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Celis v. Williams

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division

March 21, 2017

GUY WILLIAMS, et al, Respondents.


          Randy Crane, United States District Judge

         Now 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.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Petitioner 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 rights.

         Respondent, 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).

         On 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. No. 33).

         The 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 Order.

         II. Standard of Review

         Any 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. Id.

         A. Decision Subject to Review

         The 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).

         B. Unreasonable Determination of Facts.

         In 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).

         C. Decision Contrary to Federal Law.

         A state 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).

         D. Unreasonable Application of Federal Law.

         A state 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).

         III. ...

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