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McClain v. Williams

United States District Court, D. Nevada

July 9, 2019

CLIFFORD MCCLAIN, Petitioner,
v.
BRIAN E. WILLIAMS, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          RICHARD F. BOULWARE, II UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Clifford McClain's pro se 28 U.S.C. § 2254 amended petition is before the court on respondents' motion to dismiss certain grounds (ECF No. 30).

         I. Procedural History and Background

         A jury convicted McClain in January 2009 of first-degree murder, battery constituting domestic violence with an intent to kill, and battery constituting domestic violence with use of a deadly weapon. Exh. 74.[1] The parties entered into a stipulation to waive the penalty hearing, have the state district court impose a sentence of 20 years to life on the murder count, and dismiss the other two counts. Exh. 76. Judgment of conviction was entered on April 20, 2009. Exh. 84. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed McClain's conviction on December 27, 2011. Exh. 116.

         McClain filed a state postconviction habeas corpus petition in September 2012. Exh. 122. The state district court conducted an evidentiary hearing. Exhs. 147, 161. The court denied the petition, and the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed. Exhs. 166, 182. Remittitur issued on March 13, 2017. Exh. 183.

         On March 12, 2017, McClain dispatched his federal habeas petition for filing (ECF No. 1-1). He ultimately filed a second-amended petition on June 22, 2018 (ECF No. 28).

         Respondents now argue that some grounds in the second-amended petition do not relate back to a timely-filed earlier petition, some grounds are unexhausted, and some grounds fail to state claims cognizable in federal habeas corpus (ECF No. 30). McClain opposed (ECF No. 34), and respondents replied (ECF No. 25). McClain filed a surreply (ECF No. 36). Respondents moved to strike the surreply because McClain failed to obtain leave of court as required under the local rules. Local Rule 7-2(g). Good cause appearing, respondents' motion to strike is granted.[2]

         II. Legal Standards & Analysis

         a. Relation Back

         Respondents argue that four grounds in the amended petition do not relate back to a timely-filed petition, and therefore, should be dismissed as untimely (ECF No. 30, pp. 4-8). A new claim in an amended petition that is filed after the expiration of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) one-year limitation period will be timely only if the new claim relates back to a claim in a timely-filed pleading under Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on the basis that the claim arises out of “the same conduct, transaction or occurrence” as a claim in the timely pleading. Mayle v. Felix, 545 U.S. 644 (2005). In Mayle, the United States Supreme Court held that habeas claims in an amended petition do not arise out of “the same conduct, transaction or occurrence” as claims in the original petition merely because the claims all challenge the same trial, conviction or sentence. 545 U.S. at 655-64. Rather, under the construction of the rule approved in Mayle, Rule 15(c) permits relation back of habeas claims asserted in an amended petition “only when the claims added by amendment arise from the same core facts as the timely filed claims, and not when the new claims depend upon events separate in ‘both time and type' from the originally raised episodes.” Id. at 657. In this regard, the reviewing court looks to “the existence of a common ‘core of operative facts' uniting the original and newly asserted claims.” A claim that merely adds “a new legal theory tied to the same operative facts as those initially alleged” will relate back and be timely. Id. at 659 & n.5; Ha Van Nguyen v. Curry, 736 F.3d 1287, 1297 (9th Cir. 2013). The purpose of the relation back doctrine is to ensure that the respondent “has been given all the notice that statutes of limitations were intended to provide.” Baldwin Cty. Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 150 n.3 (1984).

         The relation back doctrine, in any context, “is to be liberally applied.” Clipper Exxpress v. Rocky Mountain Motor Tariff Bureau, Inc., 690 F.2d 1240, 1260 n.29 (9th Cir. 1982). This liberality is amplified here by the less stringent pleading standards applied to pro se habeas petitioners. See Corjasso v. Ayers, 278 F.3d 874, 878 (9th Cir. 2002).

         Here, the parties do not dispute that McClain timely appealed his conviction and timely pursued state postconviction habeas relief and do not dispute that the AEDPA statute of limitations did not start to run until remittitur issued on the affirmance of the denial of his state postconviction petition on March 13, 2017. McClain had already dispatched his original federal petition for mailing on March 12, 2017 (ECF No. 1-1). He filed his first-amended federal petition on April 12, 2017 (ECF No. 5). The AEDPA one-year statute of limitations expired on March 13, 2018, and McClain filed his second-amended petition on June 22, 2018 (ECF No. 28). Accordingly, the claims in the second-amended petition must relate back to McClain's original or first-amended federal petition in order to be deemed timely.

         Original Petition

         In his pro se original petition, McClain raised the following claims:

Ground I: The court committed error permitting several instances of hearsay regarding the deceased in violation of the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution.
Ground II: The court committed error when it did not allow the defense to introduce several statements by the deceased.
Ground III: Mr. McClain is entitled to a new trial because the hearsay testimony of State's witnesses Dr. Zucker and Dr. Hanson violated his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Ground IV: The district court committed reversible error when it did not allow Mr. McClain to introduce the victim's propensities for violence and previous violence in violation of his due process rights.
Ground V: The district court erred in giving jury instruction nos. 27 and 28, in violation of McClain's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

[No Ground VI].

Ground VII: This purported ground does not set forth any claims. It merely has the following heading: the district court erred in giving jury instruction nos. 5, 17, 19, and 41 in violation of McClain's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights - with no elaboration whatsoever.
Ground VIII: Trial counsel was ineffective in violation of McClain's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel and due process of law when counsel was unprepared for trial and failed ...

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