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Sills v. Litteral

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah

January 16, 2019

DENNIS EARL SILLS PETITIONER
v.
KATHY LITTERAL, Warden RESPONDENT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS B. RUSSELL, SENIOR JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Dennis Sills's Motion to Reopen the Case pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [R. 23]. The Respondent has filed a response. [R. 27]. Fully briefed, Sills's motion is ripe for review, and for the following reasons, it is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Dennis Sills was found guilty of murdering Lisa Roach and sentenced to thirty-five years' imprisonment by a Christian County, Kentucky Jury. [R. 17 at 1]. The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed Sills's conviction on direct appeal. Sills v. Commonwealth, No. 2016-SC-000292-MR, 2017 WL 3631962 (Ky. Aug. 24, 2017). On direct appeal, Sills presented one claim: “The trial court erred in allowing improper hearsay evidence of prior bad acts.” [R. 13-1 at 41 (Sills's brief to Kentucky Supreme Court on direct appeal)]. Prior to filing his petition, Sills did not file any post-conviction collateral attack proceeding in state court. [R. 17 at 1]. The only claim that Sills has presented to the state courts is the trial error claim presented on direct appeal. Id. After the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed Sills's conviction, he filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 with this Court. [R. 1]. On November 9, 2018, this Court dismissed Sills's petition for habeas corpus because all his claims were either unexhausted, procedurally defaulted, or both. [R. 19].

         Sills now moves the Court to reopen, stay, and hold his case in abeyance until he exhausts his state law claims. [R. 23]. Sills did not request a “stay and abeyance” prior to the dismissal of his petition. Instead, Sills waited to raise this argument in his Rule 60(b) motion now before the Court.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Relief under Rule 60(b) is “circumscribed by public policy favoring finality of judgments and termination of litigation.” Davis v. Jellico Community Hosp., Inc., 912 F.2d 129, 33 (6th Cir. 1990). Under Rule 60(b)(5), a “court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding” if “the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or applying it prospectively is no longer equitable. . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(5).

         Under Rule 60(b)(6), a “court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding” for “any other reason that justifies relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6). “[R]elief under Rule 60(b)(6) . . . requires a showing of extraordinary circumstances.” Gonzales v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 536 (2005) (quotations omitted). “[C]ourts must apply Rule 60(b)(6) relief only in ‘unusual and extreme situations where principles of equity mandate relief.” Blue Diamond Coal Co. v. Trustees of UMWA Combined Ben. Fund, 249 F.3d 519, 524 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Olle v. Henry & Wright Corp., 910 F.2d 357, 365 (6th Cir. 1990) (emphasis in original)).

         DISCUSSION

         In his motion to reopen his case, Sills presents two arguments. First, Sills argues that his case should not have been dismissed because the Court should have granted him a “stay and abeyance.” Second, Sills argues that the Court failed to consider that his procedurally defaulted claims “could be raised in the state court as [ineffective assistance of counsel] claims.” [R. 23 at 3]. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         I. Stay and Abeyance.

         “Rule 60(b) does not allow a defeated litigant a second chance to convince the court to rule in his or her favor by presenting new explanations, legal theories, or proof.” Tyler v. Anderson, 749 F.3d 499, 509 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Jinks v. Alliedsignal, Inc., 250 F.3d 381, 385 (6th Cir. 2001)). In this case, Sills did not raise his argument that he is entitled to a “stay and abeyance” in his objection to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. Sills also declined to raise this argument in his petition for habeas corpus and his reply to the Defendant's response to his petition. In fact, Sills never argued that the Court should stay his petition for habeas corpus before this Court dismissed his petition. Because Sills did not argue that the court should grant him a “stay and abeyance” prior to the dismissal of his petition, he is precluded from raising that argument in this Rule 60(b) motion. See Wheeler v. United States, No. 17-3906, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 23983, *5-6 (6th Cir. Aug. 23, 2018). Therefore, Sills's motion is DENIED.

         Even if Sills had argued that he was entitled to a “stay and abeyance” in his petition for habeas corpus or objection to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the Court still would have dismissed his case. Instead of dismissing a petition for habeas corpus due to the petitioner's failure to exhaust state-court claims, a district court may grant the petitioner a stay and hold his petition in abeyance if: (1) the petitioner had good cause for his failure to exhaust his state-court claims; (2) his unexhausted claims are not plainly meritless; and (3) there is no indication that the petitioner engaged in intentionally dilatory tactics. Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 278 (2005). “[S]tay and abeyance should be available only in limited circumstances.” Id. at 277. “Stay and abeyance, if employed too frequently, has the potential to undermine” the purposes of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). Id. “Staying a federal habeas petition frustrates AEDPA's objective of encouraging finality” and “undermines AEDPA's goal of streamlining federal habeas proceedings. . . .” Id.

         In this case, Sills does not have “good cause” for his failure to exhaust his state-court claims. Although the Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit have provided little guidance on what constitutes good cause, this Court has adopted the more lenient standard articulated by the Nevada district court in Riner v. Crawford 415 F.Supp.2d 1207 (D. Nev. 2006). See Cross v. White, ...


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