.B.i.b is inconsequential. Even if he were correct as to exhaustion (which he is not), Taylor still would not be entitled to relief on Claim III.B.i.b. After all, the January 25 Order made a clear alternative finding that Claim III.B.i.b failed on the merits. See doc. 50, at 77 n.69 (“Taylor is not entitled to habeas relief on Claim III.B.i.b even if that claim is viewed as properly exhausted, in whole or in part, because the state courts did not err in applying Strickland to the facts of this case.”). Notably, Taylor's Rule 59(e) Motion does not seek reconsideration of, and does not ascribe error to, that alternative, merits-based adjudication of Claim III.B.i.b. Thus, even if he could prevail on the procedural issue, Taylor would not be entitled to modification or amendment of the January 25 Order and Judgment as they relate to Claim III.B.i.b.

         For all of the foregoing reasons, Taylor's Motion to Amend or Correct is denied as Claim III.B.i.b, and no COA is warranted as to that claim for relief.

         C. Claim III.C (Ineffective Assistance at Penalty Phase).

         Petitioner's second ground for Rule 59(e) relief concerns Claim III.C. Taylor devoted 42 pages and 92 paragraphs of his § 2254 Petition to Claim III.C, which is labeled “Trial Counsel Failed to Provide Effective Assistance During the Penalty Phase” (doc. 25, at 115), and documents a litany of purported deficiencies by Taylor's counsel. By comparison, Taylor's penalty-phase ineffective assistance claim in his Corrected First Amended Rule 32 Petition consisted of a scant six pages and 14 paragraphs. (Vol. 22, R-56, at ¶¶ 162-175.) There were significant procedural defects with Claim III.C, as pleaded.

         The January 25 Order concluded that Taylor had failed to present many aspects of Claim III.C to the state courts in his Corrected First Amended Rule 32 Petition, that those portions of Claim III.C raised for the first time in his disallowed Second Amended Rule 32 Petition were procedurally defaulted because the state courts had rejected them on an adequate and independent state procedural ground, and that Taylor had failed to satisfy his burden of showing cause to excuse the procedural default. See doc. 50, at 24-25, 41, 63 (“Inasmuch as Taylor has failed to show cause to excuse the procedural default, the ineffective assistance claims embedded within Claim III.C of his § 2254 Petition cannot be heard herein to the extent the state courts deemed them procedurally barred as having been presented for the first time in his [disallowed] Second Amended R32 Petition.”). Because Taylor maintained these claims were adequately presented in a prior iteration of his Rule 32 petition, the January 25 Order went on to catalog 16 distinct subparts to Claim III.C. Twelve “were not exhausted in the Alabama courts in the Rule 32 proceedings because they are inadequately presented (if they were even presented at all) in the Corrected First Amended R32 Petition” (doc. 50, at 98). Three of the remaining subparts were barred from federal habeas review under the “adequate and independent state procedural ground” doctrine, in that “the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals declined to consider those issues on the merits because Taylor's appellate brief did not comply with the requirements of Rule 28(a)(10).” (Id. at 100.) As to the 16th and final subpart of Claim III.C (which alleged ineffective assistance of counsel in failing to elicit testimony from Taylor as to the definition of “misprision of a felony”), the January 25 Order rejected that subclaim on the merits, concluding that there was nothing objectively unreasonable in the state courts' application of Strickland principles to it. (Id. at 101-02.) In a lengthy footnote, ...


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