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Larngar v. Wall

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

March 29, 2018

McCARTHY S. LARNGAR, Petitioner,
ASHBEL T. WALL, Respondent.



         Petitioner McCarthy S. Larngar has filed a Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (ECF No. 1). The State has filed a Motion To Dismiss the Petition (ECF No. 7), to which Larngar filed a Response (ECF No. 9) and a Supplemental Memorandum, or Clarification (ECF No. 12). The Court has determined that no hearing is necessary. For the reasons that follow, the Motion To Dismiss is GRANTED (ECF No. 7) and the Petition (ECF No. 1) is DENIED and DISMISSED.

         I. Background[1] and Travel

         On October 3, 1997, following a jury trial, Larngar was found guilty of assault with a dangerous weapon and carrying a pistol without a license. After the trial judge denied Larngar's motion for new trial, Larngar was sentenced to a term of twenty years imprisonment, with twelve years to serve and eight years suspended with probation, for the assault with a dangerous weapon charge and a concurrent term of ten years imprisonment, with five to serve and five suspended with probation, for the carrying a pistol without a license charge. A notice of appeal was filed, but the appeal was not perfected.

         Larngar filed an application for post-conviction relief, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel in the trial court on May 3, 2002. The application was denied after a hearing, and the Rhode Island Supreme Court subsequently affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief. See generally Larngar v. Wall, 918 A.2d 850 (R.I. 2007).

         In 2011, Larngar was presented as a probation violator. After a hearing on July 5, 2012, Larngar was determined to be a violator and ordered to serve the eight years of his sentence that had been suspended at the original sentencing. On April 20, 2015, a motion to reduce sentence was heard and denied. Larngar then filed a motion for immediate release and/or to set bail on the charges that led to the violation. Following a hearing on December 14, 2016, the motion was denied. Larngar filed a notice of appeal, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, and a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Rhode Island Supreme Court.[2] That court denied both petitions by order dated May 15, 2017.

         On June 13, 2017, Larngar timely filed the instant Petition.[3]

II. Discussion

         In his single ground for review, Larngar claims that his rights to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment are being violated. (Pet. 5.) He alleges: “Notion to Terminate Sentence of Imprisonment pursuant to remedial statute of R.I.G.L. § 12-19-18(b)(1-5)[4] [was] erroneously denied. All prerequisites for release were met[5] as a ‘No Information' was signed and filed by the Attorney General of Rhode Island (docketed as).” (Id.) The State moves to dismiss the Petition “because the petition raises only a state-law question that does not implicate the federal constitution.” (Mot. To Dismiss 1.) The Court agrees.

         Section 2254 provides that a district court “shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); see also Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991) (“In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”). Although Larngar frames his claim as a “Fourteenth Amendment Violation of Due Process and Equal Protection of the Law, ” (Pet. 5), it is clear from his phrasing, arguments, and exhibits that his claim is based on the allegedly erroneous interpretation and/or application of § 12-19-18 by the Superior Court to the facts of his case, (id.) (arguing that his “Motion to Terminate Sentence of Imprisonment” pursuant to § 12-19-18(b)(1)-(5) was “erroneously denied”).

         “[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions.” Estelle, 502 U.S. at 67-68; see also Bradshaw v Richey, 546 U.S. 74, 76 (2005) (per curiam) (“We have repeatedly held that a state court's interpretation of state law . . . binds a federal court sitting in habeas corpus.” (citing Estelle, 502 U.S. at 67-68)); Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780-81 (1990) (“[W]e have never required federal courts to peer majestically over the [state] court's shoulder so that [they] might second-guess its interpretation of facts that quite reasonably-perhaps even quite plainly-fit within the statutory language.”) (alterations in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “Because federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law, ” Lewis, 497 U.S. at 780, absent an independent constitutional violation, a federal habeas court's review of a state court's application of a statutory provision “is limited, at most, to determining whether the state court's finding was so arbitrary or capricious as to constitute an independent due process . . . violation, ” id. In Lewis, the Supreme Court stated that the “appropriate standard of review is the ‘rational factfinder' standard established in Jackson v. Virginia, ” id. at 781 (internal citation omitted), for determining sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction: “whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, ” Jackson, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). See also Lewis, 497 U.S. at 781 (quoting Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319).

         To be sure, in his Response to the Motion To Dismiss, Larngar asserts that his continued imprisonment because of the allegedly erroneous and arbitrary denial of his § 12-19-18(b) motion violates due process. (Resp. 1-2, 7, 15); (see also id. at 18) (“[T]his petitioner was arbitrarily denied due process of law in the State court proceeding.”). He also cites the proper standard for habeas review of a federal statutory or constitutional claim. (Id. at 18 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d))). The problem with Larngar's argument is that he does not raise a federal statutory or constitutional claim. Nor does he challenge the constitutionality of § 12-19-18(b). Instead, he simply seeks proper (in his view) application of the statute by the Superior Court and release from imprisonment. (Pet. 5 (stating that “[a]ll prerequisites for release were met”)); (Resp. 15 (arguing that the Superior Court's “interpretation and application” of § 12-19-18 “is a wholly arbitrary deprivation of this petitioner's constitutionally guaranteed liberty”)). The December 14, 2016 hearing on Larngar's motion to quash his sentence makes the contours of his claim clear. (Pet. Ex. 7 at 5-10.) Therefore, even if the Court accepts Larngar's argument that the Superior Court's determination that § 12-19-18(b) was inapplicable to his case deprived him of due process, that argument, “as it is a matter of state law, is reviewable by the federal courts only under the ‘rational factfinder' rule of Jackson v. Virginia.” Lewis, 497 U.S. at 783; see also id. (noting that state court's finding is arbitrary and capricious “if and only if no reasonable [factfinder] could have so concluded”).

         Larngar has not made that showing. Accordingly, because Larngar's Petition raises a question of the proper application of state law, not a federal statutory or constitutional violation, the Motion To ...

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