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Morris v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 25, 2019

Cory Deonn Morris, Petitioner,
Charles L. Ryan, et al., Respondents.


          David G. Campbell, Senior United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Cory Deonn Morris is an Arizona state prisoner sentenced to death for the murders of five women. Morris has filed a motion to amend his habeas petition to add five claims related to his alleged incompetency during his state court and federal habeas proceedings. (Doc. 38.) The motion is fully briefed. (Docs. 41-42.) Also before the Court is Respondents' motion to strike the juror declarations filed with Morris's request for evidentiary development and the notice of request for evidentiary development. (Doc. 45.) The motion is fully briefed. (Docs. 52-53.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Morris's motion to amend and will grant, in part, Respondents' motion to strike.


         In July 2005, a jury in Maricopa County Superior Court convicted Morris of five counts of first-degree murder and determined he should be sentenced to death for each count. See State v. Morris, 215 Ariz. 324 (2007). The following factual account is summarized from the Arizona Supreme Court's opinion affirming Morris's convictions and sentences. See id.

         Morris worked at a bar three nights a week and lived in a camper in the backyard of his aunt and uncle's house in Phoenix, Arizona. On April 12, 2003, Morris's uncle went to the camper to find Morris and discovered a decomposed body in the camper under a blanket. That same day, police officers questioned Morris about the body, as well as four other bodies that had been found nearby. The first had been discovered in an alley near Morris's camper on September 11, 2002. Morris admitted knowing each of the five victims and provided two different versions of each of their deaths to the police. In the first version, he claimed that each victim had died of a drug overdose while he was away from the camper. When the investigating detective informed Morris that he didn't believe him, Morris stated each victim asked him to choke her during sex and died accidentally as a result.

         Morris presented no defense during the guilt phase of trial. The jury found two aggravating factors in the aggravation phase: conviction of prior serious offenses, based on the five convictions from the guilt phase of the trial, and commission of all five murders in both an “especially cruel” and “especially heinous or depraved” manner. At the penalty phase, Morris presented mitigation evidence focusing on the responsibilities placed on him at a young age, problems with his appearance and hygiene, his desire to improve himself, and his good work record. The jury determined that Morris's mitigation evidence was not sufficiently substantial to call for leniency and that death was the appropriate sentence for each of the five murders.

         Morris raised four case-specific issues on appeal: (1) the State presented insufficient evidence to prove that two of the women were murdered, (2) the prescreening of prospective jurors violated his right to be present at all stages of the criminal proceeding, (3) the prosecutor engaged in misconduct, and (4) the trial court abused its discretion in admitting excessively gruesome photographs. Morris, 215 Ariz. at 332-34. Morris also raised 14 separate challenges to the constitutionality of Arizona's death penalty scheme. Id. at 341-43. The Arizona Supreme Court rejected these arguments and affirmed Morris's convictions and sentences. Id. at 343.

         Morris filed a petition for post-conviction relief (“PCR”) raising ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel claims, a “new law” claim, and eleven claims identical to claims raised on appeal. (EIR Doc. 307.)[1] The court dismissed several claims and granted an evidentiary hearing on the issue that “additional experts should have been retained to present expert testimony in the penalty phase to disprove the State's necrophilia theory.” (EIR 354 at 5.) A six-day evidentiary hearing was held, after which the court dismissed the PCR petition, finding no deficient performance or prejudice in trial counsel's failure to secure expert testimony about either decomposition or necrophilia. (EIR 438.) Morris's petition for review in the Arizona Supreme Court was denied without comment on March 14, 2017.

         On May 30, 2017, Morris filed a statement of intent to file a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. On February 20, 2018, Morris filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (“Petition”) asserting 49 claims for relief, many of them containing several subclaims. (Doc. 21.) Respondents filed an Answer on May 22, 2018 (Doc. 27), and Morris filed a Reply on August 13, 2018 (Doc. 34).


         Morris seeks to amend his Petition with claims that (1) appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise a claim challenging Morris's competence to stand trial (Doc. 38-1, redlined amended Claim Twenty-Two, Attachment A), (2) postconviction counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge Morris's competence to stand trial and to proceed in his postconviction proceedings (Doc. 38-2, redlined amended Claim Forty-Eight, Att. B), (3) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and request a competency hearing (Doc. 38-3, proposed new Claim Fifty, Att. C), (4) Morris was convicted and sentenced to death while incompetent (Doc. 38-4, proposed new Claim Fifty-One, Att. D), and (5) Morris is being denied his due process rights by having to litigate his federal habeas proceedings while incompetent (Doc. 38-5, proposed new Claim Fifty-Two, Att. E).

         Respondents ask the Court to deny Morris's motion to amend because of (1) the futility of the proposed amendment, (2) undue delay, and (3) undue prejudice to Respondents and victims. (Doc. 41) (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Caswell v. Calderon, 363 F.3d 832, 837 (9th Cir. 2004)). Respondents assert that the proposed amendment should be denied as futile because the proposed amended claims (1) are untimely and do not relate back to Morris's timely filed habeas petition, (2) are procedurally defaulted or not cognizable, and (3) are tenuous. Morris does not dispute that the motion to amend was filed after the expiration of the statute of limitations, but asserts that his new claims are timely because they “relate back” to the pending habeas petition. Morris asserts that the core facts supporting each claim are contained “in interrelated claims in Morris's original petition that arise out of Morris's detachment from reality and his counsel's corresponding failure to conduct a thorough mental-health investigation.” (Doc. 42 at 2.) After considering the applicable law and facts of this case, the Court does not agree.

         A. Applicable Law

         A petition for habeas corpus may be amended pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 28 U.S.C. § 2242; see also Rule 12, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, 28 U.S.C. foll. § 2254 (providing that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure may be applied to habeas petitions to the extent not inconsistent with the habeas rules). A court looks to Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to address a party's motion to amend a pleading in a habeas corpus action. See James v. Pliler, 269 F.3d 1124, 1126 (9th Cir. 2001).

         Leave to amend shall be freely given “when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). Courts must review motions to amend in light of the strong policy permitting amendment. Gabrielson v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 785 F.2d 762, 765 (9th Cir. 1986). Factors that may justify denying a motion to amend are undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive, futility of amendment, undue prejudice to the opposing party, and whether petitioner has previously amended. Foman, 371 U.S. at 182; Bonin v. Calderon, 59 F.3d 815, 845 (9th Cir. 1995).

         Leave to amend may be denied based upon futility alone. See Bonin, 59 F.3d at 845. To assess futility, a court necessarily evaluates whether relief may be available on the merits of the proposed claim. See Caswell, 363 F.3d at 837-39 (conducting a two-part futility analysis reviewing both exhaustion of state court remedies and the merits of the proposed claim). If the proposed claims are untimely, unexhausted, or otherwise fail as a matter of law, amendment should be denied as futile.

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) imposes a one-year statute of limitations for the filing of federal habeas corpus petitions. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d); see Pliler v. Ford, 542 U.S. 225, 230 (2004). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c), Morris may add an otherwise untimely claim to his habeas petition if it relates back to a timely-filed claim. See Alfaro v. Johnson, 862 F.3d 1176, 1183 (9th Cir. 2017). In the habeas context, the original pleading to which Rule 15 refers is governed by the “more demanding” pleading standard of Habeas Corpus Rule 2(c), which provides that a petition must “specify all the grounds for relief available to the petitioner” and “state the facts supporting each ground.” Mayle v. Felix, 545 U.S. 644, 655 (2005). The “relation back” provision is to be strictly construed in light of “Congress' decision to expedite collateral attacks by placing stringent time restrictions on [them].” Id. at 657; see United States v. Ciampi, 419 F.3d 20, 23 (1st Cir. 2005).

         “Mayle requires a comparison of a petitioner's new claims to the properly exhausted claims left pending in federal court[.]” King v. Ryan, 564 F.3d 1133, 1142-43 (9th Cir. 2009). An untimely claim relates back if it “arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out-or attempted to be set out-in the original pleading.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1)(B). “The requirement that the allegations in the [amended pleading] arise from the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence is meant to ensure that the original pleading provided adequate notice of the claims raised in the amended pleading.” Williams v. Boeing Co., 517 F.3d 1120, 1133 n.9 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Martell v. Trilogy Ltd., 872 F.2d 322, 326 (9th Cir. 1989)). This Court is not to read the “conduct, transaction, or occurrence” requirement so broadly as to render meaningless the statute of limitations. Mayle, 545 U.S. at 662-64.

         A late-filed claim in an amended federal habeas petition relates back if the timely claim and the late-filed claim “are tied to a common core of operative facts.” Id. at 664; see Hebner v. McGrath, 543 F.3d 1133, 1134 (9th Cir. 2008) (explaining that “a new claim in an amended petition relates back to avoid a limitations bar . . . only when it arises from the same core of operative facts as a claim contained in the original petition”). Claims share a common core if the litigant “will rely on the same evidence to prove each claim.” Williams, 517 F.3d at 1133. If a new claim clarifies or amplifies a claim or theory already in the original petition, the new claim may relate back to the date of the original petition and avoid a time bar. Woodward v. Williams, 263 F.3d 1135, 1142 (10th Cir. 2001). “An amended habeas petition . . . does not relate back (and thereby escape AEDPA's one-year time limit) when it asserts a new ground for relief supported by facts that differ in both time and type from those the original pleading set forth.” Mayle, 545 U.S. at 650.

         B. Analysis

         1. Proposed Amended Petition

         Claims Fifty through Fifty-Two are asserted by Morris for the first time in the proposed amended petition. In Claim Fifty, Morris asserts trial counsel were ineffective for failing to investigate Morris's incompetence and request a competency hearing. (Doc. 38-3, at 1.) In Claim Fifty-One Morris asserts he was convicted and sentenced to death while incompetent, and his incompetency continued throughout his state-court proceedings. (Doc. 38-4 at 1.) In Claim Fifty-Two, Morris argues he is being denied his due-process rights by having to litigate his federal habeas proceedings when he is currently incompetent. (Doc. 38-5 at 1.)

         Morris states he suffers from delusional disorder and exhibits symptoms of detachment from reality, paranoia, denial, and mistrust. Morris alleges counsel failed to properly investigate his mental health, specifically his incompetence, despite several red flags indicating he was unable to rationally assist in his defense or understand the proceedings. Morris argues that, due to his delusional disorder, he lacked a rational understanding of his trial proceedings and the ability to effectively communicate with his attorneys.

         Morris alleges that the facts he now offers in support of his claims are “rooted in the same facts alleged by Morris in his petition.” (Doc. 38 at 7-10.) Morris alleges the new claims in the amended petition-Claims Fifty through Fifty-Two-arise out of the same nucleus of facts contained in several claims found in his timely filed Petition: Claims Two, Three (A), Four (B), and Nineteen. (Doc. 38 at 8-9) (citing Doc. 21 at 99-100, 109, 130- 64, 182-94, 275-83).

         Morris also alleges that the proposed amendments to existing Claims Twenty-Two and Forty-Eight challenge appellate and post-conviction counsel's effectiveness respectively. Morris asserts that these revisions relate back to the facts concerning appellate and post-conviction counsel in the Petition in addition ...

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