Gatliff v. Tibbals, Case No. 1:14-cv-931

Decision Date10 December 2015
Docket NumberCase No. 1:14-cv-931
PartiesSHANNON GATLIFF, Petitioner, v. TERRY TIBBALS, Warden, London Correctional Institution, Respondent.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio

TERRY TIBBALS, Warden, London Correctional Institution, Respondent.

Case No. 1:14-cv-931


December 10, 2015

District Judge Timothy S. Black
Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz


This is a habeas corpus case brought pro se by Petitioner Shannon Gatliff to obtain relief from his conviction for felonious assault in the Clermont County Common Pleas Court. On Magistrate Judge Bowman's Order (ECF No. 2), the Warden has filed the State Court Record and a Return of Writ (ECF Nos. 6 & 7). The case became ripe for decision when Gatliff filed his Reply on July 6, 2015 (ECF No. 9).

The case was recently transferred to the undersigned as part of workload balancing among Western Division Magistrate Judges (ECF No. 10).

Procedural History

Mr. Gatliff was indicted by a Clermont County grand jury on January 12, 2012, on one count of felonious assault on Christina Freeman on December 24, 2011. The case was tried to a

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jury which found Gatliff guilty and he was sentenced to seven years imprisonment as a result. Gatliff timely appealed to the Twelfth District Court of Appeals which affirmed the conviction and sentence. State v. Gatliff, 2013-Ohio-2862, 2013 Ohio App. LEXIS 2909 (12th Dist. July 1, 2013).1 The Ohio Supreme Court declined to exercise jurisdiction over a subsequent appeal. State v. Gatliff, 137 Ohio St. 3d 1422 (2013). Although Gatliff filed a petition for post-conviction relief under Ohio Revised Code § 2953.21 raising a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, his appeal from denial of that petition was dismissed for lack of an appellate brief and, in any event, the claim raised there is not pursued here.


Ground One: Insufficient Evidence

In his First Ground for Relief, Gatliff asserts he stands convicted on constitutionally insufficient evidence.

An allegation that a verdict was entered upon insufficient evidence states a claim under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970); Johnson v. Coyle, 200 F.3d 987, 991 (6th Cir. 2000); Bagby v. Sowders, 894 F.2d 792, 794 (6th Cir. 1990)(en banc). In order for a conviction to be constitutionally sound, every element of the crime must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In re Winship, 397 U.S. at 364.

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[T]he relevant question is 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. . . . This familiar standard gives full play to the responsibility of the trier of fact fairly to resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh the evidence and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts.

Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319; United States v. Paige, 470 F.3d 603, 608 (6th Cir. 2006); United States v. Somerset, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76699 (S.D. Ohio 2007). This rule was recognized in Ohio law at State v. Jenks, 61 Ohio St. 3d 259 (1991). Of course, it is state law which determines the elements of offenses; but once the state has adopted the elements, it must then prove each of them beyond a reasonable doubt. In re Winship, supra.

In cases such as Petitioner's challenging the sufficiency of the evidence and filed after enactment of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (Pub. L. No 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214)(the "AEDPA"), two levels of deference to state decisions are required:

In an appeal from a denial of habeas relief, in which a petitioner challenges the constitutional sufficiency of the evidence used to convict him, we are thus bound by two layers of deference to groups who might view facts differently than we would. First, as in all sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenges, we must determine whether, viewing the trial testimony and exhibits 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. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S. Ct. 2781, 61 L. Ed. 2d 560 (1979). In doing so, we do not reweigh the evidence, re-evaluate the credibility of witnesses, or substitute our judgment for that of the jury. See United States v. Hilliard, 11 F.3d 618, 620 (6th Cir. 1993). Thus, even though we might have not voted to convict a defendant had we participated in jury deliberations, we must uphold the jury verdict if any rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty after resolving all disputes in favor of the prosecution. Second, even were we to conclude that a rational trier of fact could not have found a petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, on habeas review, we must still defer to the state appellate court's sufficiency determination as long as it is not unreasonable. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2).

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Brown v. Konteh, 567 F.3d 191, 205 (6th Cir. 2009). In a sufficiency of the evidence habeas corpus case, deference should be given to the trier-of-fact's verdict under Jackson v. Virginia and then to the appellate court's consideration of that verdict, as commanded by AEDPA. Tucker v. Palmer, 541 F.3d 652 (6th Cir. 2008); accord Davis v. Lafler, 658 F.3d 525, 531 (6th Cir. 2011)(en banc); Parker v. Matthews, 132 S. Ct. 2148, 2152 (2012). Notably, "a court may sustain a conviction based upon nothing more than circumstantial evidence." Stewart v. Wolfenbarger, 595 F.3d 647, 656 (6th Cir. 2010).

We have made clear that Jackson claims face a high bar in federal habeas proceedings because they are subject to two layers of judicial deference. First, on direct appeal, "it is the responsibility of the jury -- not the court -- to decide what conclusions should be drawn from evidence admitted at trial. A reviewing court may set aside the jury's verdict on the ground of insufficient evidence only if no rational trier of fact could have agreed with the jury." Cavazos v. Smith, 565 U. S. 1, ___, 132 S. Ct. 2, 181 L. Ed. 2d 311, 313 (2011) (per curiam). And second, on habeas review, "a federal court may not overturn a state court decision rejecting a sufficiency of the evidence challenge simply because the federal court disagrees with the state court. The federal court instead may do so only if the state court decision was 'objectively unreasonable.'" Ibid. (quoting Renico v. Lett, 559 U. S. ___, ___, 130 S. Ct. 1855, 176 L. Ed. 2d 678 (2010)).

Coleman v. Johnson, 566 U.S. ___, ___, 132 S. Ct. 2060, 2062, (2012)(per curiam).

The evidence at trial in this case was summarized by the Twelfth District as follows:

[*P3] The first witness to testify was Christina who explained that during the evening of December 24, 2011, she was at her restaurant, the Backyard Inn Bar & Grill. Christina had closed the restaurant early and invited a few of her family members and friends to come by after the business shut down for the night. Around 10:00 p.m., appellant, his sister (Amanda), and his brother-in-law came into the bar through a back entrance. Christina stated that she had been in a relationship with appellant for the past several months and the couple had broken up about ten days earlier. Christina told appellant to leave and followed him to the back door to ensure that he left the property.

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[*P4] Christina testified that once outside the bar, Amanda became verbally abusive towards her. The two women then got involved in a physical altercation. Christina stated that the pair fell to the ground and "wrestled around." She explained that during the scuffle, Amanda's hands were tangled in Christina's hair and Amanda was unable to hit her. After Amanda released Christina's hair, appellant jumped on top of Christina, and repeatedly struck her in the face with his fist. Christina stated that he hit her in the mouth, her right eye, and on the right side of her face. Eventually, appellant stopped hitting her and she was able to get up. As Christina was walking back to the bar, Amanda pulled her hair and she fell to the ground on her right elbow. As a result of the fight, Christina suffered a fractured orbital floor of the right eye, loosened teeth, and lip, cheek, and elbow injuries. Christina testified that she had reconstructive surgery on her right eye and experiences double vision.

[*P5] During Christina's testimony, the restaurant's surveillance video was shown. Christina explained that she has a surveillance video system throughout her restaurant and after the fight, police obtained the video recording of the restaurant that captured the fight. The police did not obtain the video of the interior of the restaurant. The video was in black and white, had no audio, and showed only what occurred outside of the restaurant. The video captured the initial argument between Christina and Amanda as well as the ensuing physical altercation between Christina and Amanda.

[*P6] The next witness to testify was Christina's mother who explained that she was at the restaurant on December 24, 2011. She stated that initially, a fight broke out between Amanda and Christina. During the fight, the women fell to the ground and both girls had their hands in the other's hair. Appellant then came over and struck Christina in the mouth. Christina's mother testified that one of appellant's hands was on Christina's throat while the other hand was hitting her face. Ultimately, Christina's mother called 911 and the 911 recording was introduced at trial where Christina's mother stated that appellant had beat up her daughter.

[*P7] The state also had other witnesses who testified that they observed the fight between Christina and appellant and some of them admitted consuming alcohol prior to the altercation. All the witnesses stated that appellant struck Christina and caused all her injuries except the elbow injury. The witnesses agreed that the fight between

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