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James Mclaughlin v. Robert Shannon

March 22, 2012

JAMES MCLAUGHLIN,
PETITIONER,
v.
ROBERT SHANNON, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

The instant mixed habeas petition is on remand from the Third Circuit. For the reasons provided, the Court will deny Petitioner's unexhausted and exhausted claims because they are plainly meritless and dismiss with prejudice.

I.BACKGROUND

On October 5, 1999, James McLaughlin ("Petitioner") was convicted of first-degree murder, recklessly endangering another person, possessing an instrument of crime, and carrying a firearm without a license. Habeas Pet. ¶¶ 2, 4, ECF No. 1. He received a life sentence without parole. Id. ¶ 3. On April 16, 2002, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed his conviction. Commonwealth v. McLaughlin, 803 A.2d 794 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2002) (table). And on March 30, 2004, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied his appeal. Commonwealth v. McLaughlin, 847 A.2d 1281 (Pa. 2004) (table).

Petitioner collaterally attacked his sentence pursuant to the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"). On March 21, 2005, Petitioner filed a PCRA petition alleging ineffective assistance of counsel and newly discovered evidence unavailable at trial. Habeas Pet. ¶ 11(a). On January 5, 2007, the PCRA court dismissed this first PCRA petition. Id. On appeal, Petitioner's counsel pursued the ineffective assistance claim and not the newly discovered evidence claim. On January 24, 2008, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed. Id. And on July 10, 2008, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allowance of appeal. Commonwealth v. McLaughlin, 951 A.2d 1162 (Pa. 2008) (table).

On September 8, 2008, Petitioner filed a second PCRA petition, this one alleging ineffective assistance of counsel and obstruction of his appeal regarding his first PCRA petition. Habeas Pet. ¶ 11(b). On October 6, 2009, the PCRA court dismissed this second PCRA petition and Petitioner appealed. On March 3, 2011, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed and, on remand, the PCRA court again dismissed. On October 13, 2011, Petitioner noticed his appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. That appeal is currently pending.

On October 17, 2008, while the second PCRA petition was pending, Petitioner filed the instant habeas petition that alleges counts of ineffective assistance of counsel and newly discovered exculpatory evidence that was unavailable at trial.*fn1

Id. ¶ 12. On February 22, 2010, Petitioner moved to stay the federal proceedings to permit exhaustion of his newly discovered evidence claim in state court.*fn2 Mot. to Stay 1-6, ECF No. 22.

The Court denied Petitioner's Motion to Stay because the unexhausted claim was "plainly meritless" and dismissed without prejudice. Mem. Op. 23-25, Aug. 11, 2010, ECF No. 24; Order 1, Aug. 11, 2010, ECF No. 25. Petitioner appealed to the Third Circuit, which affirmed the District Court's denial of Petitioner's Motion to Stay. McLaughlin v. Shannon, No. 10-3537, 2011 WL 6093408, at *2 (3d Cir. Dec. 8, 2011) (per curiam) ("In this case the exculpatory affidavit at issue in his unexhausted claim is of at best questionable credibility and would not satisfy such a threshold; even if it was exhausted, the claim would not warrant relief.").

However, the Third Circuit vacated in part with respect to the District Court's dismissal without prejudice. The Third Circuit held that the District Court incorrectly found that it was faced with no choice but to dismiss the mixed petition because the unexhausted claim was plainly meritless.

Id. The Third Circuit noted that, when a mixed habeas petition's unexhausted claim is plainly meritless, a petitioner may amend the petition to delete the unexhausted claim or the District Court may reject the plainly meritless claim, despite its non-exhaustion, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2). Id. The Third Circuit further instructed that, upon finding that a stay of a mixed petition is inappropriate, the District Court should allow Petitioner to delete the unexhausted claim and proceed with the exhausted claim if dismissal of the petition would "unreasonably impair the petitioner's right to obtain federal relief." Id. (quoting Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 277 (2005)).

With these instructions in mind, the Court addresses the merits of the habeas petition.

II.LEGAL STANDARD

On habeas review, the Court must determine whether the state court's adjudication of the claims raised was (1) contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or (2) based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in ...


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