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Crutsinger v. Davis

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 26, 2019

BILLY JACK CRUTSINGER, Petitioner-Appellant,
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

          Before SMITH, OWEN, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges.

          JERRY E. SMITH, Circuit Judge.

         Billy Crutsinger moves for a Certificate of Appealability ("COA") to appeal whether, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6), extraordinary circumstances require us to reopen the final judgment and grant funding for representation services. He also moves for a stay of execution. Because Crut-singer fails to show that reasonable jurists would debate whether the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion, we deny a COA. Moreover, because Crutsinger does not establish that the circumstances justify the exercise of our equitable discretion, we deny the motion for a stay.


         In 2003, Billy Jack Crutsinger murdered eighty-nine-year-old Pearl Magouirk and her seventy-one-year-old daughter, Patricia Syren. Crutsinger v. Davis (Crutsinger III), 929 F.3d 259, 261 (5th Cir. 2019). He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, id., and is scheduled to be executed on September 4, 2019.

         Last month, we remanded for consideration of Crutsinger's Rule 60(b)(6) motion, id. at 266, then denied his motion for a stay of execution, Crutsinger v. Davis (Crutsinger IV), 930 F.3d 705, 706-09 (5th Cir. 2019) (per curiam). In a thorough and well-reasoned opinion, the district court denied Crutsinger's Rule 60(b) motion, his 18 U.S.C. § 3599(f) funding request, and his request for a COA. Crutsinger v. Davis (Crutsinger V), No. 4:07-CV-00703-Y, 2019 WL 3749530, at *1-9 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 8, 2019).



         As a jurisdictional prerequisite, a habeas petitioner must obtain a COA before we may consider his appeal.[1] A COA is required to appeal the denial of a Rule 60(b) motion. Buck v. Davis, 137 S.Ct. 759, 777 (2017). Issuance of a COA requires the petitioner to make "a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right." 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c). Ultimately, the central question is "whether a reasonable jurist could conclude that the District Court abused its discretion in declining to reopen the judgment."[2]

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) permits relief from a judgment or order for "any other reason that justifies relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6). To prevail on a Rule 60(b)(6) motion in the habeas context, a movant must (1) make the motion within a reasonable time, Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(c), and (2) establish that extraordinary circumstances justify the reopening of the final judgment, Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 535 (2005). Such extraordinary circumstances "will rarely occur in the habeas context." Id. "A change in decisional law after entry of judgment does not constitute extraordinary circumstances and is not alone grounds for relief from a final judgment."[3]


         Crutsinger maintains that he is entitled to relief under Rule 60(b) because recent changes in decisional law, including Ayestas v. Davis, 138 S.Ct. 1080 (2018), Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U.S. 413 (2013), and Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), coupled with seven additional factors, [4] constitute extraordinary circumstances. Crutsinger underscores that "[r]easonable jurists could . . . debate whether . . . the ruling of the district court denying [Rule] 60(b) relief and funding should have been resolved in a different manner or that the issues presented were adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further."

         In support of this, Crutsinger cites the dissent from our recent decision[5]and claims that the district court incorrectly analyzed the seven additional factors he raised. He contends-contrary to Crutsinger IV, 930 F.3d at 707 & n.1-that Diaz v. Stephens, 731 F.3d 370, 376 (5th Cir. 2013), and Adams, 679 F.3d at 319-20, do not bar relief under Rule 60(b). Crutsinger essentially maintains that Adams and Diaz were wrongly decided because Martinez was an equitable ruling as distinguished from a constitutional one.

         Crutsinger next recites the Ayestas standard for funding under § 3599(f), asserting that "[t]he district court's record-bound, merits-review conflicts with Ayestas in how funding determinations are assessed." He contends that he has doggedly pursued his § 3599(f) right to funding over the last decade and that his funding request is not frivolous. Crutsinger further emphasizes that the extraordinary circumstances underlying his Rule 60(b) motion do not include merely the changes in decisional law and his diligent pursuit of § 3599(f) funding. He posits that the risk this case will undermine public confidence in the judicial process also supports his claim of extraordinary circumstances.

         Lastly, Crutsinger stresses that "Gonzalez did not announce any rule that a change in law cannot constitute an extraordinary circumstance warranting relief from the judgment." In Gonzalez, 545 U.S. at 536, the Court remarked that "not every interpretation of the federal statutes setting forth the requirements for habeas provides cause for reopening cases long since final." Importantly, Crutsinger asserts, this "does not mean that no erroneous interpretation does" (emphasis omitted). In contrast to the circumstances in Gonzalez, he asserts that he was "independently deprived . . . of a federally guaranteed right" and that "[t]he deprivation of that right demands a remedy." Consequently, he contends that the totality of the circumstances warrants relief under Rule 60(b).

         In response, the state maintains that reasonable jurists would not debate whether the district court abused its discretion in declining to reopen because Gonzalez and circuit precedent, forecloses such relief. In Gonzalez, 545 U.S. at 536, the Court stated that "[i]t is hardly extraordinary that subsequently, after petitioner's case was no longer pending, this Court arrived at a different interpretation" of a federal statute. We reiterated this sentiment in both of our recent Crutsinger decisions.[6] The state further underscores that "[i]f a change in law that entirely precluded merits review-as in Gonzalez-is not sufficient to warrant Rule 60(b)(6) relief, then the change in the law . . . on a lesser matter-funding to possibly support a claim for relief-necessarily cannot warrant Rule 60(b)(6) relief."

         Echoing our recent statements in Crutsinger IV, 930 F.3d at 707 & n.1, the state avers that "this [c]ourt's precedent forecloses reliance on Martinez and Trevino to achieve relief under Rule 60(b)." The state cites our recent published decision in In re Johnson, Nos. 19-20552, 19-70013, 2019 WL 3814384, at *3 (5th Cir. Aug. 15, 2019), to buttress that contention. In Johnson, relying on Raby, 907 F.3d at 884, we reaffirmed that a claim of deficient representtation, without more, is insufficient to obtain Rule 60(b) relief. Johnson, 2019 WL 3814384, at *3. Moreover, we emphasized there, as here, that the movant ...

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