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Kataja v. Schuette

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

October 16, 2017

DAVID J. KATAJA, JR., Petitioner,
BILL SCHUETTE,[1] Respondent.



         David J. Kataja Jr. was convicted in 2007 in the Oakland Circuit Court of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520c(1)(A), attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.92, and furnishing alcohol to a minor, Mich. Comp. Laws § 436.1701(1). Kataja was sentenced to 28½ months to 15 years for the criminal sexual conduct conviction, 2 to 5 years for the attempted criminal sexual conduct conviction, and 60 days for the furnishing alcohol conviction.

         Kataja commenced this action through counsel in 2011. Along with his petition, Kataja filed a motion to stay the case so that he could return to the state courts and exhaust additional claims. After a motion to extend the stay and prolonged state court proceedings, Kataja moved to reopen the case in 2015. The motion was granted, Respondent filed a responsive pleading, and the matter is ready for decision.

         The amended petition raises five claims: (1) the prosecutor committed misconduct by suppressing exculpatory evidence and making improper comments in closing argument, (2) Kataja was denied the effective assistance of trial counsel, (3) Kataja was denied the effective assistance of appellate counsel, (4) Kataja was denied his right to present a defense when he was required to use the Freedom of Information Act to discover exculpatory evidence during post-conviction proceedings, and (5) Kataja's rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause were violated. The petition will be denied because the claims are without merit. The Court will, however, grant Kataja a certificate of appealability with respect to part of his second claim, but deny a certificate of appealability with respect to his other claims.


         Kataja was charged with touching the breast of a twelve-year-old girl ("the Victim"). At trial, the Victim testified that in the fall of 2006 she met the twenty-year-old Kataja through his then-girlfriend, Lisa Mascaro ("Mascaro"). Kataja lived nearby. The Victim also knew Kataja's younger brother, Matt, who was thirteen years old. Shortly after meeting, Kataja and the Victim began dating.

         The incident giving rise to the charges occurred in December 2006. The Victim testified that Kataja picked her up from school and they went to his house. Kataja served an alcoholic drink to the Victim. While sitting on a futon in Kataja's room, Kataja put his arms around the Victim and tried to put his hand up her shirt. She stopped him by pulling his hand out. Kataja tried again and on the second attempt succeeded in putting his hand under her bra and onto the Victim's breast. He kept it there for a few minutes. Kataja then took his hand out from under her shirt. Matt was in the room, but facing away playing a computer game. Another person, Aaron Brannon ("Brannon") came in and out of the room.

         The Victim did not immediately tell anyone what happened. She explained that she knew what Kataja did was wrong, but she did not want to spoil her friendship with him. The friendship spoiled shortly after, however, when the Victim angered Kataja by supporting Mascaro during an argument between Mascaro and Kataja. Kataja called the Victim names and they stopped speaking.

         After the argument, the Victim called Mascaro and told her about Kataja touching her breast. The Victim explained that she and Kataja were no longer friends and she no longer had a reason to hide what had occurred. Unbeknownst to the Victim, her friend Lindsey Sutterfield ("Lindsey") heard about the incident. The Victim testified that Lindsey told her that Kataja had also touched her breast. Two weeks after the incident, the Victim called the police and spoke with an individual at the Care House-an organization seeking to prevent child abuse.

         At trial, two relevant witnesses for the prosecution testified. Kataja's friend, James Tawse ("Tawse"), testified that Kataja began hanging out with the Victim in the summer of 2006. Kataja told Tawse that he loved the Victim, and Tawse replied that she was too young for him. Tricia Schuster, a forensic interviewer at Care House, testified regarding forensic interviewing protocols, the characteristics of child sexual assault victims, and reasons why victims may delay disclosure of an incident.

         The defense called five witnesses. Officer Edward Pilch of the Milford Village Police Department testified that he interviewed Kataja. Kataja denied that he committed the alleged acts, but admitted that he was on the futon with the Victim on the evening in question. Pilch testified that he had prior contacts with the Victim and her mother.

         Aaron Brannon testified that he recalled the Victim being at Kataja's house one night when he was there playing video games with Matt. This was the first time Brannon had seen the two together. Brannon, Matt, and Kataja took turns playing the game. Brannon testified that while he and Matt were sitting in front of the computer playing the game, Kataja and the Victim were seated behind them on the futon, but Brannon did not see any physical contact between Kataja and Knox.

         Lindsey Sutterfield testified that she was fifteen years old at the time of trial. She had been best friends with the Victim, but they were no longer friends. Lindsey denied that the Victim told her about the alleged incident. She also denied telling the Victim that Kataja had done the same thing to her.

         Lisa Mascaro testified that she and Kataja were long-time friends and shared a romantic relationship. Mascaro testified that she was no longer friends with the Victim. Shortly after Mascacro stopped dating Kataja, she had a conversation with the Victim who was upset about Mascaro and Kataja fighting. The Victim told Mascaro that something happened with Kataja about two weeks earlier, but did not appear upset. Mascaro denied Victim's testimony that she told Mascaro about the incident shortly after it occurred.

         Kataja's younger brother Matt testified that he and the Victim had dated about a year earlier, and that the Victim had also hung out with Kataja. One day Matt, Kataja, and Brannon were playing a computer game with the Victim in the room. Matt testified that he and Kataja talked about the game as he played it. He testified that he was sitting at the computer, with the Victim and Kataja sitting behind him on the futon. Matt testified that he did not see anything unusual that evening, and he did not see any physical contact between Kataja and the Victim.

         Following closing arguments and instructions, the jury found Kataja guilty on all charges.

         After trial, Kataja filed motions for discovery, an evidentiary hearing, and a new trial. The motions contended that Kataja was entitled to relief because of ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. The trial court required Kataja to obtain police reports through the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") to support his claims.

         At a hearing held on November 5, 2008, Kataja indicated that the police department's response to the FOIA request included a heavily redacted report that potentially contained evidence that would impeach the Victim. The report allegedly involved a separate criminal sexual misconduct allegation, but the redactions limited the report's clarity and probative value. The trial court expressed concern that ordering production of unredacted reports would violate FOIA. ECF 14-7, PgID 929.

         Another hearing was held on April 8, 2009, at which the trial court denied Kataja's post-conviction motions, and declined to conduct an in camera review of an unredacted copy of the police report. The court found that trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to obtain the police report. The court further ruled that counsel was not ineffective in failing to object to the prosecution's expert witness testimony, failing to object to inadmissible character evidence, or failing to object to the conduct of the prosecutor. ECF 14-8.

         Appellate counsel then filed a claim of appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The brief on appeal raised two claims:

I. Defendant is entitled to a new trial where his trial counsel was ineffective in (1) failing to thoroughly investigate, (2) failing to object to inadmissible character evidence, (3) failing to object to the unqualified testimony of the Care House witness, and (4) failing to object to the prosecution's misconduct in shifting the burden of proof.
II. The trial court erred in denying defendant's post-trial motion for discovery, thereby denying him the constitutional right to present a defense, where the evidence was not "mere impeachment" nor was it prohibited from discovery under the "rape shield" statute and where the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) did not prevent an in camera review of the requested documents nor the disclosure of those documents to defendant.

ECF 14-9, PgID 964.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court decision in an unpublished opinion. People v. Kataja, No. 282953, 2009 WL 3837181 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov. 17, 2009). Kataja subsequently filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, which denied the application. People v. Kataja, 487 Mich. 853 (2010) (Table).

         Kataja then filed his habeas petition with the Court, along with a motion to stay the case while he returned to the state court to exhaust his state court remedies with respect to additional claims. The Court granted the motion.

         Kataja then returned to the state trial court and filed a motion for relief from judgment, raising eight claims. ECF 14-11. The trial court found that the claims lacked merit, determined that Kataja failed to demonstrate good cause and actual prejudice for failing to raise the claims in his direct appeals as required by MCR 6.508(D)(3), and denied the motion for relief from judgment. ECF 14-15. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied Kataja's leave to appeal because the claims "could have been raised previously" and Kataja "failed to establish both good cause for failing to previously raise the issues and actual prejudice from the irregularities alleged." ECF 14-6, PgID 1375. The Michigan Supreme Court similarly denied relief. People v. Kataja, 497 Mich. 1022 (2015) (Table).


         If claims raised by a state prisoner in a habeas petition were decided on the merits by a state court, federal district courts possess circumscribed authority to review the constitutional claims. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Relief is available only if the state court adjudication was "contrary to" or resulted in an "unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law[.]" Section 2254(d) serves as a "guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102-03 (2011) (quotations omitted).

         "A state court's decision is 'contrary to' . . . clearly established law if it 'applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court cases]' or if it 'confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [the] precedent.'" Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)).

         "[T]he 'unreasonable application' prong of [the statute] permits a federal habeas court to 'grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts' of petitioner's case." Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413.) "A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state court's decision." Richter, 562 U.S. at 101 (quotation omitted); see also Woods v. Etherton, 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1152 (2016) (finding habeas relief precluded if state court decision is "not beyond the realm of possibility [from what] a fairminded jurist could conclude").


         I. Proce ...

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