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Crutsinger v. Davis

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 19, 2019

BILLY JACK CRUTSINGER, Petitioner-Appellant,
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

          Before SMITH, OWEN, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM

         Billy Crutsinger was convicted and sentenced to death. Crutsinger v. Davis, No. 18-70027, 2019 WL 2864445, at *1 (5th Cir. July 3, 2019). He is scheduled to be executed on September 4, 2019. After our decision to vacate the order transferring his Rule 60(b)(6) motion to this court, id. at *5, Crut-singer moved for a stay of execution. Finding that Crutsinger fails to demonstrate that the circumstances justify the exercise of our equitable discretion, we deny the motion.


         "[A] stay of execution is an equitable remedy. It is not available as a matter of right, and equity must be sensitive to the [s]tate's strong interest in enforcing its criminal judgments without undue interference from the federal courts." Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 573, 584 (2006); see also Sepulvado v. Jindal, 729 F.3d 413, 420 (5th Cir. 2013).

         "[A] motion to [a court's] discretion is a motion, not to its inclination, but to its judgment; and its judgment is to be guided by sound legal principles." United States v. Burr, 25 F. Cas. 30, 35 (C.C.D. Va. 1807) (No. 14, 692D) (Marshall, C.J.). Consequently, we weigh four factors when deciding whether to grant a stay of execution. Murphy v. Collier, 919 F.3d 913, 915 (5th Cir. 2019) (per curiam); Charles v. Stephens, 612 Fed.Appx. 214, 218 n.7 (5th Cir. 2015) (per curiam); see also Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 425-26 (2009). First, "whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits." Charles, 612 Fed.Appx. at 218 n.7 (citation omitted). Second, "whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay." Id. (citation omitted). Third, "whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding." Id. (citation omitted). And fourth, "where the public interest lies." Id. (citation omitted).

         "The first two factors of the traditional standard are the most critical. It is not enough that the chance of success on the merits be better than negligible." Nken, 556 U.S. at 434 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "Once an applicant satisfies the first two factors, the traditional stay inquiry calls for assessing the harm to the opposing party and weighing the public interest." Id. at 435. Moreover, "[t]hese factors merge when the Government is the opposing party," id., and "courts must be mindful that the Government's role as the respondent in every . . . proceeding does not make the public interest in each individual one negligible," id.



         Crutsinger asserts that he has "made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed" on the merits of his claim such that "this case should proceed in federal court without the pressures of a state execution setting." He highlights our determination that his Rule 60(b)(6) motion was not a second-or-successive habeas petition, while emphasizing that the dissent "conclude[d] that . . . Crutsinger's motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) should be granted" (quoting Crutsinger, 2019 WL 2864445, at *5 (Graves, J., dissenting)). Therefore, he maintains that he has satisfied the first factor.

         In response, the state contends that "Crutsinger cannot demonstrate a strong likelihood of success on the merits." The state cites precedent establishing that "a movant seeking relief under Rule 60(b)(6) [must] show 'extraordinary circumstances' justifying the reopening of a final judgment." Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 535 (2005) (citation omitted). "Such circumstances will rarely occur in the habeas context." Id. Moreover, the state avers that "the Supreme Court has made abundantly clear that mere changes in decisional law are hardly extraordinary."

         The state also maintains that the various cases relied upon by Crut-singer to justify relief under Rule 60(b)(6)-i.e., Ayestas v. Davis, 138 S.Ct. 1080 (2018), Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U.S. 413 (2013), and Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012)-are merely changes in decisional law insufficient to warrant such relief. In fact, the state emphasizes that our precedent forecloses any reliance on Martinez or Trevino.[1] Moreover, the state asserts that if, as in Gonzalez, "a change in law that entirely precluded merits review is not sufficient to warrant Rule 60(b)(6) relief," then, as in Ayestas, "a change in the law on a lesser matter-funding to possibly support a claim for relief- necessarily cannot warrant Rule 60(b)(6) relief." Consequently, the state concludes that "Crutsinger . . . wholly fails to establish extraordinary circumstances or that he is likely to succeed on the merits of his claims."

         The state's conclusion accords with our decision in Crutsinger. Though acknowledging that we were without jurisdiction to make a merits determination on his Rule 60(b)(6) motion, we underscored that Crutsinger was unlikely to establish that "extraordinary circumstances" exist to justify the reopening of the final judgment because "not every interpretation of the federal statutes setting forth the requirements for habeas provides cause for reopening cases long since final." Crutsinger, 2019 WL 2864445, at *4 (quoting Gonzalez, 545 U.S. at 536). Crutsinger's motion, with its focus on mere changes in deci-sional law, provides ...

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