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Needham v. State

United States District Court, D. Utah

September 27, 2018

STATE OF UTAH, Respondent.


          JILL N. PARRISH United States District Judge.

         Before the court are six motions and two supplemental pleadings filed by Petitioner Aaron David Trent Needham: Motion for New Trial (ECF No. 44); Supplemental Pleadings (ECF No. 50 & 52); Motions to Compel Discovery (ECF No. 53 & 61); Motions for Extension of Time (ECF No. 63 & 73); and Motion for Electronic Filing (ECF No. 67). For the reasons stated below the motions are denied or dismissed. The court also denies petitioner a Certificate of Appealability as to the dismissal of his petition for habeas corpus (ECF No. 43) and as to the denial of these motions.


         On January 15, 2013, a jury found Needham guilty of eight counts of communications fraud and one count of pattern of unlawful activity in the Fifth Judicial District Court, Washington County, Utah. He was sentenced on October 2, 2013. State v. Needham, No. 101500067 (5th Judicial Dist. Ct. Washington County, Utah). Needham appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals on June 5, 2014. State v. Needham, 2016 UT App. 235, No. 20140483-CA (2016).

         In July 2014, Needham filed an application for state post-conviction relief under the Utah Post-Conviction Remedies Act in the Fifth Judicial District Court, Washington County, Utah. Needham v. State, No. 140500439 (5th Dist. Ct., Washington County, Utah). On February 6, 2015, the petition was dismissed based on the pendency of the direct appeal. Ruling Dismissing Petition, Needham v. State, No. 140500439 (Feb. 6, 2015).

         On March 3, 2015, Needham filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the U.S. District Court, District of Utah. Needham v. State, No. 2:15-cv-00146-DB (D. Utah 2016). District Court Judge Benson dismissed the petition without prejudice on August 16, 2016, for failure to exhaust state remedies. Needham appealed to the Tenth Circuit on August 29, 2016. The Tenth Circuit denied Needham a certificate of appealability (“COA”) on November 15, 2016 and dismissed the appeal. Needham v. State, No. 16-4157 (10th Cir. Nov. 15, 2016).

         On December 8, 2016, the Utah Court of Appeals affirmed the state court conviction, finally closing the pending direct appeal. State v. Needham, 391 P.3d 295 (Utah Ct. App. 2016). Needham's motion for a rehearing was denied on March 14, 2017. Order, No. 20140483-CA (Utah Ct. App. Mar. 14, 2017).

         On January 30, 2017, Needham received an extension to file his writ of certiorari with the Utah Supreme Court. On April 13, 2017, Needham filed another motion for extension with the Utah Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Utah granted the motion on April 20, giving Needham until May 15, 2017 to file his petition for writ of certiorari and making clear that Rule 48(e) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure would not permit further extensions. State v. Needham, No. 20140483 (Utah April 20, 2017). The Supreme Court denied a second request dated May 4, 2017. Needham did not file a petition for writ of certiorari, but filed a motion to stay and motion to submit for decision on May 16, 2017, which the Utah Supreme Court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

         A day before filing the first motion for an extension in the Utah Supreme Court, on April 12, 2017, Needham filed another petition for writ of habeas corpus in this federal district court.[1]Needham v. State, No. 2:17-cv-00115 (D. Utah).

         Meanwhile, on May 9, 2017, Needham appealed the denial of his post-conviction relief petition to the Utah Court of Appeals. The appeal was dismissed on an order of default. Needham v. State, No. 20170380-CA (Utah. Ct. App. June 5, 2017). This was not appealed.

         On January 11, 2018, this court dismissed the petition for writ of habeas corpus with prejudice, finding that Needham's claims were procedurally defaulted for failure to meet the exhaustion requirement in Utah state court, without an exception that would excuse the failure. ECF No. 42, 43. On January 26, 2018, Needham filed a Motion for New Trial. ECF No. 44. On February 28, 2018, Needham filed a Notice of Appeal to the United State Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. That appeal has been abated by the Tenth Circuit pending the resolution of his post-judgment relief motion.



         Motion for New Trial and Supplemental Pleadings

          A. Nature of Motion

         Needham filed a motion for new trial under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). Because there has been no trial in this case, we will construe his motion as a motion for post-judgment relief. In order to seek post-judgment relief, Needham could have brought either a “Rule 59(e) (motion to alter or amend the judgment) or Rule 60(b) (relief from judgment for mistake or other reason).” Phelps v. Hamilton, 122 F.3d 1309, 1323-24 (10th Cir. 1997). The two rules are different, but can be difficult to distinguish. The Tenth Circuit “has previously held that regardless of how it is styled or construed, a motion filed within ten days of the entry of judgment that questions the correctness of the judgment is properly treated as a Rule 59(e) motion.” Phelps, 122 F.3d at 1323-24 (10th Cir. 1997) (quoting Vreeken v. Davis, 718 F.2d 343, 345 (10th Cir.1983)). Needham filed his motion within fifteen days, which is outside the ten-day window, but still within the twenty-eight days allowed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e).

         The question then becomes whether the substance of Needham's motion seeks relief consistent with that available under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) motion. A Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) motion asks the court for “reconsideration of matters properly encompassed in a decision on the merits.” Jennings v. Rivers, 394 F.3d 850, 854 (10th Cir. 2005) (quoting Osterneck v. Ernst & Whinney, 489 U.S. 169, 174 (1989)) (internal citations omitted). Needham appears to be asking for a reconsideration of the merits of his case. He asserts that although his claims were procedurally defaulted in state court, his claims qualify for one of the narrow carve-outs recognized in Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), which allows a petitioner to “obtain federal review of a defaulted claim by showing cause for the default and prejudice from a violation of the federal law.” Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U.S. 413, 414 (2013) (quoting Martinez, 566 U.S. at 10).

         Even though Needham's motion appears to seek relief available under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), in the habeas context, post-judgment relief motions most comport with the federal habeas statutes, including the ones most applicable here: 28 U.S.C. § 2244 and 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 529 (2005), the Supreme Court held that “Rule 60(b), like the rest of the Rules of Civil Procedure, applies in habeas corpus proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 only ‘to the extent that [it is] not inconsistent with' applicable federal statutory provisions and rules.” A Rule 60(b) motion is inconsistent with these rules when it constitutes a “second or successive habeas petition, ” which must be governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2244. Id.

         The Tenth Circuit has held that Gonzalez applies to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) motions as well. United States v. Pedraza, 466 F.3d 932, 933-34 (10th Cir. 2006). Under Tenth Circuit precedent, to the extent that a “Rule 59(e) motion challenge[s] the substance of the district court's resolution of [a habeas] claim on the merits, it present[s] second or successive habeas claims requiring authorization.” United States v. Vazquez, 615 Fed.Appx. 900, 902 (10th Cir. 2015) (internal citations omitted). While the district court may rule on true Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b) or 59(e) arguments, “second or successive” issues must be “certified by a panel of the [Tenth Circuit] pursuant to § 2244 before [they] may proceed in district court.” Spitznas v. Boone, 464 F.3d 1213, ...

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