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Lynn v. Walsh

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 17, 2015



JAMES M. MUNLEY, District Judge.

Before the court for disposition is the report and recommendation (hereinafter "R&R") of Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab suggesting the denial of John David Lynn's (hereinafter "petitioner") petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner has filed objections to the R&R. The parties have briefed their respective positions, and the matter is ripe for disposition.


In 2009, a York County Pennsylvania jury convicted petitioner of two counts of burglary, multiple counts of theft, multiple counts of receiving stolen property, one count of resisting arrest, and one summary offense of criminal mischief. (Doc. 43, R&R at 1). The convictions related to a string of break-ins at businesses in York County occurring from December 25, 2006 through January 21, 2007. (Id. at 2). Specifically, the jury convicted petitioner of charges relating to the following five businesses: Choice Tobacco Outlet, York Blue Moon Cafe, Pizza Express and Jim's Auto Repair.[2] (Id.) The court sentenced petitioner to an aggregate term of imprisonment of seven and a half (7 ½) to fifteen (15) years. (Id. at 1).

After the trial, petitioner filed post-sentence motions. (Id. at 22). The trial court denied the motions. (Id.) Petitioner then appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. (Id.) The Superior Court affirmed the judgment of sentence. (Id.) Petitioner then sought an allowance of appeal from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which the court denied. (Id.)

Subsequent to his appeals, petitioner filed a motion under the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (hereinafter "PCRA") in which he alleged ineffectiveness of counsel. (Id. at 23). The trial court denied the motion, and the Superior Court affirmed the denial. (Id. at 23). Petitioner then filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (hereinafter "section 2254"). (Doc. 1).

The Clerk of Court assigned the case to Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab for the issuance of an R&R. Magistrate Judge Schwab appointed counsel to the petitioner and held a hearing on his claims. (Doc. 17, Doc. 37). After the hearing, she wrote a detailed and thorough R&R that suggests denying the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus. (Doc. 43, R&R). Petitioner has filed several objections to the R&R. (Doc. 49, Objections). We will address them in turn.


Section 2254 confers jurisdiction on United States district courts to issue a "writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to a judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

Legal standard

In disposing of objections to a magistrate judge's R&R, the district court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the report against which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c); see also Sullivan v. Cuyler, 723 F.2d 1077, 1085 (3d Cir. 1983). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874, 877 (3d Cir. 1987). The district court judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. Id.

A different standard is applied to portions of the R&R to which objections are not made. To decide whether to adopt these portions of the R&R, we must determine if a review of the record evidences plain error or manifest injustice. FED. R. CIV. P. 72(b) 1983 Advisory Committee Notes ("When no timely objection is filed, the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record to accept the recommendation"); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Sullivan, 723 F.2d at 1085.

In the instant case, the R&R discusses a section 2254 petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Such a petition may only raise issues that have been exhausted in the state court system. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b). We cannot grant such a petition unless the adjudication of the claim in state court:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

This standard "demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Cullen v. Pinholster, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Petitioner's section 2254 petition raises issues of ineffective assistance of counsel. The United States Supreme Court has explained that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution entitles all criminal defendants to "reasonably effective [legal] assistance." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To prevail on an ineffective assistance claim, a petitioner must establish the following two elements: 1) deficient performance from counsel; and 2) prejudice. McBride v. Superintendent, SCI Houtzdale, 687 F.3d 92, 102 (3d Cir. 2012).

The first factor, "deficient performance" means that "counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness[.]" Id . (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688). "In scrutinizing counsel's performance, [the court] must be highly deferential and refrain from second-guessing counsel's assistance after conviction or adverse sentencing, as it is all too easy for a court, examining counsel's defense after it has proved unsuccessful, to conclude that a particular act or omission of counsel was unreasonable." Id . (internal brackets, quotation marks and citation omitted).

The second requirement for a finding of unconstitutional ineffectiveness of counsel is that counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defense. To establish prejudice, the petitioner must demonstrate "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id . n.11 quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.

Guided by these standards, we turn to the issues raised by the petitioner.


Petitioner objects to five (5) portions/conclusions of the R&R. We will address each in turn.

I. Items taken from the Blue Moon Cafe

Petitioner first objects to the R&R's review of trial testimony regarding the items stolen from the Blue Moon Cafe. (Doc. 43, R&R at 12). He states that page 12 of the R&R indicates that the Cafe's owner identified the property taken from the Blue Moon Cafe. According to the petitioner, the trial testimony at best, however, supported a finding that police recovered items similar to those taken from Blue Moon. We disagree.

The testimony revealed that the Cafe's owner identified a bottle of liquor that was missing from his inventory as well as the pour spout that was in it. (Doc. 13-2, 76-77). These items were evidently found where the petitioner was staying, and they were returned to the Cafe's owner. (Id. at 77). This objection thus lacks merit. Moreover, the objection does not affect the ...

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