United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MALVERN L. LEWIS, Petitioner,
CHARLES WARREN, et al. Respondents.
BRIAN R. MARTINOTTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
this Court is the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus
(“Petition”) filed by Petitioner Malvern L. Lewis
(“Petitioner”) for relief under 28 U.S.C. §
2254. The Court previously reviewed the Petition, the records
of proceedings submitted by Respondents, the Answer and
Petitioner's Traverse, and found that the Petition was
time-barred. (Order (ECF No. 18) at 3.) The Court issued an
order to show cause, directing Petitioner to submit any
argument on why the Petition should not be dismissed as
time-barred. (Id. at 6.) The Court also directed
Respondents to submit the record from the state court
proceedings to determine if there were further delays that
would support Petitioner's request to toll the statute of
limitations period. (Id.) Presently before the Court
are the parties' responses to the Court's order.
(See Pet'r's Resp. (ECF No. 22) &
Resp't's Resp. (ECF No. 23).) Having considered the
responses, the Court now dismisses the Petition as
order to show cause, the Court directed Petitioner to:
submit any arguments, supported by evidence, why equitable
tolling should apply, other than the argument already
discussed [in this order]. Petitioner may also raise any
other argument as appropriate with regard to the timeliness
of the Petition. Petitioner is hereby notified that if there
were delays during his PCR proceedings that would have
further shortened his limitations period, he must also
account for those delays, and the Court will consider any
such delays in its final ruling.
(ECF No. 18 at 6.) Instead of presenting new arguments for
equitable tolling, Petitioner rehashes the argument the Court
already rejected in the order to show cause, finding that a
short delay, caused by prison officials when obtaining a
prison account statement needed for Petitioner's
in forma pauperis application, did not
warrant equitable tolling. (Compare ECF No. 18 at
3-4 with ECF No. 22 at 7.) He also challenges this
Court's integrity, questioning why his case has been
reassigned twice when it was initially assigned to the
Honorable Joel A. Pisano, who has since retired.
(See ECF No. 22 at 4-5.) Indeed, none of this is
responsive to the Court's order to show cause.
then argues that Judge Pisano had previously found the
Petition timely. (Id. at 3.) The Court has carefully
reviewed the docket, and finds no basis for his argument. For
support, Petitioner relies on the order to answer issued by
Judge Pisano. (See Order, Nov. 12, 2013 (ECF No.
5).) In that order, Judge Pisano stated he “examined
the Petition and determined that dismissal prior to
submission of an answer and the record [was] not
warranted.” (Id. at 1.) Petitioner argues that
this statement essentially presumed the Petition was timely.
The Court fails to see how that statement can be construed in
any way as making a finding on the timeliness of the
Petition. Oftentimes, without the state court record, for
which federal district courts rely on the state respondents
to provide, it is impossible to determine the timeliness of a
petition. As such, the Court finds that its order to show
cause did not contradict any earlier holdings by another
judge in this matter.
Petitioner directs this Court's attention to his
diagnosis of schizophrenia. (See ECF No. 22 at 8.)
The Court acknowledges that Petitioner had made it aware of
his mental condition on October 14, 2014, by submitting a
“Notice of Medical Report.” (ECF No. 15.)
However, the medical report was dated June 25, 2014, well
after this Petition was filed. (See ECF No. 15 at
1.) Petitioner claims to have been diagnosed since December
of 2010 (ECF No. 22 at 8), but provides no documentary proof
of the diagnosis-indeed, Petitioner makes no mention of his
schizophrenia in the Petition or in his Traverse, both filed
before his unprompted “Notice of Medical Report.”
Regardless, “[m]ental incompetence is not a per
se cause for equitable tolling.” Champney v.
Sec. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 469 F. App'x 113, 117
(3d Cir. 2012). “For tolling to be appropriate, the
alleged mental incompetence must somehow have affected the
petitioner's ability to file a timely action, ” and
“the burden [is] on the petitioner to demonstrate with
particularized description the causal relationship between
the mental deficiency and failure to timely file the
petition[.]” Id. (citations omitted).
Significantly, a petitioner's “participation in
court proceedings over an extended period of time [would]
compel the conclusion that the extraordinary remedy of
equitable tolling is not warranted[.]” Id. at
the Petition was filed in June of 2013. Throughout the course
of this proceeding, Petitioner has repeatedly demonstrated
his ability to grasp the legal concepts relevant to his
habeas claims, and has made numerous filings that show he was
and is mentally capable of litigating his case. Indeed, if
the schizophrenia that was diagnosed as early as December of
2010 was so debilitating, Petitioner should not have been
able to file this response to the order to show cause.
Notably, Petitioner has not shown how his schizophrenia
prevented him from making a timely filing of the
Petition, when he has time and again been able to meet the
much tighter deadlines imposed by this Court in this matter.
Under these facts, the Court finds that Petitioner's
alleged mental incompetence did not prevent him from making a
timely filing of the Petition, and equitable tolling is not
warranted. See Todish v. Cigna Corp., 206 F.3d 303,
306 (3d Cir. 2000) (relying on evidence showing that the
plaintiff had been able to pursue her legal claims, despite
having a history of mental problems, as proof that she had
the ability to understand her legal rights and to institute
legal action within the statute of limitations period).
the delays the Court found in the prior opinion, subsequent
records submitted by Respondents in their response to the
order to show cause reveal at least one additional delay
occurred during Petitioner's PCR proceedings. As the
record reflects, Petitioner's PCR application was denied
by the trial court on May 19, 2009. (Resp't's Resp.
(ECF No. 23-1) at 2.) Under state law, he had 45 days, or
until July 3, 2009, to file a timely appeal. See
N.J. Ct. R. 2:4-4(a); Lombardi v. Masso, 207 N.J.
517, 540-41 (2011). However, he did not file his notice of
appeal until January 19, 2010, (ECF No. 23-1 at 3), causing
his one-year limitations period to run for 200 additional
days. See Swartz v. Meyers, 204 F.3d 417, 423 n.6
(3d Cir. 2000) (“We . . . agree that the time during
which Swartz's nunc pro tunc request for allowance of
appeal was pending does not toll the statute of
limitation.”). Factoring these 200 days, even if the
Court was to grant Petitioner equitable tolling for the
aforementioned short delay caused by prison officials, the
Petition would still be untimely. As discussed, the Court
provided notice to Petitioner to make equitable tolling
arguments regarding any potential delays during the PCR
proceedings, and he has not done so.
the Court raised the timeliness issue sua sponte,
the Court must now analyze whether dismissal on the statute
of limitations ground would unduly prejudice Petitioner.
(See ECF No. 18 at 2 (citing Day v.
McDonough, 547 U.S. 198, 210 (2006); United States
v. Bendolph, 409 F.3d 155, 158 (3d Cir. 2005)).) In
determining what constitutes prejudice, courts should
consider whether the defense would “(i) require the
[aggrieved party] to expend significant additional resources
to conduct discovery and prepare for trial; (ii)
significantly delay the resolution of the dispute; or (iii)
prevent the [aggrieved party] from bringing a timely action
in another jurisdiction.” Long v. Wilson, 393
F.3d 390, 400 (3d Cir. 2004).
there is no prejudice to Petitioner in dismissing his
Petition as time-barred. No discovery has occurred in this
case, and no discovery request has been filed with the Court.
Indeed, ordinarily, discovery is not allowed in § 2254
cases unless the Court finds good cause to authorize it.
See Rule 6, Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases;
Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 182 (2011). The
delay in raising the statute of limitations issue also does
not affect Petitioner's rights in any other case, as this
Court is the only court with jurisdiction to adjudicate
Petitioner's habeas claims. There is also no showing that
Petitioner's ability to defend his case was impaired;
Petitioner was given an opportunity to respond to the
timeliness argument, and he filed a response. Accordingly,
the Petition is dismissed as time-barred.
the Court denies a certificate of appealability
(“COA”). Federal law provides that an appeal may
not be taken to the court of appeals from a final order in a
§ 2254 proceeding unless a judge issues a COA on the
ground that “the applicant has made a substantial
showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28
U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). In Slack v. McDaniel, 529
U.S. 473, 474 (2000), the United States Supreme Court held:
[w]hen the district court denies a habeas petition on
procedural grounds without reaching the prisoner's
underlying constitutional claim, a COA should issue . . . if
the prisoner shows, at least, that jurists of reason would
find it debatable whether the petition states a valid claim
of the denial of a constitutional right, and that jurists of
reason would find it debatable whether the district court was
correct in its procedural ruling.
the Court denies a COA pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)
because jurists of reason would not find it debatable ...