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Prall v. The Attorney General of State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 29, 2017

TORMU PRALL, Petitioner,
v.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Respondents.

          OPINION

          HON. BRIAN R. MARTINOTTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before this Court is Petitioner Tormu Prall's (“Petitioner”) motion (ECF No. 16) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), requesting this Court vacate its February 1, 2017 Order (ECF Nos. 11-12), which dismissed his habeas petition as time barred, and reinstate his petition. For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's motion is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Petitioner filed his original habeas petition (“Petition”) on or about October 5, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) On January 5, 2017, Petitioner filed an amended petition (“Amended Petition”). (ECF No. 8.) On January 10, 2017, this Court entered an order directing Petitioner to show cause why his Amended Petition should not be dismissed as time barred. (ECF No. 10.) In response, Petitioner a letter brief on January 23, 2017. (ECF No. 10.) On February 1, 2017, this Court entered its order and opinion dismissing the Amended Petition with prejudice and denying him a certificate of appealability. (ECF No. 11-12.) This Court explained that dismissal as follows in its opinion:

Because the Amended Petition is brought pursuant to § 2254, it is subject to a one-year statute of limitations. See Figueroa, 2015 WL 1403829, at *2. In this case, the one-year statute of limitations began to run on February 29, 2012, the “date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review including the 90-day period for filing a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.” Id. Therefore, because Petitioner's original petition in this matter was not submitted until September 29, 2016, this action was filed outside the applicable statute of limitations.
The one-year statute of limitations, however, is subject to statutory tolling, which automatically applies to the period of time during which a petitioner has a properly filed PCR petition pending in the state courts. Figueroa, 2015 WL 1403829 at *2. By Petitioner's own admission, he did not file his PCR petition in state court until June 11, 2013, more than three (3) months after the expiration of the one-year limitations period. (ECF No. 8 at 4.) Therefore, as the Court explained in the January 10, 2017 Order to Show Cause, statutory tolling is of no benefit to Petitioner, unless Petitioner can show that he is entitled to equitable tolling of the statute of limitations for at least the three (3) months between March 1, 2013 and June 11, 2013. (See ECF No. 8 at 3); see also Long v. Wilson, 393 F.3d 390, 394-95 (3d Cir. 2004) (no statutory tolling results if a PCR application is filed more than a year after the litigant's judgment became final); Schlueter v. Varner, 384 F.3d 69, 78-79 (3d Cir. 2004) (same).
Equitable tolling “is a remedy which should be invoked ‘only sparingly.'” United States v. Bass, 268 F. App'x 196, 199 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting United States v. Midgley, 142 F.3d 174, 179 (3d Cir. 1998)). To receive the benefit of equitable tolling, Petitioner must show “(1) that he faced ‘extraordinary circumstances that stood in the way of timely filing, ' and (2) that he exercised reasonable diligence.” United States v. Johnson, 590 F. App'x 176, 179 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Pabon v. Mahanoy, 654 F.3d 385, 399 (3d Cir. 2011)). Petitioner fails to provide a basis for equitable tolling in both the Amended Petition and his response to the Order to Show Cause. Instead, Petitioner argues in his response that, pursuant to the Supreme Court's decision in Wall v. Kholi, 562 U.S. 545 (2011), his one-year limitations period was tolled throughout the entire five-year period during which he could have filed his PCR petition under New Jersey Court Rule 3:22-12. See N.J. Court Rules, R. 3:22-12 (requiring that all PCR petitions be filed within five (5) years of the date of conviction). Petitioner, however, misreads the holding of Wall.
The question before the Supreme Court in Wall was not whether the habeas limitations period was tolled while a petitioner was entitled to file a petition for review in state court but did not. Instead, Wall addressed whether or not Rhode Island's equivalent to a Rule 35 motion qualified as a form of collateral review. Wall, 562 U.S. at 549-61. Indeed, the Supreme Court reiterated in Wall that a petitioner is generally required to file his “federal habeas petition . . . within one year of the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review. But the 1-year limitation period is tolled during the pendency of a properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim.” Id. at 549 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Because the statutory tolling is tied to “the pendency of a properly filed application, ” it only applies for the period of time between the filing of such an application and its ultimate conclusion in the state courts. See Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631, 635-37 (2010) (calculating statutory tolling from date PRC motion is filed in state court until date of final state court decision). Nothing in Wall suggests, let alone holds, the one-year limitations period is tolled throughout the entire time during which a petitioner could file a collateral attack on his conviction. Wall, 562 U.S. at 549-61. Instead, such tolling only applies after a collateral review petition has been filed and while it remains pending in the state courts. Wall, therefore, provides no support for Petitioner's assertion that he was entitled to tolling for the entire five-year period in which he could have filed a PCR petition, nor the assertion that the one-year period restarts once a PCR petition runs its course.
As explained above, Petitioner's conviction became final on February 29, 2012. His one-year statute of limitations had therefore expired as of March 1, 2013, several months before the date on which Petitioner asserts he filed his PCR petition. (See ECF No. 10). Consequently, Petitioner's one-year statute of limitations expired before he filed his PCR petition in the state courts. The filing of his PCR petition did not toll or restart the already expired limitations period. See Long, 393 F.3d at 394-95; Schlueter, 384 F.3d at 78-79. Petitioner has asserted no other basis for the equitable tolling of the limitations period, and this Court perceives no basis for such tolling, based on Petitioner's filings. Petitioner's habeas petition is thus clearly time-barred, and is dismissed with prejudice.

(ECF No. 11 at 2-4.)

         On February 10, 2017, Petitioner filed a notice of appeal and filed with the Third Circuit a motion requesting a certificate of appealability. (ECF No. 13.) On March 30, 2017, the Third Circuit dismissed Petitioner's appeal and denied him a certificate of appealability as “[r]easonable jurists would not debate the correctness of the District Court's procedural ruling dismissing [Petitioner's] federal habeas petition as untimely . . . and [Petitioner] has not established any basis for equitable tolling of the one-year limitations period.” (ECF No. 15.) On April 26, 2017, Petitioner filed with this Court his current motion to vacate the order dismissing his petition. (ECF No. 16).

         In support of vacating the February 1, 2017 Order, Petitioner argues only that his petition should not be time barred because he filed an earlier habeas petition under Docket Number 11-6355 (the “2011 Petition”). While Petitioner has never previously raised this argument, either in his response to the Court's Order to Show Cause or before the Third Circuit on appeal, he maintains he omitted it “due to mistake, inadvertence, and excusable neglect.” (ECF No. 16 at 3.)

         II. Legal Standard

         “Rule 60(b) allows a party to seek relief from a final judgment, and request reopening of his case, under a limited set of circumstances including fraud, mistake, and newly discovered evidence, ” Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 529 (2005), as well as “inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1). “The remedy provided by Rule 60(b) is extraordinary, and special circumstances must justify granting relief under it.” Jones v. Citigroup, Inc., Civil No. 14-6547, 2015 WL 3385938, at *3 (D.N.J. May 26, 2015) (quoting Moolenaar v. Gov't of the Virgin Islands, 822 F.3d 1342, 1346 (3d Cir. 1987). A Rule 60(b) motion “may not be used as a substitute for appeal, and . . . legal error, without more cannot justify granting a Rule 60(b) motion.” Holland v. Holt, 409 F. App'x ...


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