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Spiegelmann v. Erfe

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 29, 2018




         On November 27, 2017, the petitioner, Stephen E. Spiegelmann, an inmate currently confined at Cheshire Correctional Institution in Cheshire, Connecticut, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, against the facility's warden, Scott Erfe.[1] The respondent moved to dismiss the petition on March 2, 2018, arguing that the petitioner has failed to exhaust his state court remedies with respect to the claims raised in the petition. Resp't's Mot. to Dismiss (“Resp't's Mot.”) (Dkt. No. 12); Resp't's Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (“Resp't's Mem.”) (Dkt. No. 12-1). The petitioner filed a memorandum of law in opposition to the respondent's motion on March 16, 2018. Pet'r's Mem. in Resp. to Resp't's Mot. to Dismiss (“Pet'r's Mem.”) (Dkt. No. 13). For the following reasons, the respondent's motion to dismiss is GRANTED and the petition for writ of habeas corpus is DISMISSED without prejudice subject to refiling.

         I. Standard of Review

         This Court reviews a motion to dismiss a habeas petition according to the same principles as a motion to dismiss a civil complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Purdy v. Bennett, 214 F.Supp.2d 348, 353 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). To survive a motion to dismiss, the petition “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The Court must accept as true the factual allegations in the petition and draw all reasonable inferences in the petitioner's favor. Id.

         In deciding a motion to dismiss a habeas petition, “[t]he Court must confine its consideration to facts stated on the face of the [p]etition, in documents appended to the [p]etition or incorporated in the [p]etition by reference, and to matters of which judicial notice may be taken.” Williams v. Breslin, 274 F.Supp.2d 421, 425 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (internal quotations omitted). “Where . . . the [petition] was filed pro se, it must be construed liberally with ‘special solicitude' and interpreted to raise the strongest claims that it suggests.” Hogan v. Fischer, 738 F.3d 509, 515 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011)). This principle does not, however, apply to the legal conclusions that the petitioner draws in the petition. Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678.

         A prerequisite to habeas corpus relief under § 2254 is the exhaustion of available state remedies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999). The Second Circuit requires the district court to conduct a two-part inquiry. First, a petitioner must present the factual and legal bases of his federal claim to the highest state court capable of reviewing it. Second, he must have utilized all available means to secure appellate review of his claims. See Galdamez v. Keane, 394 F.3d 68, 73-74 (2d Cir. 2005). The petitioner must litigate all claims in state court before he may litigate those claims in federal court. See Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 515-22 (1982). Failure to exhaust state remedies may be excused only if “there is no opportunity to obtain redress in state court or if the corrective process is so clearly deficient to render futile any effort to obtain relief.” Duckworth v. Serrano, 454 U.S. 1, 3 (1981) (per curiam); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(B).

         In Zarvela v. Artuz, 254 F.3d 374 (2d Cir. 2001), the Second Circuit held that a district judge, when confronted with a “mixed petition” containing both exhausted and unexhausted habeas claims has discretion either to dismiss the petition in its entirety or dismiss only the unexhausted claims and stay the balance of the petition. In some cases, as in Zarvela, a stay of the petition is more appropriate because “an outright dismissal could jeopardize the timeliness of a collateral attack.” Id. at 380 (quoting Freeman v. Page, 208 F.3d 572, 577 (7th Cir. 2000)); see also Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 181 (2001) (pendency of first federal habeas petition did not toll limitations period under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2)).

         More recently, in Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 277 (2005), the United States Supreme Court held that staying a mixed petition “decreas[es] a petitioner's incentive to exhaust all his claims in state court prior to filing his federal petition.” It permits a petitioner to delay resolution of his federal proceedings. Id. Therefore, the Court held that “stay and abeyance is only appropriate when the district court determines there was good cause for the petitioner's failure to exhaust his claims first in state court.” Id. Even if he had good cause for failure to exhaust, the district court should not grant stay if the unexhausted claims are plainly meritless. Id.

         II. Procedural History

         The history of the petitioner's state criminal proceedings and post-conviction proceedings are not disputed.

         On October 17, 2001, the petitioner was convicted after a jury trial of three counts of sexual assault in the first degree, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-70(a)(2), two counts of risk of injury to a child, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (Rev. to 1997) § 53-21(1), one count of risk of injury to a child, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (Rev. to 1997) § 53a-21(2), and one count of unlawful restraint in the first degree, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-95(a). State v. Spiegelmann, 81 Conn.App. 441, 443 (2004), Rep't Ex. F (Dkt. No. 12-10); Direct Appeal R., Resp't Ex. A (Dkt. No. 12-5) at 32. The trial court sentenced him to sixty years of incarceration. Spiegelmann, 81 Conn.App. at 443.

         The petition appealed his convictions on three grounds: (1) the trial court improperly permitted the state to introduce highly prejudicial pornographic material seized from his home without proof that the victim had been exposed to such material; (2) the prosecutor engaged in impropriety during cross-examination of the petitioner and during closing argument; and (3) the trial court improperly admitted prejudicial hearsay evidence under the constancy of accusation doctrine. Pet'r's Appellate Ct. Br., Resp't Ex. B (Dkt. No. 12-6) at 3-4. The Connecticut Appellate Court rejected the petitioner's claims and affirmed the trial court's judgment. Spiegelmann, 81 Conn.App. at 443. On April 7, 2004, the Connecticut Supreme Court denied the petitioner's petition for certification to appeal the Appellate Court's decision. State v. Spiegelmann, 268 Conn. 921 (2004), Rep't Ex. H (Dkt. No. 12-12).

         Seven months later, the petitioner filed his first petition for writ of habeas corpus in state court. Spiegelmann v. Warden, No. CV044000190, Santos., J., 2010 WL 3672347 (Conn. Super. Ct. Aug. 26, 2010). He claimed that his trial counsel, Martin McQuillan, was ineffective by failing to: (a) conduct sufficient consultation regarding the state's medical evidence; (b) meaningfully challenge the state's medical testimony; (c) present medical testimony to support the petitioner's innocence; (d) introduce medical reports concerning the victim's behavior and mental health; (e) object to constancy of accusation witnesses; (f) object to the prosecutor's cross-examination of the petitioner; (g) conduct sufficient expert consultation concerning criminal child sexual abuse; and (h) present expert testimony on criminal child sexual abuse. Id. at *1; State Habeas Appeal R., Resp't Ex. I (Dkt. No. 12-13) at 8, 11. The petitioner also claimed that his appellate counsel, Anthony David Grudberg, ineffectively represented him during direct appeal by failing to: (a) challenge the trial court's admission of testimony from constancy of accusation witnesses that the victim had told them about oral, anal, and vaginal contact with the petitioner; and (b) thoroughly address all of the prosecutor's improprieties during trial and conduct a harmless error analysis. Spiegelmann, 2010 WL 3672347, *1; State Habeas Appeal R., Resp't Ex. I at 9-10.

         At trial, the state habeas court heard testimony from the petitioner, McQuillan, Grudberg, two legal expert witnesses, a forensic pathologist, and a forensic psychologist and reviewed the criminal trial transcripts. Spiegelmann, 2010 WL 3672347, *1. Afterwards, the state habeas court denied the petition, concluding that the petitioner had failed to prove either ...

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