United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division
ORDER ADOPTING IN PART MEMORANDUM AND
Crane, United States District Judge
before the Court is Respondent's Motion for Summary
Judgment, (Dkt. No. 12). On August 4, 2015, United States
Magistrate Judge Jason B. Libby issued his Memorandum and
Recommendation, (Dkt. No. 17), recommending that the motion
be granted. After considering the Memorandum and
Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, Petitioner's
Objections, (Dkt. No. 23), and the responsive briefing, (Dkt.
Nos. 24, 25), the Court is of the opinion that the Memorandum
and Recommendation should be adopted in part.
Factual and Procedural Background
Mauricio Celis was convicted in Texas state court of fourteen
counts of holding himself out as a lawyer in violation of
Texas Penal Code § 38.122(a). After appealing to the
Thirteenth Court of Appeals and the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals, his conviction was affirmed and he is currently
serving two concurrent ten-year terms of probation. He brings
this habeas corpus action complaining that his conviction was
unconstitutional because (1) the trial judge demonstrated
bias against him in violation of his Fifth, Sixth, and
Fourteenth Amendment rights to a fair trial and due process;
and (2) the statute on which he was convicted is overbroad
and vague, thus infringing on his First, Fifth, and
Fourteenth Amendment freedom of speech and due process
Javed Syed, Director of the Nueces County Community
Supervision & Corrections Department, in his official
capacity, filed his Motion for Summary Judgment on November
21, 2014, (Dkt. No. 12), to which Petitioner timely filed a
Response in opposition, (Dkt. No. 16). Magistrate Judge Libby
issued his Memorandum and Recommendation on August 4, 2015,
(Dkt. No. 17). After obtaining two extensions of time,
Petitioner timely filed his objections, (Dkt. No. 23).
Respondent timely filed a response, (Dkt. No. 24), to which
Petitioner replied, (Dkt. No. 25).
March 9, 2016, United States District Judge Nelva Gonzales
Ramos issued an Order Adopting Memorandum and Recommendation,
overruling Petitioner's objections and granting
Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Dkt. No. 26).
After a Final Judgment was issued in favor of Respondent,
(Dkt. No. 27), Petitioner filed a Motion to Alter Judgment
and for Disqualification, seeking disqualification of Judge
Ramos and reasserting some of his objections to the
Memorandum and Recommendation, (Dkt. No. 28). Judge Ramos
subsequently recused herself from the case, (Dkt. No. 29),
and vacated the Order Adopting Memorandum and Recommendation
and the Final Judgment, (Dkt. No 31). After the case was
reassigned to United States District Judge Hilda G. Tagle,
(Dkt. No. 32), Judge Tagle recused herself. (Dkt. No. 32).
Subsequently, the case was reassigned to this Court. (Dkt.
Court considers that the previous Order Adopting the
Magistrate's Memorandum and Recommendation satisfactorily
addressed the Petitioner's objections. Furthermore,
Petitioner's Motion to Alter and Amend the Judgment
raises arguments that are substantially identical to those
already asserted in his Objections to the Memorandum and
Opinion. Accordingly, with minimum discussion of
Petitioner's Motion to Alter and Amend the Judgment, the
Court substantially adopts the substance of the previous
Standard of Review
challenge to a state court's holding conviction is
reviewed under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty
Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), (e), which
limits the scope of this Court's review as well as
placing a high burden on the petitioner to demonstrate
constitutional infirmity in the state court judgment.
“Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus
is a ‘guard against extreme malfunctions in the state
criminal justice systems, ' not a substitute for ordinary
error correction through appeal.” Harrington v.
Richter, 562 U.S. 86 (2011) (quoting Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332 & n.5 (1979) (Stevens,
J., concurring in judgment)). As relevant here, a habeas
challenge must show an unreasonable determination of the
facts sufficient to overcome a presumption that they are
correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). A question of law must
be shown to have been decided in a manner contrary to clearly
established federal law. Id., § 2254(d)(1). And
a mixed question of law and fact must be shown to constitute
an unreasonable application of clearly established law.
Decision Subject to Review
Court looks to the last adjudication on the merits, or
“last reasoned state court decision.”
Batchelor v. Cain, 682 F.3d 400, 405 (5th Cir. 2012)
(quoting Wood v. Quarterman, 491 F.3d 196, 202 (5th
Cir. 2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted). While the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied review of the issues
under consideration in a manner presumed to be a decision on
the merits, it did so without opinion. Thus, this Court
considers the intermediate Thirteenth Court of Appeals'
(Court of Appeals') written opinion pursuant to the
“look through” doctrine. This enables a federal
habeas court “to ignore-and hence, look through-an
unexplained state court denial and evaluate the last reasoned
state court decision.” Bledsue v. Johnson, 188
F.3d 250, 256 (5th Cir. 1999).
Unreasonable Determination of Facts.
reviewing the Court of Appeals' decision, this Court
presumes that the state court's evaluation of fact
findings is correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). Celis's
burden in challenging the facts is to rebut those findings
with a showing that they are contrary to clear and convincing
evidence. Garcia v. Quarterman, 454 F.3d 441, 444
(5th Cir. 2006) (citing Hughes v. Dretke, 412 F.3d
582, 589 (5th Cir. 2005) and 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)).
This deference extends not only to express findings of fact,
but to the state court's implicit findings, as well.
Garcia, 454 F.3d at 444-45 (citing Summers v.
Dretke, 431 F.3d 861, 876 (5th Cir. 2005); Young v.
Dretke, 356 F.3d 616, 629 (5th Cir. 2004)). Even where
the state court record is ambiguous, the state court's
factual findings supporting the judgment are nevertheless
entitled to deference if there is fair support in the record.
Patton v. Yount, 467 U.S. 1025, 1039-40 (1983)
(ambiguity and juror testimony insufficient to overcome
presumption of correctness as to the trial court's
finding of impartiality).
Decision Contrary to Federal Law.
court decision is contrary to Supreme Court precedent if: (1)
the state court's conclusion is opposite that reached by
the Supreme Court on a question of law; or (2) the state
court decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has
on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Allen v.
Stephens, 805 F.3d 617, 625 (5th Cir. 2015) (internal
citations omitted). It is not enough for the petitioner to
show merely that his interpretation of Supreme Court
precedent is more plausible than the state court's
analysis. Rather, the petitioner must demonstrate that
Supreme Court precedent requires the contrary outcome.
See Matteo v. Superintendent, SCI Albion, 171 F.3d
877, 888 (3d Cir. 1999) (en banc).
Unreasonable Application of Federal Law.
court's decision is an unreasonable application of
Supreme Court precedent if: (1) it unreasonably applies the
correct legal rule to the facts of a particular case; or (2)
it “unreasonably extends a legal principle from
[Supreme Court] precedent to a new context where it should
not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to
a new context where it should apply.” Williams v.
Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407 (2000). The issue is whether
the application was objectively unreasonable. Id. at
365. A prisoner cannot obtain relief if the state court's
decision, although incorrect, was not objectively
unreasonable. Even a strong case for relief does not mean the
state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.
Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102-03 (requiring no
possibility for fairminded disagreement).