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Brown v. Overmyer

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 11, 2019

ANTHONY BROWN, Petitioner,
v.
MICHAEL OVERMEYER, et al., Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM

          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Anthony Brown filed a pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley issued a Report and Recommendation recommending denial of the petition, to which Brown asserted objections. After reviewing the record, Judge Heffley's R&R, and Brown's objections, the Court adopts the R&R and denies Brown's petition.

         I

         Brown was sentenced to life in prison after a jury in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas convicted him of first-degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime in connection with the shooting death of his brother Rodney Brown. See Commonwealth v. Brown, No. 54 EDA 2014, 2015 WL 745411 (Pa. Super. Ct. Mar. 18, 2015). The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed his conviction, id., he filed a timely pro se petition under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act and filed four supplements to his PCRA petition on his own behalf. See Commonwealth v. Brown, No. 1184 EDA 2017, 2018 WL 3079398, at *1 (Pa. Super. Ct. June 22, 2018). The attorney appointed to represent Brown in the PCRA proceeding filed a “No Merit Letter” pursuant to Commonwealth v. Finley, 550 A.2d 213 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1998). The PCRA Court then issued a notice of its intention to dismiss Brown's PCRA petition without a hearing pursuant to Rule 907 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. Brown filed a pro se response in which he claimed PCRA counsel was ineffective for failing to file an amended PCRA petition that raised the claims asserted in his petition and supplemental filings. See 2018 WL 3079398, at *1. Brown's PCRA counsel was permitted to withdraw and the PCRA court dismissed his petition. Brown appealed from the dismissal, and the Superior Court affirmed. Id. Brown did not appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. See Commonwealth v. Brown, No. CP-51-CR-0002243-2014, Dkt. No. 25, (Pa. Ct. Comm. Pl. Phila. Cnty.).

         II

         Brown argues that he is entitled to habeas relief based on his counsel's ineffectiveness for failing to challenge the admission of testimony regarding the alleged fraudulent transfer to himself of the deed to the house where he and Rodney Brown resided, a house which had belonged to their deceased mother. (See Pet'r Mem. at 20 (arguing that testimony regarding his alleged “prior bad act” was “false/misleading” and should not have been admitted as evidence of motive); id. at 28 (asserting that each of his listed “claims of trial counsel's ineffectiveness surrounds the elicitation and presentation by the Commonwealth of the false/misleading testimony of ‘fraud' purportedly committed by petitioner”). Brown argues that “the evidence is clear and undisputed” that he did not “fraudulently transfer the deed of the home into his name ‘only'” and he “simply maintained that he would ‘administer the estate' and nothing more.” (Id. at 7.) Brown asserts that “none of the [relevant] witnesses had the authority, facts and/or legal basis to testify before the jury that [he] had committed a fraud upon his brother” with respect to the deed. (Id.)

         Judge Heffley concluded that Brown's habeas claims are procedurally defaulted and unreviewable because Brown did not raise them in his PCRA petition. (R&R, ECF No. 9, at 7-9.) She wrote that when he

attempted to raise the arguments that he raises [in his habeas petition] on appeal of the denial of his PCRA petition, the Superior Court held that he had waived them by failing to raise them in his pro se [PCRA] petition, supplemental pro se [PCRA] petitions, the no merit letter filed by his appointed counsel, [and] his response to the PCRA court's notice of its intention to dismiss his appeal

and the Superior Court held that “he could not raise [a] claim for the first time on appeal.” (R&R at 8, citing 2018 WL 3079398, at *1-3). Judge Heffley explained that the Superior Court's decision that Brown could not raise the effectiveness of his PRCA counsel on appeal had “an independent and adequate state law basis, ” and rendered his claims “procedurally defaulted and unreviewable.” (R&R at 9 (citation omitted).)

         Judge Heffley also found that even if Brown's habeas claims are not procedurally defaulted, they cannot support his petition for habeas relief because they are substantively meritless. (R&R at 9-14.) She explained that “Brown's objection to the admission of the evidence regarding his alleged fraudulent transfer of the deed for lack of factual foundation does not raise a cognizable claim.” (R&R at 9.)

         Brown objects to both the conclusion that his habeas claims are procedurally defaulted and that they are substantively meritless. (Pet'r Obj., ECF No. 27, at 7-8.) The Court reviews de novo the specific portions of the R&R to which Brown objects.[1] See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The Court “may accept, reject, or modify” Judge Heffley's conclusions “in whole or in part.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c).

         III

         Brown's ineffective assistance of counsel claims are procedurally defaulted. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1) (requiring exhaustion of state remedies before pursuing federal habeas relief). “[W]hen the state court denies a claim because the prisoner failed to comply with a procedural rule, that procedural default normally bars federal courts from re-hearing the claim.” Richardson v. Superintendent Coal Twp. SCI, 905 F.3d 750, 759 (3d Cir. 2018) (citing Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011)).

         Brown's PCRA petition alleged six issues of trial counsel ineffectiveness. See Brown, 2018 WL 3079398, at *2. Four of the issues were identical to those raised in his habeas petition. (See Pet'r Mem. at 27.) On appeal, the Superior Court found Brown had waived these issues because they “were not raised in his pro se [PCRA] petition, supplemental pro se petitions, the no-merit letter ...


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