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Ruise v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

October 23, 2019

ANTHONY RUISE, Petitioner,



         I. Status

         Petitioner Anthony Ruise, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action with the assistance of counsel on February 27, 2017, by filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Petition; Doc. 1). In the Petition, Ruise challenges a 2010 state court (Duval County, Florida) judgment of conviction for sexual battery. Ruise raises eight grounds for relief. See Petition at 5-27.[1] Respondents have submitted a memorandum in opposition to the Petition. See Response to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Response; Doc. 21) with exhibits (Resp. Ex.). Ruise filed a brief in reply. See Reply to the State's Response to the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Reply; Doc. 23). This case is ripe for review.

         II. Relevant Procedural History

         On October 13, 2008, the State of Florida (State) charged Ruise by way of Information with one count of sexual battery. Resp. Ex. B1 at 13. Ruise proceeded to a jury trial, at the conclusion of which the jury found Ruise guilty as charged, with a specific finding that Ruise coerced the victim to submit by threatening to use force or violence likely to cause serious personal injury and the victim reasonably believed that Ruise had the ability to execute the threat. Resp. Ex. B3 at 361. On May 7, 2010, the circuit court sentenced Ruise to a term of incarceration of thirty years in prison and adjudicated him a sexual predator. Id. at 395-96.

         Ruise appealed his judgment and sentence to Florida's First District Court of Appeal (First DCA). Id. at 415. In his initial brief, Ruise contended that (1) the circuit court erred in allowing the State to question him as to the number of his prior convictions for driving under the influence (DUI) and (2) the State made improper arguments to the jury. Resp. Ex. B10. The State filed an answer brief. Resp. Ex. B11. On September 8, 2011, the First DCA per curiam affirmed the judgment and sentence without a written opinion, Resp. Ex. B12, and issued the Mandate on September 26, 2011. Resp. Ex. B13.

         On August 17, 2012, Ruise filed a pro se motion for postconviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. Resp. Ex. C2 at 276. On September 23, 2013, Ruise, with the assistance of counsel, filed an amended motion for postconviction relief pursuant to Rule 3.850 (Rule 3.850 Motion). Resp. Ex. C1 at 1-41. Ruise raised the following claims in his Rule 3.850 Motion, alleging counsel was ineffective for: (1) failing to impeach the victim with prior inconsistent statements; (2) failing to object to a Brady[2] violation; (3) opening the door to the introduction of Ruise's misdemeanor DUI convictions; (4) failing to object to the introduction of collateral crime evidence; (5) failing to object to improper closing arguments; (6) failing to object to a jury instruction; and (7) failing to call a witness. Id. Ruise also raised an eighth ground for relief, which alleged the cumulative effect of counsel's deficient performance prejudiced him. Id. The circuit court denied the Rule 3.850 Motion on November 12, 2015. Resp. Ex. C2 at 276-300. On November 1, 2016, the First DCA per curiam affirmed the denial of the motion without a written opinion, Resp. Ex. C8, and issued the Mandate on November 17, 2016. Resp. Ex. C9.

         III. One-Year Limitations Period

         This proceeding was timely filed within the one-year limitations period. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d).

         IV. Evidentiary Hearing

         In a habeas corpus proceeding, the burden is on the petitioner to establish the need for a federal evidentiary hearing. See Chavez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 647 F.3d 1057, 1060 (11th Cir. 2011). “In deciding whether to grant an evidentiary hearing, a federal court must consider whether such a hearing could enable an applicant to prove the petition's factual allegations, which, if true, would entitle the applicant to federal habeas relief.” Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007); Jones v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 834 F.3d 1299, 1318-19 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 2245 (2017). “It follows that if the record refutes the applicant's factual allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief, a district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing.” Schriro, 550 U.S. at 474. The pertinent facts of this case are fully developed in the record before the Court. Because the Court can “adequately assess [Ruise's] claim[s] without further factual development, ” Turner v. Crosby, 339 F.3d 1247, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003), an evidentiary hearing will not be conducted.

         V. Governing Legal Principles

         A. Standard of Review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) governs a state prisoner's federal petition for habeas corpus. See Ledford v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic & Classification Prison, 818 F.3d 600, 642 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 1432 (2017). “‘The purpose of AEDPA is to ensure that federal habeas relief functions as a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, and not as a means of error correction.'” Id. (quoting Greene v. Fisher, 565 U.S. 34, 38 (2011) (quotation marks omitted)). As such, federal habeas review of final state court decisions is “‘greatly circumscribed' and ‘highly deferential.'” Id. (quoting Hill v. Humphrey, 662 F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2011) (quotation marks omitted)).

         The first task of the federal habeas court is to identify the last state court decision, if any, that adjudicated the claim on the merits. See Marshall v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 828 F.3d 1277, 1285 (11th Cir. 2016). The state court need not issue a written opinion explaining its rationale in order for the state court's decision to qualify as an adjudication on the merits. See Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 100 (2011). Where the state court's adjudication on the merits is unaccompanied by an explanation, the United States Supreme Court has instructed:

[T]he federal court should “look through” the unexplained decision to the last related state-court decision that does provide a relevant rationale. It should then presume that the unexplained decision adopted the same reasoning.

Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018). The presumption may be rebutted by showing that the higher state court's adjudication most likely relied on different grounds than the lower state court's reasoned decision, such as persuasive alternative grounds that were briefed or argued to the higher court or obvious in the record it reviewed. Id. at 1192, 1196.

         If the claim was “adjudicated on the merits” in state court, § 2254(d) bars relitigation of the claim unless the state court's decision (1) “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;” or (2) “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); Richter, 562 U.S. at 97-98. The Eleventh Circuit describes the limited scope of federal review pursuant to § 2254 as follows:

First, § 2254(d)(1) provides for federal review for claims of state courts' erroneous legal conclusions. As explained by the Supreme Court in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000), § 2254(d)(1) consists of two distinct clauses: a “contrary to” clause and an “unreasonable application” clause. The “contrary to” clause allows for relief only “if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Id. at 413, 120 S.Ct. at 1523 (plurality opinion). The “unreasonable application” clause allows for relief only “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.” Id.
Second, § 2254(d)(2) provides for federal review for claims of state courts' erroneous factual determinations. Section 2254(d)(2) allows federal courts to grant relief only if the state court's denial of the petitioner's claim “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)(2). The Supreme Court has not yet defined § 2254(d)(2)'s “precise relationship” to § 2254(e)(1), which imposes a burden on the petitioner to rebut the state court's factual findings “by clear and convincing evidence.” See Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. ___, ___, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013); accord Brumfield v. Cain, 576 U.S. ___, ___, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2282, 192 L.Ed.2d 356 (2015). Whatever that “precise relationship” may be, “‘a state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'”[3] Titlow, 571 U.S. at ___, 134 S.Ct. at 15 (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301, 130 S.Ct. 841, 849, 175 L.Ed.2d 738 (2010)).

Tharpe v. Warden, 834 F.3d 1323, 1337 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 2298 (2017). Also, deferential review under § 2254(d) generally is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits. See Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 182 (2011) (stating the language in § 2254(d)(1)'s “requires an examination of the state-court decision at the time it was made”).

         Thus, “AEDPA erects a formidable barrier to federal habeas relief for prisoners whose claims have been adjudicated in state court.” Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 16 (2013). “Federal courts may grant habeas relief only when a state court blundered in a manner so ‘well understood and comprehended in existing law' and ‘was so lacking in justification' that ‘there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree.'” Tharpe, 834 F.3d at 1338 (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 102-03). This standard is “meant to be” a “difficult” one to meet. Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. Thus, to the extent that the petitioner's claims were adjudicated on the merits in the state courts, they must be evaluated under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         B. Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel

         “The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the effective assistance of counsel. That right is denied when a defense attorney's performance falls below an objective standard of reasonableness and thereby prejudices the defense.” Yarborough v. Gentry, 540 U.S. 1, 5 (2003) (per curiam) (citing Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 521 (2003), and Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)).

To establish deficient performance, a person challenging a conviction must show that “counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” [Strickland, ] 466 U.S. at 688, 104 S.Ct. 2052. A court considering a claim of ineffective assistance must apply a “strong presumption” that counsel's representation was within the “wide range” of reasonable professional assistance. Id., at 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052. The challenger's burden is to show “that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id., at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052.
With respect to prejudice, a challenger must demonstrate “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id., at 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052. It is not enough “to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.” Id., at 693, 104 S.Ct. 2052. Counsel's errors must be “so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Id., at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052.

Richter, 562 U.S. at 104. The Eleventh Circuit has recognized “the absence of any ironclad rule requiring a court to tackle one prong of the Strickland test before the other.” Ward, 592 F.3d at 1163. Since both prongs of the two-part Strickland test must be satisfied to show a Sixth Amendment violation, “a court need not address the performance prong if the petitioner cannot meet the prejudice prong, and vice-versa.” Id. (citing Holladay v. Haley, 209 F.3d 1243, 1248 (11th Cir. 2000)). As stated in Strickland: “If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice, which we expect will often be so, that course should be followed.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697.

         A state court's adjudication of an ineffectiveness claim is accorded great deference.

“[T]he standard for judging counsel's representation is a most deferential one.” Richter, - U.S. at -, 131 S.Ct. at 788. But “[e]stablishing that a state court's application of Strickland was unreasonable under § 2254(d) is all the more difficult. The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both highly deferential, and when the two apply in tandem, review is doubly so.” Id. (citations and quotation marks omitted). “The question is not whether a federal court believes the state court's determination under the Strickland standard was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable -a substantially higher threshold.” Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123, 129 S.Ct. 1411, 1420, 173 L.Ed.2d 251 (2009) (quotation marks omitted). If there is “any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard, ” then a federal court may not disturb a state-court decision denying the claim. Richter, - U.S. at -, 131 S.Ct. at 788.

Hittson v. GDCP Warden, 759 F.3d 1210, 1248 (11th Cir. 2014); Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123 (2009). In other words, “[i]n addition to the deference to counsel's performance mandated by Strickland, the AEDPA adds another layer of deference--this one to a state court's decision--when we are considering whether to grant federal habeas relief from a state court's decision.” Rutherford v. Crosby, 385 F.3d 1300, 1309 (11th Cir. 2004). As such, “[s]urmounting Strickland's high bar is never an easy task.” Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 371 (2010).

         VI. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

         A. Ground One

         Ruise alleges that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to impeach the victim's trial testimony with her deposition testimony. Petition at 5-7. Specifically, he contends counsel should have impeached the victim's trial testimony that she had $50, $8 of which she used on food, with her deposition testimony that she did not have money for a taxi. Id. at 5-6. Also, Ruise asserts the victim's trial testimony that Ruise was following her on the side of the road but did not touch her by the time a woman in a car had stopped to check on her should have been impeached with her deposition testimony that Ruise had grabbed her shoulder and she pushed him away when the car stopped. Id. at 6. Ruise further notes that in her deposition, the victim stated she did not recall “any of the key events that occurred” that night, which counsel should have used to impeach her trial testimony that provided specific details about the sequence of events. Id. According to Ruise, this case came down to a credibility determination between Ruise and the victim and counsel's failure to impeach the victim and impugn her credibility prejudiced the outcome of the trial. Id. at 6-7.

         Ruise raised a similar claim in his Rule 3.850 Motion. Resp. Ex. C1 at 11-17. The circuit court denied this claim, explaining:

This Court is unpersuaded the outcome of Defendant's trial would have been different had counsel impeached the victim as Defendant now suggests. First, in counsels' Motion for New Trial, upon which the trial court held a full hearing, counsel argued the trial court erred in sustaining numerous objections by the State during the victim's testimony. One of the issues counsel raised involved trial court error for sustaining the State's objection to the victim's testimony about the woman in the car who asked the victim if she needed help. It is noteworthy these issues were reviewed on appeal through Defendant's Statement of Judicial Acts to be Reviewed. As noted supra, the First DCA subsequently affirmed Defendant's conviction.
Second, throughout counsel's entire cross- examination of the victim, he exhaustively questioned her about her alcohol consumption during the night of the incident. Counsel specifically elicited from the victim that she consumed at least ten alcoholic beverages while she socialized at a nightclub before the incident. Such questioning served to show the jury they should not believe the victim's testimony because she was intoxicated and therefore her memory, and her ability to remember the events, was distorted and inaccurate.
Counsel further questioned the victim about her ability to remember the full names of her friends with whom she socialized, but she could not recall the full names of her roommates who allowed her to “crash” at their apartment rent-free for months. Counsel also elicited from the victim that she once knew a white man named Anthony, and Defendant is a “light-colored black man” named Anthony. In addition, counsel asked the victim if she previously told investigators someone followed her to Denny's, and she testified she did not tell investigators such information. Finally, the record indicates counsel did question the victim about the sequence of when the vehicle stopped and the woman asked her if she needed a ride, and the victim testified in accordance with her testimony during direct examination.
As such, the record reflects counsel did impeach the victim's credibility, albeit on several different, more favorable grounds for impeachment than those suggested by Defendant. This Court finds counsel's impeachment of the victim on these different grounds served the same purpose as impeachment of her on the basis suggested by Defendant. See Ellis, 622 So.2d at 996 n.3.[4] Through his questioning, counsel attempted to show the jury that because the victim demonstrated she had a poor memory and drank a large quantity of alcohol during the night of the incident, the jury should not find credence in her testimony. Accordingly, in light of counsel's impeachment of the victim on other grounds, this Court cannot find the jury would have completely discredited the victim's version of events had counsel impeached her based on the grounds suggested by Defendant. This Court finds Defendant has failed to demonstrate prejudice in this respect as required by Strickland, and Ground One is denied.

Resp. Ex. C2 at 279-82 (record citations omitted). The First DCA affirmed the denial of this claim without a written opinion. Resp. Exs. C8; C9.

         To the extent that the First DCA decided the claim on the merits, [5] the Court will address the claim in accordance with the deferential standard for federal court review of state court adjudications. After a review of the record and the applicable law, the Court concludes that the state court's adjudication of this claim was not contrary to clearly established federal law, did not involve an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, and was not based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings. Thus, Ruise is not entitled to relief on the basis of this claim.

         Even if the state appellate court's adjudication of the claim is not entitled to deference, this claim is without merit. A review of the victim's deposition reflects that when the defense counsel asked if calling a cab was an option, the victim stated “I didn't have the money for a cab. . . . It's like $7 just to go down the street. . . . I could have kept the $7 and ate a burger.” Resp. Ex. B2 at 250. However, several questions later in the deposition, when counsel asked her if she paid for her meal at Denny's after leaving the night club, the victim stated she paid for her own meal with a $50 bill and received two $20 bills in return. Id. at 257-58. Notably, at trial, the victim testified she paid her bill at Denny's with a $50 bill. Resp. Ex. B4 at 47. The victim further testified during her deposition that the remaining $40 was needed to repay her roommate and buy groceries. Resp. Ex. B2 at 258. Reading the victim's deposition testimony in context, it appears as if she stated she did not have money for a cab because she did not want to waste it on a cab when she could get food and that the remaining cash was earmarked to repay a debt and buy groceries. Accordingly, had Ruise's counsel attempted to impeach the victim with her deposition testimony as Ruise suggests, the State would have been able to rehabilitate the victim with her other statements during the deposition that are in conformance with her trial testimony. As such, there is no reasonable probability the outcome of the trial would have been different had counsel impeached the victim on this issue.

         Concerning the interaction with the vehicle, in her deposition, the victim stated Ruise grabbed her shoulder prior to the good Samaritan stopping her car. Id. at 269, 273-74. But at trial, she testified Ruise grabbed her shoulder immediately after the car left. Resp. Ex. B4 at 51. The Court finds this small temporal discrepancy would not have seriously impacted the victim's credibility because the core of the victim's account of that night remained the same. A driver pulled over to the side of the road to ask if the victim was alright or needed help, the victim stated Ruise was bothering her and asked the driver to call the police, the driver apparently did not call the police, and Ruise sexually battered the victim. Id. at 48-60. These operative facts remained the same; therefore, the Court finds there is no reasonable probability the outcome of the trial would have been different had counsel impeached the victim in this manner.

         As to Ruise's contention that the victim could not correctly recall the entire sequence of events that night, her deposition reflects that she gave detailed descriptions of that night and the incident, from why she left her apartment, to the specific drinks she consumed at the club, to who was present at various places, and how Ruise sexually battered her. Resp. Ex. B2 at 191-358. Accordingly, the record refutes Ruise's allegations to the extent he claims the victim's deposition testimony would have highlighted her inability to remember events.

         Finally, the record reflects that trial counsel thoroughly cross-examined the victim, albeit on different matters than those Ruise alleges here. Resp. Ex. B4 at 69-92. For instance, counsel questioned the victim about her mental health, the amount of alcohol she consumed, a prior crime involving dishonesty, her inability to remember the names of friends and roommates, and with prior inconsistent statements from her deposition. Id. at 77-78, 82-88. As such, counsel did impugn the credibility of the victim. However, the State was even more successful at impugning Ruise's credibility, which is also why this Court now ...

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