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James v. Jones

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 10, 2017

Shenvisky James, Petitioner,
Kurt Jones, Respondent.



          I. Background

         This case remains puzzlingly pending; and thus, the present motion is in a particularly peculiar procedural posture.

         In June 2001, Petitioner Shenvisky James filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging a battery of claims. On July 28, 2004, after some time and several orders resolving a battery of motions, Magistrate Judge Ellen Carmody issued a report and recommendation, recommending that James' petition be stayed because he “failed to properly exhaust all of the [then remaining] claims asserted in his petition.” (ECF No. 117 at *18.)

         Understandably, James protested: since he had already filed one motion for relief from judgment (ECF No. 63 at A.119 (“Appendix G”)), being sent to state court was, in his view, an exercise in futility and not legally required.

         Nonetheless, Judge Richard Enslen, this Court's predecessor, overruled James' objections, and “directed” him to “comply with the Palmer procedures as more particularly described at pages 18 and 19 of the Report and Recommendation.” (ECF No. 117 at *2.)

         Thereafter, James continued filing motions, necessitating an order denying reconsideration and enjoining “further filings by Petitioner pending his compliance with the Palmer procedures as explained in the Report and Recommendation with the following exceptions: motions as to his ongoing appeal or other proper appeals; and a single motion for reconsideration concerning this Order and Injunction.” (ECF No. 135 at PageID.83.)

         Thereafter, James appealed to the Sixth Circuit. The Circuit observed that “[t]he magistrate judge recommended that the district court follow the stay procedure provided within this court's decision in Palmer v. Carlton, 276 F.3d 777, 781 (6th Cir. 2002), to permit James to elect to either abandon the unexhausted claims or have the matter stayed pending exhaustion of state-court remedies as to the unexhausted claims, ” and “the district court adopted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation.” (ECF No. 147 at PageID.142.) But the Circuit did not (and could not) directly address the merits of that decision to stay proceedings, and his appeal was denied as to James' motion for bond and other ancillary motions. (Id. (“All pending motions are denied.”)). His subsequent motion for reconsideration was also denied by Judge Enslen. (See ECF No. 145.)

         After a denial of his petition for writ of certiorari was denied (ECF No. 150-51), James seemingly disappeared. And James' case dropped off the Court's radar in part because the action was (erroneously) administratively closed.

         Nearly a decade later, James suddenly reappeared: on September 14, 2015, James filed a motion for relief from judgment in this Court. He included a copy of an order from state court showing he was correct all along: the order denied his motion for relief from judgment because, as James had previously argued, it was his second. (ECF No. 157.)

         However, since he had neither filed an amended complaint nor sought to exhaust his remedies in state court in a timely fashion, i.e., “the Palmer procedures” (ECF No. 135 at PageID.83), the Magistrate Judge struck the instant motion because Judge Enslen's injunction had never lifted. (ECF No. 151; see ECF No. 135.)

         Thus, James filed an appeal of that determination, which is the subject of this order. (See ECF Nos. 157, 161, 162.)

         Despite Petitioner's delay in returning to this Court, it's clear that he should never have been exiled to state court in the first place. And because neither a final order dismissing this action nor judgment ever entered, Petitioner is entitled to proceed with his habeas claims.

         II. Analysis

         A. Procedural Posture of and Objections to the Motion.

         Petitioner seeks relief from the Magistrate Judge's order under Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). Rule 72(a) allows a party to seek relief from a magistrate judge's order by filing objections in the district court where the case is assigned; the district court “must consider timely objections” to a nondispositive order, but typically may only “modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); see 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); see also Massey v. City of Ferndale, 7 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 1993).

         However, that is not the appropriate standard of review for the order.

         Per the express terms of Judge Enslen's injunction, Petitioner was not allowed to file a successive motion for reconsideration of the underlying order. (See ECF Nos. 135 at PageID.83, 145 at PageID.138-39.) The Magistrate Judge, thus, simply enforced an injunction that she was required to enforce at the time.

         The Magistrate Judge's sua sponte docketing order enforcing a filing injunction by striking a motion is best understood as an order taken consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(3) (“A magistrate judge may be assigned such additional duties as are not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States.”).[1]

         With respect to § 636(b)(3), “[t]he [Federal Magistrates] Act's sponsors made it quite clear that the magistrate acts ‘under the supervision of the district judges' . . . and that authority for making final decisions remains at all times with the district judge.” Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976) (quoting S. Rep. No. 371, at 12 (1967)); see id. (quoting Hearings on the Federal Magistrates Act Before Subcomm. No. 4 of the H. Comm. on the Judiciary, 90th Cong. 73 (1968) (testimony of Sen. Tydings)) (“[A] district judge would retain ultimate responsibility for decision making in every instance in which a magistrate might exercise additional duties jurisdiction.”).

         The injunction itself was a legally permissible exercise of authority. “Courts of justice are universally acknowledged to be vested, by their very creation, with power to impose silence, respect, and decorum, in their presence, and submission to their lawful mandates.” Anderson v. Dunn, 6 Wheat. 204, 227 (1821); accord. Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43 (1991).

         Nonetheless, the Court must remain mindful that “[b]ecause of their very potency, inherent powers must be exercised with restraint and discretion.” Chambers, 501 U.S. at 44. And in any event, “a district court ordinarily has the power to modify or rescind its orders, ” including injunctions, “at any point prior to final judgment in a civil case.” Dietz v. Bouldin, 136 S.Ct. 1885, 1892 (2016) (citing Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of America v. United States, 320 U.S. 1, 47-48 (1943)); see, e.g., F.T.C. v. British Oxygen Co., 437 F.Supp. 79, 83 n.8 (D. Del. 1977) (citing United States v. Swift & Co., 286 U.S. 106, 114 (1932)) (“There is no doubt that the Court has the inherent power to modify or dissolve a[n] . . . injunction whose purpose has been fulfilled or as changing conduct or circumstances may require.”).

         After a full examination of Petitioner's motion, along with a full reexamination of this case and its tortured procedural history, the Court finds that the injunction dated November 10, 2004 should be dissolved because Petitioner should not have had to “compl[y] with the Palmer procedures” to begin with. (ECF No. 135 at PageID.83.) The Court will more fully detail the reasons for its conclusion in Part II.b.

         In light of the Court's decision to dissolve the injunction, which is consistent with its inherent authority, see Dietz, 136 S.Ct. at 1892, the motion should not remain stricken on the docket, and the Magistrate Judge's order that simply enforced the injunction is no longer necessary or appropriate. Accordingly, Judge Enslen's injunction dated November 10, 2004 is hereby lifted. (ECF No. 135.) Petitioner's ...

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