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Eaddy v. Delbalso

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 10, 2019

KAREEM EADDY, Petitioner,
v.
THERESA DELBASO, et al., Respondents.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          TIMOTHY R. RICE U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Petitioner Kareem Eaddy, a.k.a. Karrem Johnson, a prisoner at the State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Pennsylvania, has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and a motion to stay his habeas proceedings while he litigates a state collateral relief petition. Because Eaddy has a Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa. C.S. § 9541 et seq. ("PCRA"), petition pending in the Pennsylvania state courts concerning an issue included in his habeas petition, I recommend that his habeas petition be stayed and held in abeyance until his state court proceedings have concluded. See Rhines v. Weber. 544 U.S. 269, 277-78 (2005). If Eaddy does not return to federal court within thirty days following the conclusion of his state court proceedings, I recommend the stay and abeyance order be vacated and his habeas petition be dismissed without prejudice.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Eaddy was convicted of various charges including first-degree murder in February 2011, and the Superior Court affirmed in August 2012. Crim. Dkt. at 12, 15. After dismissal of his first PCRA petition in December 2016, Id. at 16, Eaddy's PCRA counsel filed a subsequent petition in August 2017, Id. at 18. In the second petition, Eaddy's PCRA counsel asserted his own ineffectiveness for failing to argue trial counsel was ineffective for not objecting the trial court's jury instruction on reasonable doubt. See Pet., Ex. H2 (letter and certification from PCRA counsel admitting own ineffectiveness).

         Eaddy filed his habeas petition on January 31, 2019, raising multiple claims, including his claim regarding trial counsel's ineffectiveness for not objecting to the reasonable doubt instruction. Pet. at 1. Eaddy now seeks a stay while he attempts to exhaust that claim in state court. Mot. to Stay (doc. 9); Pet. at 36. Eaddy's case involves an ongoing legal debate concerning the constitutionality of a reasonable doubt jury instruction delivered by a former state trial judge. Compare Brooks v. Gilmore, No. 15-5659, 2017 WL 3475475, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2017) (granting habeas relief where trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to similar reasonable doubt instruction), appeal dismissed, 2018 WL 1304895 (3d Cir. Feb. 28, 2018), with Corbin v. Tice. No. 16-4527, slip op. (ECF No. 32) at 19-27 (E.D. Pa. June 6, 2018) (report and recommendation disagreeing with Brooks and finding a substantially similar jury instruction did not violate due process); see also Baxter v. Superintendent, SCI Coal Twp., No. 18-46, oral arg. tr. (ECF No. 21) at 4-5, 14 (E.D. Pa. May 3, 2018) (district attorney's office stating its legal position on constitutional validity of contested jury instruction); id, No. 16-4527, Pet. Mot. to Stay (ECF No. 26) and Resp't Mots, to Extend Stay (ECF Nos. 30, 32) (requesting stay of proceedings while the parties pursue a negotiated settlement).

         DISCUSSION

         The United States Supreme Court has approved the use of stay-and-abey procedures for habeas petitions containing unexhausted claims where "there was good cause for the petitioner's failure to exhaust his claims first in state court." Rhines, 544 U.S. at 277. However, even if a petitioner had good cause for that failure, a stay-and-abey should not be granted if the petitioner's unexhausted claims are "plainly meritless," or where the petitioner "engaged in dilatory or abusive litigation tactics." Id. at 277-78.

         Eaddy's habeas petition should be stayed and held in abeyance pending the conclusion of the state court PCRA proceedings. Because his habeas petition includes the same ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim as in his second PCRA petition, this claim is unexhausted. Further, PCRA counsel's ineffectiveness may establish good cause for Eaddy's failure to previously exhaust his trial counsel ineffectiveness claim. Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1, 9 (2012) (ineffective assistance of collateral counsel may establish cause for procedural default of an ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim). Moreover, Eaddy's claim is not "plainly meritless," see Rhines, 544 U.S. at 277, as habeas relief was granted on an identical jury instruction in Brooks, No. 15-5659, 2017 WL 3475475, at *6 (holding trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to "constitutionally infirm" reasonable doubt jury instruction). Thus, Eaddy's claim may have merit, and it is both necessary and appropriate that his claim be considered first by the state courts. See, e.g., Graham v. Florida. 560 U.S. 48, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 2030 (2010) ("It is for the State, in the first instance, to explore the means and mechanisms for compliance."); see also Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971) (as matter of comity, states must be given initial opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of petitioner's constitutional rights). Finally, there is no evidence Eaddy has "engaged in intentionally dilatory litigation tactics." Rhines, 544 U.S. at 277-78. Accordingly, use of the stay-and-abeyance is warranted.

         Eaddy's habeas petition, however, "should not be stayed indefinitely." Id. at 277 (reasonable time limits should be placed "on a petitioner's trip to state court and back"). The stay should be conditioned on Eaddy notifying the federal court within thirty days of the conclusion of his state court proceedings. See Id. at 278. If Eaddy fails to then notify this Court, the stay-and-abeyance should be vacated. See Crews v. Horn, 360 F.3d 146, 154 (3d Cir. 2004) (if the petitioner fails to meet the time limit, "the stay should be vacated nunc pro tune").

         Accordingly, I make the following:

         RECOMMENDATION

         AND NOW, on April 9, 2019, it is respectfully recommended the petition for a writ of habeas corpus be STAYED and held in ABEYANCE while Eaddy litigates his second PCRA petition. It is further recommended that, if Eaddy fails to return to federal court within thirty days of the conclusion of his state court proceedings, this order be vacated and his petition be DISMISSED without prejudice. It is further recommended that there is no probable cause to issue a certificate of appealability.[1] The parties may file objections to this Report and Recommendation within fourteen days after being served with a copy thereof. See Local Civ. R. 72.1. Failure to file timely objections may constitute a waiver of any appellate rights. See Lewa v. Williams. 504 F.3d 357, 364 (3d Cir. 2007).

         ORDER

         AND NOW, this day of, 2019, upon careful and independent consideration of Petitioner Kareem Eaddy's petition for a writ of habeas corpus and motion for stay and abeyance, and after review of the Report and Recommendation of ...


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