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Henton v. Miller

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division

March 26, 2018

W.D. Henton, Petitioner
v.
Michelle Miller, Respondent

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Jeffrey J. Helmick United States District Judge

         Before me is the April 6, 2017 Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge George J. Limbert recommending dismissal of Petitioner W.D. Henton's action seeking a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 9). Also before me are the pro se Petitioner's objections[1] (Doc. No. 10) and the Respondent's response (Doc. No. 11). For the reasons stated below, I adopt the Magistrate Judge's recommendation as set forth in the Report and Recommendation.

         I. Applicable Legal Standard

         A district court must conduct a de novo review of “any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to. The district judge may accept, reject or modify the recommended disposition, receive further evidence, or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); see also Norman v. Astrue, 694 F.Supp.2d 738, 740 (N.D. Ohio 2010). “De novo determination requires ‘fresh consideration' of a magistrate judge's recommendation, independent of the magistrate judge's conclusions.” 14 Moore's Federal Practice § 72.11[2][a] (3d 2017). In conducting a de novo review, the court need not conduct a de novo hearing on the matter. Lifeng Chen v. New Trend Apparel, Inc., 8 F.Supp.3d 406, 416 (S.D.N.Y. 2014), citing United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980).

         II. The Report and Recommendation

         In Magistrate Judge Limbert's Report and Recommendation, he sets forth the relevant factual and procedural history. This includes history of the state trial court and post-conviction proceedings, including the observation there was no direct appeal by Petitioner. (Doc. No. 9 at pp. 1-4). The Magistrate Judge summarized Petitioner's grounds for relief as follows:

[T]hey all seem to relate to allegations that the trial court committed constitutional error in sentencing him as he contends that the written plea agreement that he signed, and the court accepted, barred a sentence beyond three years of imprisonment.

(Id. at p. 12). The Magistrate Judge then considered the grounds for relief and determined Petitioner failed to properly exhaust his claims. Alternatively, the Magistrate Judge conducted a merits analysis and found no merit to Petitioner's grounds for relief as to his plea agreement. For these reasons, the recommendation is to dismiss the petition with prejudice.

         III. Objections

         Objections by pro se litigants are to be interpreted leniently and liberally construed. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007). A petitioner must make specific objections to a magistrate's report in order to preserve his claims for appellate review. Smith v. Detroit Fed'n of Teachers, Local 231, 829 F.2d 1370, 1373 (6th Cir. 1987). These objections “must be clear enough to enable the district court to discern those issues that are dispositive and contentious.” Miller v. Currie, 50 F.3d 373, 380 (6th Cir. 1995) (citing Howard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991)). See also Austin v. Bedford Township Police Dep't., 859 F.Supp.2d 883, 888 (E.D. Mich. 2011).

         Petitioner submitted his objections in an eleven page filing. (Doc. No. 10). I have carefully reviewed the objections and agree with the Magistrate Judge's observations that Petitioner's arguments are somewhat confusing but appear to take issue with the following: (1) hurdles aimed at procedural default and (2) imposition of a sentence which is contrary to law. I disagree.

         The Magistrate Judge correctly determined that exhaustion barred a merits review because Petitioner “never filed a direct appeal of his conviction and sentence or a motion for delayed appeal. . . [and he] presents no cause to excuse his failure to exhaust these claims in the state courts.” (Doc. No. 9 at pp. 13-14). See Maupin v. Smith, 785 F.2d 135, 138-139 (6th Cir. 1986) (burden is on petitioner to demonstrate a constitutional violation and actual prejudice by that constitutional error).

         Nevertheless, the Magistrate Judge conducted a merits analysis and determined there was no merit to Petitioner's grounds for relief. The Sixth Circuit's discussion on the validity of plea agreements provides useful guidance:

[T]he state of Ohio has elected to adopt a rule that only enforceable plea agreements are those which are presented to, and accepted by, the trial court judge. This is not unusual, and, indeed, it comports with our own ...

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