Cowart #429602 v. Smith
OPINION; signed by Judge Robert J. Jonker (Judge Robert J. Jonker, ymc)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
ALGENARD DION COWART,
Case No. 1:11-cv-529
Honorable Robert J. Jonker
WILLIE O. SMITH,
This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
Promptly after the filing of a petition for habeas corpus, the Court must undertake a preliminary
review of the petition to determine whether “it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any
exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4, RULES
GOVERNING § 2254 CASES; see 28 U.S.C. § 2243. If so, the petition must be summarily dismissed.
Rule 4; see Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970) (district court has the duty to “screen
out” petitions that lack merit on their face). A dismissal under Rule 4 includes those petitions which
raise legally frivolous claims, as well as those containing factual allegations that are palpably
incredible or false. Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1999). After undertaking the
review required by Rule 4, the Court will dismiss the petition without prejudice for failure to exhaust
available state-court remedies.
Petitioner Algenard Dion Cowart presently is incarcerated at the Carson City
Correctional Facility. Following a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of assault with intent to
commit murder, MICH . COMP. LAWS § 750.83, being a felon in possession of a firearm, MICH . COMP .
LAWS § 750.224f, and two counts of possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, MICH .
COMP . LAWS § 750.227b. On July 2, 2008, the Oakland County Circuit Court sentenced him, as a
fourth felony offender, MICH . COMP . LAWS § 769.12, to two concurrent prison terms of 40 to 80
years on the assault and felon-in-possession convictions, to be served consecutively to two five-year
prison terms for the felony-firearm convictions.
Petitioner appealed his convictions to both the Michigan Court of Appeals and the
Michigan Supreme Court, raising three issues: (1) violation of due process by the admission of
graphic photographs; (2) prosecutorial misconduct through vouching and ineffective assistance of
counsel in failing to object; and (3) improper scoring of the sentencing guidelines. In an unpublished
opinion issued January 5, 2010, the court of appeals affirmed Petitioner’s convictions and sentences.
The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal on May 25, 2010.
Petitioner filed his habeas application on or about May 16, 2011.1 Together with his
habeas application, Petitioner has filed a motion to stay the proceedings to permit him to file a
motion for relief from judgment in the state courts, raising ten additional claims.
Under Sixth Circuit precedent, the application is deemed filed when handed to prison authorities for
mailing to the federal court. Cook v. Stegall, 295 F.3d 517, 521 (6th Cir. 2002). Petitioner dated his brief in support
of the habeas application on May 16, 2011, and it was received by the Court on May 20, 2011. Thus, it must have
been handed to prison officials for mailing at some time between May 16 and 20. For purposes of this opinion, the
Court has given Petitioner the benefit of the earliest possible filing date. See Brand v. Motley, 526 F.3d 921, 925
(6th Cir. 2008) (holding that the date the prisoner signs the document is deemed under Sixth Circuit law to be the
date of handing to officials) (citing Goins v. Saunders, 206 F. App’x 497, 498 n.1 (6th Cir. 2006)).
Exhaustion of State Court Remedies
Before the Court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner, the prisoner must exhaust
remedies available in the state courts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1); O’Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838,
842 (1999). Exhaustion requires a petitioner to “fairly present” federal claims so that state courts
have a “fair opportunity” to apply controlling legal principles to the facts bearing upon a petitioner’s
constitutional claim. See O’Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 842; Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275-77
(1971), cited in Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995), and Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4,
6 (1982). To fulfill the exhaustion requirement, a petitioner must have fairly presented his federal
claims to all levels of the state appellate system, including the state’s highest court. Duncan, 513
U.S. at 365-66; Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 414 (6th Cir. 2009); Hafley v. Sowders, 902 F.2d
480, 483 (6th Cir. 1990). “[S]tate prisoners must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve
any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State’s established appellate review
process.” O’Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 845. The district court can and must raise the exhaustion issue
sua sponte when it clearly appears that habeas claims have not been presented to the state courts.
See Prather v. Rees, 822 F.2d 1418, 1422 (6th Cir. 1987); Allen, 424 F.2d at 138-39.
Petitioner bears the burden of showing exhaustion. See Rust v. Zent, 17 F.3d 155, 160
(6th Cir. 1994). The petition demonstrates that Petitioner has exhausted the three issues raised on
direct appeal. The remaining ten issues have never been addressed by the Michigan courts and are
An applicant has not exhausted available state remedies if he has the right under state
law to raise, by any available procedure, the question presented. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c). Petitioner has
at least one available procedure by which to raise the issues he has presented in this application. He
may file a motion for relief from judgment under MICH . CT . R. 6.500 et seq. Under Michigan law,
one such motion may be filed after August 1, 1995. MICH . CT . R. 6.502(G)(1). Petitioner has not
yet filed his one allotted motion, though he expresses an intent to do so. Therefore, the Court
concludes that he has at least one available state remedy.
Because Petitioner has some claims that are exhausted and some that are not, his
petition is “mixed.” Under Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 22 (1982), district courts are directed to
dismiss mixed petitions without prejudice in order to allow petitioners to return to state court to
exhaust remedies. However, since the habeas statute was amended to impose a one-year statute of
limitations on habeas claims, see 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1), dismissal without prejudice often
effectively precludes future federal habeas review. This is particularly true after the Supreme Court
ruled in Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 181-82 (2001), that the limitations period is not tolled
during the pendency of a federal habeas petition. As a result, the Sixth Circuit adopted a stay-andabeyance procedure to be applied to mixed petitions. See Palmer v. Carlton, 276 F.3d 777, 781 (6th
Cir. 2002). In Palmer, the Sixth Circuit held that when the dismissal of a mixed petition could
jeopardize the timeliness of a subsequent petition, the district court should dismiss only the
unexhausted claims and stay further proceedings on the remaining portion until the petitioner has
exhausted his claims in the state court. Id.; see also Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 277 (2007)
(approving stay-and-abeyance procedure, but only if good cause exists for the failure to exhaust
before filing in federal court); Griffin v. Rogers, 308 F.3d 647, 652 n.1 (6th Cir. 2002).
Petitioner’s application is subject to the one-year statute of limitations provided in
28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). Under § 2244(d)(1)(A), the one-year limitation period runs from “the date
on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time
for seeking such review.” Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Michigan Court of Appeals and
Michigan Supreme Court. The Michigan Supreme Court denied his application on May 25, 2010.
Petitioner did not petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, though the ninety-day
period in which he could have sought review in the United States Supreme Court is counted under
§ 2244(d)(1)(A). See Bronaugh v. Ohio, 235 F.3d 280, 283 (6th Cir. 2000). The ninety-day period
expired on Monday, August 23, 2010. Accordingly, absent tolling, Petitioner would have one year,
or until August 23, 2011, in which to file his habeas petition.
The Palmer Court has indicated that thirty days is a reasonable amount of time for
a petitioner to file a motion for post-conviction relief in state court, and another thirty days is a
reasonable amount of time for a petitioner to return to federal court after he has exhausted his statecourt remedies.2 Palmer, 276 F.3d at 721; Griffin, 308 F.3d at 653 (holding that sixty days amounts
to mandatory period of equitable tolling under Palmer); see also Rhines, 544 U.S. at 278 (requiring
restrictive timelines for the grant of a stay and approving the 60-day period). Petitioner has more
than sixty days remaining in his limitations period. Assuming that Petitioner diligently pursues his
state-court remedies and promptly returns to this Court after the Michigan Supreme Court issues its
decision, he is not in danger of running afoul of the statute of limitations. Therefore a stay of these
proceedings is not warranted. Should Plaintiff decide not to pursue his unexhausted claims in the
state courts, he may file a new petition raising only exhausted claims at any time before the
expiration of the limitations period.
The running of the statute of limitations is tolled while “a properly filed application for State postconviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending.” 28 U.S.C.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will dismiss the petition for failure to exhaust
available state-court remedies.
Certificate of Appealability
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2), the Court must determine whether a certificate of
appealability should be granted. A certificate should issue if Petitioner has demonstrated a
“substantial showing of a denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). This Court’s
dismissal of Petitioner’s action under Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases is a determination
that the habeas action, on its face, lacks sufficient merit to warrant service. It would be highly
unlikely for this Court to grant a certificate, thus indicating to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that
an issue merits review, when the Court already has determined that the action is so lacking in merit
that service is not warranted. See Love v. Butler, 952 F.2d 10 (1st Cir. 1991) (it is “somewhat
anomalous” for the court to summarily dismiss under Rule 4 and grant a certificate); Hendricks v.
Vasquez, 908 F.2d 490 (9th Cir. 1990) (requiring reversal where court summarily dismissed under
Rule 4 but granted certificate); Dory v. Comm’r of Corr. of the State of New York, 865 F.2d 44, 46
(2d Cir. 1989) (it was “intrinsically contradictory” to grant a certificate when habeas action does not
warrant service under Rule 4); Williams v. Kullman, 722 F.2d 1048, 1050 n.1 (2d Cir. 1983) (issuing
certificate would be inconsistent with a summary dismissal).
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has disapproved the issuance of blanket denials
of a certificate of appealability. Murphy v. Ohio, 263 F.3d 466 (6th Cir. 2001). Rather, the district
court must “engage in a reasoned assessment of each claim” to determine whether a certificate is
warranted. Id. at 467. Each issue must be considered under the standards set forth by the Supreme
Court in Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473 (2000). Murphy, 263 F.3d at 467. Consequently, this
Court has examined each of Petitioner’s claims under the Slack standard.
This Court denied Petitioner’s application on the procedural ground of lack of
exhaustion. Under Slack, 529 U.S. at 484, when a habeas petition is denied on procedural grounds,
a certificate of appealability may issue only “when the prisoner shows, at least,  that jurists of
reason would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid claim of the denial of a
constitutional right and  that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the district court
was correct in its procedural ruling.” Both showings must be made to warrant the grant of a
certificate. Id. The Court finds that reasonable jurists could not debate that this Court correctly
dismissed the petition on the procedural ground of lack of exhaustion. “Where a plain procedural bar
is present and the district court is correct to invoke it to dispose of the case, a reasonable jurist could
not conclude either that the district court erred in dismissing the petition or that the petitioner should
be allowed to proceed further.” Id. Therefore, the Court denies Petitioner a certificate of
A Judgment consistent with this Opinion will be entered.
June 20, 2011
/s/ Robert J. Jonker
ROBERT J. JONKER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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