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Stearns v. Salmonson

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

April 17, 2018

ROBERT STEARNS, Petitioner,
v.
JAMES SALMONSON, Respondent.

          AMENDED ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Jeremiah C. Lynch United States Magistrate Judge

         This case comes before the Court on Petitioner Robert Stearns's application for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §2254, filed January 29, 2018. Stearns is a state prisoner proceeding pro se.

         I. Background

         Stearns was one of a group of petitioners that joined in filing what they characterized as an “En Masse Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus- 28 U.S.C. § 2254 as per Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” (Doc. 2). The “en masse” petitioners sought to challenge the constitutionality of the criminal charging process utilized against them by the State of Montana. Id. at 18-32.

         Stearns, and the additional petitioners, were notified that the Court would not allow them to proceed as a group and that separate cases would be opened for each. (Doc. 1 at 1-5). Petitioners were then ordered to respond individually to advise the Court whether or not they wished to proceed and, if so, petitioners were directed to each complete the Court's standard habeas form. Id. at 5-6. Stearns did not respond to this Court's order.

         i. Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis

         Stearns has moved this Court to be granted in forma pauperis status. (Doc. 3). Because there is no reason to delay this matter further, Stearns's motion will be GRANTED.

         ii. Motion to Dismiss

         Stearns asks this Court to dismiss Indecent Exposure convictions handed down in the Twenty-First Judicial District, Ravalli County, in Cause No. DC-07-48 and Sexual Intercourse without Consent convictions handed down in the Eighth Judicial District, Cascade County in Cause No. BDC-97-020. (Docs. 4 at 1; 5 at 1).[1] The argument is premised upon what Stearns believes to be a faulty and unconstitutional state criminal charging process. Id. at 1-12.[2]

         To the extent that Stearns seeks to challenge his Ravalli County convictions, Stearns has already been afforded the opportunity to do so in this Court. His previous petition was dismissed with prejudice as procedurally defaulted without excuse. See Stearns v. Attorney General of the State of Montana, Cause No. CV 10-44-M-DWM-JCL (D. Mont. judgment filed Oct. 25, 2010). Until Stearns obtains leave from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to file a successive habeas petition challenging the Ravalli County convictions, see 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b), this Court has no jurisdiction to hear his claims, Burton v. Stewart, 549 U.S. 147, 149 (2007) (per curiam).

         Further, to the extent that Stearns seeks dismissal of the Cascade County convictions, this Court is not able to provide him the relief sought. Federal district courts, as courts of original jurisdiction, do not serve as appellate tribunals to review errors allegedly committed by state courts. MacKay v. Pfeil, 827 F.2d 540, 543 (9th Cir. 1987); see also Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281, 296 (1970)(“lower federal courts possess no power whatever to sit in direct review of state court decisions”). It would be entirely inappropriate for this Court to review and dismiss the state convictions as suggested by Stearns. The Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 4) is DENIED.

         iii. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Petition

         As noted, Stearns has not filed an individual petition for habeas corpus relief as directed. And as stated in this Court's prior order of February 5, 2018, Stearns is precluded from filing his request for habeas relief en masse with other petitioners. (Doc. 1 at 1-5). Dismissal on that ground is appropriate. See Stewart v. Martinez-Villareal,523 U.S. 637, 645 (1998)(explaining that dismissal for technical procedural reasons should not bar prisoners from ever obtaining federal habeas review) (citing United States ex rel. Barnes v. Gilmore, 968 F.Supp. 384, 385 ( N.C. Ill. 1997) and Marsh v. U.S. Dist. Court for Northern Dist. of California, 1995 WL 23942 at *1 (N.D. Ca. 1995)). Recognizing that courts ...


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