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Ramos v. New Jersey State Prison

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 20, 2017

LUIS RAMOS, Petitioner,
v.
NEW JERSEY STATE PRISON, et al., Respondents.

          OPINION

          ROBERT B. KUGLER United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner is a state prisoner incarcerated at the New Jersey State Prison. He is proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Previously, this Court ordered petitioner to show cause why his habeas petition should not be summarily dismissed due to untimeliness. Having received petitioner's response, this Court finds that the habeas petition is untimely. It will be summarily dismissed.

         II. SUA SPONTE SCREENING

         Habeas Rule 4 requires a judge to sua sponte dismiss a petition without ordering a responsive pleading “[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 4, applicable through Rule 1(b). Thus, “Federal courts are authorized to dismiss summarily any habeas petition that appears legally insufficient on its face.” McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856 (1994).

         III. BACKGROUND & DISCUSSION

         “A 1-year period of limitation shall apply to an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court.” 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). That limitations period begins to run when the criminal judgment becomes “final.”[1] A state-court criminal judgment becomes “final” within the meaning of § 2244(d)(1) at the conclusion of direct review or at the expiration of time for seeking such review. See Swartz v. Meyers, 204 F.3d 417, 419 (3d Cir. 2000); Morris v. Horn, 187 F.3d 333, 337 n.1 (3d Cir. 1999); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A) (the 1-year period begins on ‘the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review'). In particular, when a defendant does not file a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, the one-year limitations period starts to run when the ninety-day period for seeking certiorari expires. See Gonzalez v. Thaler, 132 S.Ct. 641, 653 (2012); Clay v. U.S., 537 U.S. 522, 532 (2003); Morris, 187 F.3d at 337 n.1 (holding that the period of direct review “include[s] the 90-day period for filing a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court”); U.S. SUP. CT. R. 13 (90-day deadline to petition for certiorari).

         Petitioner states in his habeas petition that his judgment became final on July 14, 2011, as he did not file a petition for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court after the New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification on his direct appeal on April 14, 2011. (See Dkt. No. 1-3 at p.8) Therefore, his statute of limitations began to run on July 14, 2011.

         The filing of a post-conviction relief (“PCR”) petition may statutorily toll (i.e., suspend) the running of the one-year habeas limitations period. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2) (“The time during which a properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending shall not be counted toward any period of limitation under this subsection.”). A prisoner's application for state collateral review is “‘properly filed' when its delivery and acceptance are in compliance with the applicable laws and rules governing filings[.]” Jenkins v. Superintendent of Laurel Highlands, 705 F.3d 80, 85 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Artuz v. Bennett, 531 U.S. 4, 8 (2000)).

         Petitioner states that he filed his PCR petition on December 16, 2011. (See Dkt. No. 1-3 at p.8; see also Dkt. No. 4 at p.1) Accordingly, by the time that petitioner had filed his PCR petition, 155 days of his one-year statute of limitations to file a federal habeas petition had run. Nevertheless, the filing of this PCR petition tolled his one-year statute of limitations period.

         Petitioner states in his habeas petition that the New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification on his PCR petition on March 24, 2016. (See Dkt. No. 1-3 at p.8; see also Dkt. No. 4 at p.2) Petitioner does not indicate that he filed a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court from that denial. Furthermore, in contrast to the rule on direct appeal, the tolling period does not include the time during which petitioner could have filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court from the denial of certification on his PCR petition. See Stokes v. Dist. Attorney of Cnty. of Phila., 247 F.3d 539, 542 (3d Cir. 2001); see also Ransome v. Holmes, No. 12-4889, 2013 WL 6253668, at *4 (D.N.J. Dec. 4, 2013) (stating that ninety-day period that petitioner had to file a petition for writ of certiorari on the denial of PCR petition does not toll the AEDPA statute of limitations). Therefore, petitioner's remaining period of 210 days (365 days - 155 days = 210 days) to file his federal habeas petition began to run again on March 24, 2016.

         Pursuant to the prisoner mailbox rule, petitioner filed his federal habeas petition on November 22, 2016. See Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 270-71 (1988); see also Maples v. Warren, No. 12-0993, 2012 WL 1344828, at *1 n.2 (D.N.J. Apr. 16, 2012) (“Often times, when the court is unable to determine the exact date that a petitioner handed his petition to prison officials for mailing, it will look to the signed and dated certification of the petition.”). The period between when the New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification on his PCR petition on March 24, 2016, and when petitioner filed this federal habeas petition on November 22, 2016, is 243 days. However, petitioner only had 210 days remaining to file his federal habeas petition in light of the 155 days that had run between when his judgment became final and when he filed his PCR petition. Accordingly, it appears as if petitioner filed his federal habeas petition approximately one-month after his one-year statute of limitations expired (155 days 243 days = 398 days). Therefore, statutory tolling does not make petitioner's habeas petition timely.

         While statutory tolling does not make petitioner's federal habeas petition timely, it is possible that petitioner may be able to establish equitable tolling. “Generally, a litigant seeking equitable tolling bears the burden of establishing two elements: (1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way.” Pace, 544 U.S. at 418; see also Jenkins, 705 F.3d at 89. “There are no bright lines in determining whether equitable tolling is warranted in a given case.” See Pabon v. Mahanoy, 654 F.3d 385, 399 (3d Cir. 2011). The Third Circuit has explained that “equitable tolling is appropriate when principles of equity would make rigid application of a limitation period unfair, ...


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