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Appeal from the District Court of Williams County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable David W. Nelson, Judge.
Kevin McCabe, Office of the Public Defender, Dickinson, N.D., for petitioner and appellant.
Nathan K. Madden, Assistant State's Attorney, Williston, N.D., for respondent and appellee.
Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Carol Ronning Kapsner, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. Opinion of the Court by McEvers, Justice.
[¶1] Karmen Lindsey appeals from a district court order summarily dismissing her application for post-conviction relief from a conviction entered after her 2007 guilty plea to a charge of murder. Because we conclude Lindsey's application for post-conviction relief failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding her claims for ineffective assistance of counsel, newly discovered evidence, and prosecutorial misconduct, we affirm.
[¶2] In March 2006, Lindsey was charged with murder, a class AA felony, for allegedly stabbing her mother multiple times with a knife and causing her death. In August 2006, Lindsey filed a court notice of her intention to assert a defense of lack of criminal responsibility. In October 2006, the State filed a disclosure of its expert witness, Dr. Joseph Belanger, who was then employed by the State Hospital and had conducted a psychological evaluation of Lindsey, and found she did not meet the standard for establishing a lack of criminal responsibility. In February 2007, Lindsey moved for an order prohibiting the State from using Dr. Belanger's psychological evaluation and testimony at trial, asserting the State failed to provide an audio or video recording of Lindsey's examination to her or the court, as required by N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-08.
[¶3] In March 2007, after making her motion regarding Dr. Belanger, Lindsey pleaded guilty to the charge under a plea agreement. The district court entered a criminal judgment, sentencing her to 40 years in prison, with the last 20 years suspended for five years. In June 2007, Lindsey moved for a sentence reduction, which the district court denied. In August 2008, Lindsey filed an application for post-conviction relief, which the court later allowed her to withdraw in 2009.
[¶4] In April 2012, Lindsey filed this post-conviction relief application, asserting grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel
and newly discovered evidence and seeking to withdraw her guilty plea. The court appointed counsel to represent her in the proceedings. In July 2013, Lindsey's appointed-counsel filed a supplemental brief with 16 attached exhibits in support of her application, arguing additional grounds of ineffective counsel, newly discovered evidence, and prosecutorial misconduct. Lindsey's exhibits included copies of psychological evaluations of Lindsey conducted by Dr. Belanger and by her expert witness, Dr. Robert Gulkin. Dr. Gulkin's evaluation, dated June 27, 2006, concluded Lindsey was suffering from a mental disease or defect at the time of the charged offense.
[¶5] The State responded to Lindsey's claims and moved to dismiss her application, asserting Lindsey failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact and her application should be dismissed on grounds of laches. In response, Lindsey did not submit any additional evidence but relied on her previously submitted brief. In December 2013, the district court granted the State's motion, summarily dismissing Lindsey's post-conviction relief application in part on the ground of laches.
[¶6] Under N.D.C.C. § 29-32.1-09, a party may move for summary disposition in post-conviction relief proceedings if the application, pleadings, previous proceedings, discovery, or other matters on the record show there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
[¶7] We review an appeal from a district court's summary dismissal of a post-conviction relief application in the same manner as an appeal from summary judgment. Coppage v. State, 2011 ND 227, ¶ 8, 807 N.W.2d 585; Henke v. State, 2009 ND 117, ¶ 9, 767 N.W.2d 881. " The party opposing the motion is entitled to all reasonable inferences at the preliminary stages of a post-conviction proceeding and is entitled to an evidentiary hearing if a reasonable inference raises a genuine issue of material fact." Coppage, at ¶ 8 (quotation marks omitted).
[¶8] When the State moves for summary dismissal, the burden shifts to the applicant to support the application with evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact:
A petitioner is not required to provide evidentiary support for his petition until he has been given notice he is being put on his proof. At that point, the petitioner may not merely rely on the pleadings or on unsupported, conclusory allegations, but must present competent admissible evidence by affidavit or other comparable means which raises an issue of material fact. If the petitioner presents competent evidence, he is then entitled to an evidentiary hearing to fully present that evidence.
Coppage, 2011 ND 227, ¶ 9, 807 N.W.2d 585 (quoting Henke, 2009 ND 117, ¶ 11, 767 N.W.2d 881). The district court may, however, summarily dismiss a post-conviction relief application when the State establishes there are no genuine issues of material fact. Coppage, at ¶ 9; Henke, at ¶ 12.
[¶9] Lindsey argues the district court erred in summarily dismissing her post-conviction
relief application, asserting the court's decision was " clearly erroneous" and the doctrine of laches should not apply to this case.
[¶10] " Laches is a delay or lapse of time in commencing an action that works a disadvantage or prejudice to the adverse party because of a change in conditions during the delay." Williams Cnty. Soc. Servs. Bd. v. Falcon, 367 N.W.2d 170, 174 (N.D.1985); see also N.D.R.Civ.P. 8(c) (listing laches as an affirmative defense). In Johnson v. State, 2006 ND 122, ¶ 15, 714 N.W.2d 832, this Court held the State may raise laches as a defense in defending post-conviction relief applications. We said to prevail on a laches defense, the State must prove by a preponderance of the evidence: (1) the applicant has unreasonably delayed in seeking relief, and (2) the delay has prejudiced the State. Id.
[¶11] In Johnson, 2006 ND 122, ¶ ¶ 17-18, 714 N.W.2d 832, this Court analyzed the requirements to establish laches and concluded the district court had not abused its discretion in permitting the State to amend its answer to allege the defense of laches and in denying Johnson's motion to amend his application to assert an untimely claim that his guilty plea was not entered intelligently, knowingly, and voluntarily. We then addressed Johnson's argument the court had erred in summarily dismissing a post-conviction relief claim that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel because his counsel had not moved for a second, independent mental evaluation. Id. at ¶ ¶ 19-22. We ultimately concluded Johnson's counsel's actions did not fall below an objective standard of reasonableness, because Johnson was entitled to and received one competent evaluation at public expense by a doctor at the State Hospital. Id. at ¶ 22.
[¶12] Lindsey argues the district court's decision to dismiss her post-conviction relief application without an evidentiary hearing is " clearly erroneous" because she raised numerous material fact issues and should have been allowed to present testimony at an evidentiary hearing. She argues the doctrine of laches should not apply to this case, the district court failed to explain how the delay was unreasonable, and she disputes the facts the State asserts show it has been prejudiced to the point that it could not maintain its case against Lindsey.
[¶13] In the context of a summary disposition, the district court here made factual findings in its order summarily dismissing Lindsey's entire application. The court found the State had met the unreasonable-delay element for laches because Lindsey had waited almost seven years to challenge her guilty plea on the effectiveness of her counsel's performance and Lindsey had known her mental condition was an issue at the time she pleaded guilty. The court further found the State had met the prejudice element to establish a laches defense. The court found the State's ability to defend against Lindsey's application, and potentially against a defense of lack of criminal responsibility at a trial, had been materially diminished because, as the State asserted, Lindsey's defense counsels' files no longer existed, Lindsey's father had died, the lead investigator from the Bureau of Criminal Investigations had died, the physical evidence of the murder had been destroyed, and Dr. Belanger was " unavailable" due to his incarceration.
[¶14] This Court has explained that the affirmative defense of laches, when properly raised and supported, presents a question of fact and is inappropriate for a district court to decide on summary judgment. See Diocese of Bismarck Trust v. Ramada, Inc., 553 N.W.2d 760, 767 (N.D. 1996);
North Dakota State Engineer v. Schirado, 373 N.W.2d 904, 910 (N.D. 1985); Falcon, 367 N.W.2d at 174. " Whether or not laches bars a claim must be determined by examining the underlying facts and circumstances of each particular case." Falcon, at 174. Unlike Johnson, which involved the district court's exercise of discretion in amending post-conviction relief pleadings, the court in this case made findings of fact on the State's laches defense to support summary disposition on all of Lindsey's claims. On this record, we conclude the court erred in making factual findings on the State's affirmative defense of laches and in summarily dismissing Lindsey's post-conviction relief application on that ground.
[¶15] Nonetheless, this Court will not set aside a correct result merely because the district court's reasoning was incorrect, if the result is the same under the correct law and reasoning. See Dahl v. State, 2013 ND 25, ¶ 11, 826 N.W.2d 922; State v. Moore, 2010 ND 229, ¶ 8, 791 N.W.2d 376; Roth v. State, 2007 ND 112, ¶ 17, 735 N.W.2d 882. Because the State moved for summary disposition of Lindsey's application, Lindsey was put to her proof, and the burden shifted to her to support her application with evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact. Thus, to avoid summary disposition ...