United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division
THOMAS JOSEPH EPPELSHEIMER (TDCJ No. 1832429), Petitioner,
LORIE DAVIS, Director Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.
FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
L. HORAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Thomas Joseph Eppelsheimer, a Texas inmate, has filed a
pro se application for writ of habeas corpus under
28 U.S.C. § 2254. See Dkt. No 3. This resulting
action has been referred to the undersigned United States
magistrate judge for pretrial management under 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b) and a standing order of reference from United
States District Judge David C. Godbey. For the reasons
explained below, the Court should deny Eppelsheimer's
entered an open plea of guilty to the offense of sexual
assault of a child in three cases and indecency with a child
in a fourth case and executed judicial confessions admitting
to the offenses.” Eppelsheimer v. State, Nos.
05-13-00182-CR, 05-13-00183-CR, 05-13-00184-CR, &
05-13-00185-CR, 2014 WL 3587374, at *1 (Tex. App.- Dallas
July 21, 2014, pet ref'd) (citations omitted); see
State v. Eppelsheimer, Nos. F11- 71319-X, F11-71623-X,
F11-71624-X, & F11-71625-X (Crim. Dist. Ct. No. 6, Dallas
Cty., Tex.). “After a bench trial on punishment, the
trial court found appellant guilty in all four cases and
sentenced him to four consecutive terms of twenty years in
prison.” Eppelsheimer, 2014 WL 3587374, at *1.
The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed the criminal judgments
(some as modified) on appeal. See Id. And the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals (the “CCA”) refused
discretionary review. See Eppelsheimer v. State,
PD-1010-14, PD-1011-14, PD-1012-14, PD 1013-14 (Tex. Crim.
App. Sept. 24, 2014).
also denied Eppelsheimer's state applications for writ of
habeas corpus without written order on the findings of the
trial court without a hearing. See Ex parte
Eppelsheimer, WR-83, 743-02, -03, -04, -05 (Tex. Crim.
App. June 1, 2016); see also Ex parte Eppelsheimer,
Nos. W11-71319-X(A), W11-71623-X(A), W11-71624-X(A), &
W11-71625-X(A) (Crim. Dist. Ct. No. 6, Dallas Cty., Tex. Feb.
18, 2016) (trial court's findings of fact and conclusions
timely-filed Section 2254 petition raises claims that both
his trial counsel and counsel on direct appeal were
constitutionally ineffective, in violation of the Sixth
Amendment. See Dkt. Nos. 3 & 4. The State filed
a response opposing relief. See Dkt. No. 16. And
Eppelsheimer filed a reply. See Dkt. No. 17.
Dallas Court of Appeals's decision extensively sets out
the facts underlying the criminal judgments. See
Eppelsheimer, 2014 WL 3587374, at *1-*4. The undersigned
will incorporate those facts as necessary to address
Review of State Court Adjudications Generally
state court has already rejected a claim on the merits, a
federal court may grant habeas relief on that claim only if
the state court adjudication:
(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;
(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).
court adjudication on direct appeal is due the same deference
under Section 2254(d) as an adjudication in a state
post-conviction proceeding. See, e.g., Dowthitt
v. Johnson, 230 F.3d 733, 756-57 (5th Cir. 2000) (a
finding made by the CCA on direct appeal was an “issue
... adjudicated on the merits in state proceedings, ”
to be “examine[d] ... with the deference demanded by
[the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
(the “AEDPA”)]” under “28 U.S.C.
court decision is “contrary” to clearly
established federal law if “it relies on legal rules
that directly conflict with prior holdings of the Supreme
Court or if it reaches a different conclusion than the
Supreme Court on materially indistinguishable facts.”
Busby v. Dretke, 359 F.3d 708, 713 (5th Cir. 2004);
see also Lopez v. Smith, 574 U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 1,
2 (2014) (per curiam) (“We have emphasized, time and
time again, that the AEDPA prohibits the federal courts of
appeals from relying on their own precedent to conclude that
a particular constitutional principle is ‘clearly
established.'” (citation omitted)).
decision constitutes an “unreasonable
application” of clearly established federal law if
“the state court identifies the correct governing legal
principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but
unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the
prisoner's case.” Williams v. Taylor, 529
U.S. 362, 413 (2000). “For purposes of §
2254(d)(1), an unreasonable application of federal law is
different from an incorrect application of federal law.... A
state court's determination that a claim lacks merit
precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists
could disagree on the correctness of the state court's
decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86,
101 (2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
“Under § 2254(d), a habeas court must determine
what arguments or theories supported or ... could have
supported, the state court's decision; and then it must
ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree
that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the
holding in a prior decision of [the Supreme] Court.”
Id. at 102 (internal quotation marks omitted);
see Evans v. Davis, 875 F.3d 210, 216 (5th Cir.
2017) (recognizing that Section 2254(d) tasks courts
“with considering not only the arguments and theories
the state habeas court actually relied upon to reach its
ultimate decision but also all the arguments and theories it
could have relied upon” (citation omitted)).
Supreme Court has further explained that “[e]valuating
whether a rule application was unreasonable requires
considering the rule's specificity. The more general the
rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in
case-by-case determinations.” Id. at 101
(internal quotation marks omitted). And “even a strong
case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary
conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. at 102. The
Supreme Court has explained that, “[i]f this standard
is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be,
” where, “[a]s amended by AEDPA, § 2254(d)
stops short of imposing a complete bar on federal court
relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings,
” but “[i]t preserves authority to issue the writ
in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists
could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts
with this Court's precedents, ” and “[i]t
goes no further.” Id. Thus, “[a]s a
condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a
state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on
the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in
justification that there was an error well understood and
comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for
fairminded disagreement.” Id. at 103;