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Lafferty v. Crowther

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

January 9, 2018

RONALD WATSON LAFFERTY, Petitioner,
v.
SCOTT CROWTHER, Warden, Utah State Prison, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          Dee Benson, United States District Judge.

         Pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Petitioner Ronald Watson Lafferty requests that this court alter or amend the judgment entered on October 5, 2017 (ECF No. 411), related to the court's decision issued on October 4, 2017 (ECF No. 410). Lafferty asserts that the court committed clear error in its denial of claim ten (partial) of his Second Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.[1] The State notes in its opposition to the motion, that Lafferty bases his request on a proffer of juror questionnaires that were not part of the state court record when the Utah Supreme Court rejected the claim. Lafferty failed to disclose in his motion that this court has ruled that the extra-record proffer is both inadmissible in this proceeding and unable to show juror bias in any event. ECF No. 413 at 2. Rather than responding to the State's argument, Lafferty filed a motion to strike Respondent's opposition memorandum, claiming that neither Rule 59(e) itself nor the local rules provide for a response (opposition) or reply to a Rule 59(e) motion. ECF No. 414. The court disagrees, and hereby denies both the Motion to Strike and the Motion to Alter or Amend.

         I. Standard for Granting a Motion to Alter or Amend

         Under Rule 59(e), a court may alter or amend a judgment it has entered if there is “(1) an intervening change in the controlling law, (2) new evidence previously unavailable, and (3) the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Servants of the Paraclete v. Does, 204 F.3d 1005, 1012 (10th Cir. 2000) (citing Brumark Corp. v. Samson Resources Corp., 57 F.3d 941, 948 (10th Cir. 1995)). A Rule 59(e) motion is “appropriate where the court has misapprehended the facts, a party's position, or the controlling law.” Servants of the Paraclete, at 1012. “It is not appropriate to revisit issues already addressed or advance arguments that could have been raised in prior briefing.” Id. (citing Van Skiver v. United States, 952 F.2d 1241, 1243 (10th Cir. 1991)).

         II. Analysis

         A. The court order was not clearly erroneous in concluding that Lafferty failed to establish that he was tried by a biased jury.

         Lafferty raises only Rule 59(e)'s third ground, arguing that this court committed “clear error” when rejecting his claim that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to appeal the denial of the motion to change venue. In rejecting the claim, the court first noted the Utah Supreme Court's holding that Lafferty had pointed to “'no evidence of a tainted jury, '” which was a prerequisite to establish both elements of his appellate-attorney ineffectiveness claim. ECF No. 410 at 23. The Utah Supreme Court held the following: “Without evidence of prejudice, Lafferty cannot show that counsel was deficient for overlooking an obvious argument that probably would have resulted in reversal on appeal.” Lafferty v. State, 175 P.3d 530, 540 (2008).

         Lafferty argues that there were a large number of prospective jurors who had already determined that he was guilty based upon their exposure to press coverage (ECF No. 39 at 243-49), and that jurors who were actually biased served on his jury. He relies principally on juror questionnaires from Jurors 82, 105, and 213 to argue that biased jurors sat.

         These juror questionnaires were an extra-record proffer that Lafferty had not presented to the state supreme court. In his current motion to alter or amend, he fails to disclose that this court has already denied his motion to expand the record to include this proffer, holding that it is inadmissible in this proceeding. ECF No. 399 at 3-4, 7.

         He also fails to disclose that this court addressed the substance of the questionnaires when rejecting his Martinez motion and determined that they refute his claims of bias on their face. ECF No. 400 at 11 (ruling that questionnaires from Jurors 82 and 105 “on their face refute Mr. Lafferty's bias claim” and that “Juror 213's questionnaire would have dispelled any concerns counsel had about her religious beliefs”). Even if the juror questionnaires were admissible in this proceeding, which the court has held they are not, the court has thoroughly addressed the substance of the questionnaires and why they do not indicate that Lafferty's jury was biased. See ECF No. 400 at 8-15 for a detailed discussion.

         B. The court's ruling did not incorrectly interpret clearly established federal law.

         In its opinion, the Utah Supreme Court held the following:

[O]n his first appeal, Lafferty's counsel, the same counsel who represented him on his second direct appeal, did challenge the denial of his motion to change venue. [citation omitted] This court rejected that challenge because the totality of the circumstances provided no basis for concluding that the trial court should distrust the jurors' assurances of impartiality. [citation omitted] And Lafferty provides no ...

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