United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division
AMENDED ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION OF
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Johnston United States Magistrate Judge
case comes before the Court on Petitioner Bradley Keith's
application for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C.
§2254, filed January 12, 2018. Keith is a state prisoner
proceeding pro se.
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. 1). 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.
The group also attempted to file several motions as a group;
each will be addressed in turn.
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. 6 at 2-3). Petitioners
were then informed that each must respond individually and
advise the Court of what steps had been undertaken to exhaust
state court remedies. Id. at 3-5. Keith did not
respond to this Court's order.
Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis
has moved this Court to be granted in forma pauperis status.
(Doc. 2). Because there is no reason to delay this matter
further, Keith's motion will be GRANTED.
Motion to Dismiss
asks this Court to dismiss a Robbery and Failure to Register
as a Violent Offender convictions handed down in
Montana's Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone
County, in Cause No. DC-04-0378 and DC-16-0631. (Doc. 3 at
The argument is premised upon what Keith believes to be a
faulty and unconstitutional state criminal charging process.
Id. at 1-12. This Court is not able to provide Keith
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 conviction as suggested by Keith. The
Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 3) is DENIED.
Motion for Copies
has requested he be provided copies of all documents filed in
this case. Although the Court will recognize Keith's in
forma pauperis status, this designation merely authorizes him
to file an action without prepayment of the filing fee. See
28 U.S.C. §1915. But given the nature of the voluminous
and duplicative filings in this case and in the companion
cases of Podry et. al., CV-18-24-DLC-JTJ, Pet.
(filed January 31, 2018); Bruinsma et. al.,
CV-18-21-DLC-TJT, Pet. (filed January 29, 2018); and,
Hamilton et. al., CV-18-30-DLC-JTJ, Pet. (filed Feb. 20,
2018), the Court believes it is unnecessary and a poor use of
judicial resources to provide Keith with the requested
documents and to impose the corresponding burden upon the
Clerk of Court. Accordingly, Keith's motion for copies
(Doc. 4) will be DENIED.
Motion for Joint Action
seeks to proceed in a group along with the ten other
petitioners with whom he originally filed. As set forth
above, the group was previously advised that each petition
would be treated individually and as a separate filing. In
the renewed “Joint Action to Stay Joined as One Action
as per Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 20(a), ” see (Doc. 8), Keith
again seeks “en masse” filing status. The Motion
will be denied.
forth above, the Court notes that three additional other
groups of “en masse” petitioners have sought to
proceed as a class and raise the same claim Keith's
initial group raised. All petitioners will be treated in the
same manner, each must proceed individually.
of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases provides that the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure may be applied in a habeas
action “to the extent they are not inconsistent with
any statutory provisions” or the § 2254 Rules. In
order to qualify for federal habeas relief, a petitioner must
meet certain prerequisites. State judicial remedies must be
exhausted with respect to each claim raised. A petitioner
generally may not proceed with claims that were defaulted in
state court, but he might be able to excuse a default. He
must comply with the federal statute of limitations, either
by filing on time or by asserting entitlement to equitable
tolling, or he must demonstrate that his untimeliness may be
excused because he did not commit the crime of which he was
convicted. The Court no longer has jurisdiction over some
petitioners' claims, because they have already litigated
one federal habeas petition to conclusion. Any new petition
challenging their convictions is “second or
successive” and must be pre-authorized by the Court of
Appeals for filing in this Court. See 28 U.S.C. §
2244(b); Burton v. Stewart, 549 U.S. 147, 149 (2007)
(per curiam). All of these issues—exhaustion, default,
timeliness, and second-or-successive filings—can only
be adjudicated on an individual basis.
Keith believes the Court may decide the constitutional issue
first and then sort out their individual entitlements to
relief. But courts generally do not pronounce on
constitutional questions unless it is necessary to do so.
Even in a federal habeas action, the doctrine of
constitutional avoidance is generally followed to the extent
of first ascertaining whether a petitioner meets the
prerequisites for habeas relief and only deciding the
constitutional question if a decision doing so will not
amount to an advisory opinion. See, e.g., Lambrix v.
Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 525 (1997) (stating that
procedural issues should “ordinarily” be decided
allows a court to deny a meritless claim without regard to
the highly individualized issues of exhaustion, timeliness,
and default. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2); Lambrix,
520 U.S. at 525 (stating that “[j]udicial
economy” might support prioritizing issues
“easily resolvable against the habeas
petitioner”). But deciding the merits immediately in
this case would pose a significant fairness issue. Both the
Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals have ruled that
potentially unwary pro se habeas petitioners must
occasionally be warned or protected against 28 U.S.C. §
2244(b)'s restriction on “second or
successive” petitions. See, e.g., Castro v. United
States,540 U.S. 375, 377 (2003) (requiring courts to
warn a pro se litigant of intent to recharacterize a document
as a habeas petition); Woods v. Carey,525 F.3d 886,
889-90 (9th Cir. 2008) (requiring courts to construe new
petition as motion to amend any contemporaneously pending
petition in order to avoid second or successive
restrictions). Here, any ...