United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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
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).
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).
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.
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
Arguments Improperly Raised in a Rule 59(e) Motion
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
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.
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.
Barber Has Failed to Identify Any Manifest ...