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Barber v. Dunn

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

May 3, 2019

JAMES EDWARD BARBER, Petitioner,
v.
JEFFERSON S. DUNN, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on Petitioner James Edward Barber's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment. (Doc. # 26). The motion has been fully briefed. (Docs. # 26-1, 28, 31). For the reasons explained below, the motion is due to be denied.

         I. Background

         Some fifteen years ago, Barber was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Dorothy Epps during a first-degree robbery. (Doc. # 24 at 6-7). The evidence at trial, including Barber's own videotaped confession, showed that he beat his 75-year-old victim to death with his fist and a claw hammer. (Id.); Barber v. State, 952 So.2d 393, 400-06 (Ala.Crim.App.2005). After unsuccessfully challenging his conviction and sentence on direct appeal and in state postconviction proceedings, Barber filed a federal habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. # 1). This court determined that Barber was not entitled to relief under § 2254 and therefore denied his petition. (Docs. # 24, 25). It also ruled that Barber was not entitled to a certificate of appealability on any of his claims. (Doc. # 25). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), Barber has now moved the court to alter or amend its judgment. (Doc. # 26).

         II. Legal Standard

         A Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend a judgment is an extraordinary measure. Such a motion “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 (2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). Instead, “the only grounds for granting a Rule 59 motion are newly-discovered evidence or manifest errors of law or fact.” Jacobs v. Tempur-Pedic Int'l, Inc., 626 F.3d 1327, 1344 (11th Cir. 2010) (emphasis added) (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted). Because Barber's motion is not based on newly-discovered evidence, the only basis for granting it would be a manifest error of law or fact. A “manifest error” is not just any error but one “that is plain and indisputable, and that amounts to a complete disregard of the controlling law or the credible evidence in the record.” Error, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).

         Because Barber must show that the court made manifest errors of law or fact in denying his § 2254 habeas petition, his burden is especially high. That is so because, under § 2254(d)(1), federal habeas relief is precluded if “fairminded jurists could disagree” about the correctness of the state court's decision to deny Barber relief. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101-02 (2011). As the Supreme Court has repeatedly explained, to obtain federal habeas relief, a habeas petitioner must show that the state court's adjudication of his claims was not merely “incorrect or erroneous” but “objectively unreasonable”-such that no fairminded jurist could agree with the state court's disposition of his claims under clearly established Supreme Court precedent. Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003); see also Harrington, 562 U.S. at 101-02. Thus, to succeed on his Rule 59(e) motion, Barber must show that this court completely disregarded controlling law or credible record evidence in concluding that the state court's adjudication of Barber's claims did not transgress § 2254's highly deferential standard of review. That is a high burden indeed, and one that Barber has not come close to carrying.

         III. Analysis

         Barber's Rule 59(e) motion claims the court committed manifest errors of law and fact when it (1) denied Barber's penalty-phase Strickland claim; (2) denied Barber's guilt-phase Strickland claim; and (3) declined to issue a certificate of appealability for three of his claims. Much of Barber's Rule 59(e) motion merely attempts to relitigate already-decided issues or to raise arguments that he already made prior to the entry of judgment. The court first identifies those arguments and issues, as it will not address them further beyond what it has already said in its 108-page memorandum opinion denying habeas relief. As to the remaining issues that Barber arguably has not previously raised, the court briefly explains why Barber has failed to identify any error of law or fact by the court, much less a “manifest” error.

         A. Arguments Improperly Raised in a Rule 59(e) Motion

         Many of Barber's arguments cannot properly be raised in a Rule 59(e) motion because they are merely attempts to relitigate old matters or to raise arguments Barber could have made (and in fact did make) before the entry of judgment. The court here identifies those arguments and refers Barber to the portions of its memorandum opinion addressing those arguments.

         As to his guilt-phase Strickland claim, Barber first argues that the state court unreasonably concluded that his trial counsel's performance was not constitutionally deficient. (Doc. # 26-1 at 18-24). He argues specifically that (1) trial counsel failed to adequately investigate and discuss with Barber alternative defenses to innocence, including the manslaughter and mere afterthought defenses; (2) trial counsel's failure to investigate and discuss those defenses with Barber was objectively unreasonable; (3) trial counsel's decision (at his insistence) to pursue an innocence defense at trial was objectively unreasonable; and (4) the state court's rejection of his claim was an objectively unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent. (Id.). But Barber previously made each of these same arguments in his habeas petition and reply brief. (Docs. # 1 at 29-53; 23 at 20-35). And the court considered and rejected these arguments in its memorandum opinion. (Doc. # 24 at 13-17, 24-34). The court will not consider them further here.

         Barber also argues that he was prejudiced by his trial counsel's allegedly deficient performance at the guilt phase of his trial. (Doc. # 26-1 at 25-27). He argues specifically that (1) had trial counsel adequately investigated alternative defenses to innocence and discussed those defenses with him, he would have allowed his trial counsel to pursue those alternative defenses at trial rather than the innocence defense; and (2) the evidence presented at his Rule 32 hearing established the mere afterthought and manslaughter defenses, which, if presented at trial, would have created a reasonable probability of a noncapital conviction. (Id.). But Barber previously made these same arguments in his habeas petition and reply brief. (Docs. # 1 at 53-78; 23 at 36-45). And the court considered and rejected these arguments in its memorandum opinion. (Doc. # 24 at 18-20, 34-36). The court will not consider them further here.

         B. Barber Has Failed to Identify Any Manifest ...


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