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McNeil v. Davis

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

May 15, 2019

LISA MICHELLE McNEIL, (TDCJ #00555502) Petitioner,
LORIE DAVIS, Respondent.


          Lee H. Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge.

         Texas state inmate Lisa Michelle McNeil filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the failure of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to release her to mandatory supervision. The respondent, Lorie Davis, moves for summary judgment. In response, McNeil reasserted that she is entitled to release and filed an excerpt from a handbook published by the Parole Board. (Docket Entry Nos. 10, 12).

         Based on careful consideration of the pleadings, the motion, the record, and the applicable law, this court concludes that McNeil has not stated a meritorious ground for federal habeas relief, denies her § 2254 petition, and, by separate order, enters final judgment. The reasons are explained below.

         I. Background

         McNeil was indicted for the felony offense of capital murder. A jury found her guilty of murder with a deadly weapon and, in March 1990, sentenced her to life imprisonment. In this federal habeas petition, McNeil challenges the Parole Board's failure to release her to mandatory supervision, not her underlying conviction or sentence.

         In May 2018, McNeil filed a state habeas application under Article 11.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, asserting claims in connection with her eligibility for mandatory supervision release. See Ex parte McNeil, Application No. WR-88, 847-01. In August 2018, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied the application, without a written order or a hearing, on the findings of the trial court. Id. McNeil filed this federal habeas petition in August 2018, asserting that the Parole Board's failure to release her to mandatory supervision violated the state law in effect when she committed her holding offense. (Docket Entry No. 1, at 6).

         II. The Legal Standards

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), federal habeas relief cannot be granted on legal issues adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state adjudication was contrary to clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98-99 (2011); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 404-05 (2000); 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(d)(1), (2). A state-court decision is contrary to federal precedent if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth by the Supreme Court, or if it involves materially indistinguishable facts and arrives at a different result. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 7-8 (2002).

         A state court unreasonably applies Supreme Court precedent if it unreasonably applies the correct legal rule to the facts of a particular case, or unreasonably extends a legal principle from Supreme Court precedent to a different and inappropriate context, or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a context to which it should apply. Williams, 529 U.S. at 409. The issue is whether the state court's application was objectively unreasonable. Id. “It bears repeating that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. As the Supreme Court stated in Richter,

If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be. As amended by AEDPA, § 2254(d) stops short of imposing a complete bar on federal court relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings. It 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. It goes no farther. 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.

Id., at 102-03 (emphasis added; internal citations omitted).

         AEDPA requires federal habeas courts to defer to a state court's resolution of factual issues. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), a state-court decision on the merits based on a factual determination will not be overturned unless it is objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding. Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 343 (2003). A federal habeas court presumes the state court's factual determination to be correct, unless the petitioner rebuts the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also Miller-El, 537 U.S. at 330-31. This presumption extends not only to express fact findings, but also to implicit findings. Garcia v. Quarterman, 454 F.3d 441, 444 (5th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).

         Summary judgment is proper when the record shows “no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In ordinary civil cases, a district court considering a motion for summary judgment must construe disputed facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (“The evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.”). Although Rule 56 applies in the context of habeas corpus cases, Clark v. Johnson, 202 F.3d 760, 764 (5th Cir. 2000), a court on summary judgment must view the evidence through “the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254. AEDPA limited both the nature and availability of habeas review. General summary judgment standards apply to the extent they do not conflict with AEDPA. See Smith v. Cockrell, 311 F.3d 661, 668 (5th Cir. 2002) (“[Rule 56] applies only to the extent that it does not conflict with the habeas rules.”), abrogated on other grounds by Tennard v. Dretke, 542 U.S. 274 (2004).

         McNeil is representing herself. Self-represented habeas petitions are construed liberally and are not held to the same stringent and rigorous standards as pleadings lawyers file. See Martin v. Maxey, 98 F.3d 844, 847 n.4 (5th Cir. 1996); Guidroz v. Lynaugh, 852 F.2d 832, 834 (5th Cir. 1988); Woodall v. Foti, 648 F.2d 268, 271 (5th Cir. Unit A June 1981). This court broadly ...

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