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Aruanno v. Yates

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 12, 2019

SARAH YATES, Respondent.


          Jose L. Linares, Chief Judge, United States District Judge.

         Presently before the Court is the amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus of Joseph Aruanno ("Petitioner") brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his involuntary commitment under the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predator Act, (ECF No. 3). Respondents filed an answer to the petition, (ECF No. 8), to which Petitioner replied, (ECF No. 9). Following an order requiring supplemental briefing, (ECF No. 10), Respondents filed a supplemental answer. (ECF No. 11). Despite being provided ample time in which to do so, Petitioner did not file a supplemental reply. (ECF Docket Sheet). For the following reasons, the Court denies the petition as Petitioner's claims are procedurally defaulted and Petitioner has presented no basis for overcoming that bar. Petitioner is also denied a certificate of appealability.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner is currently civilly committed to the Special Treatment Unit ("STU") in Avenel, New Jersey, pursuant to New Jersey's Sexually Violent Predator Act ("SVPA"), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 et seq. Petitioner seeks to challenge an annual review hearing he received on June 28, 2016, which resulted in an order continuing Petitioner's involuntary civil commitment. (ECF No. 8-3). Because the Court denies Petitioner's habeas petition as his claims are procedurally barred, only a brief recitation of the procedural history of this matter is necessary for the resolution of Petitioner's habeas petition.

         According to the record, Petitioner was initially scheduled for an annual review hearing in December 2015. (ECF No. 8-4). That hearing was adjourned at the request of Petitioner's counsel. (ECF No. 8-4). Petitioner's hearing was adjourned once again in March 2016. (ECF No. 8-4). Unhappy with counsel's adjournments, Petitioner fded an appeal on March 15, 2016, seeking to challenge the adjournments. (ECF No. 8-4). Petitioner thereafter fded a motion to proceed as indigent, which was granted, (ECF No. 8-5), and a motion for the appointment of counsel, (ECF No. 8-6). The Appellate Division denied Petitioner's counsel motion without prejudice, but referred Petitioner's appeal to the Office of the Public Defender "for [a] determination of [Petitioner's] eligibility [for] its services." (ECF No. 8-7). While those motions were pending, the trial court held Petitioner's annual review hearing and entered an order continuing Petitioner's civil commitment for another year on June 28, 2016. (ECF No. 8-3). Because Petitioner had received the relief he sought-his annual review hearing-the State moved to dismiss his appeal of the adjournments in February 2017, (ECF No. 8-8), and the Appellate Division granted that motion and dismissed Petitioner's appeal of the adjournments on March 22, 2017, (ECF No. 8-9). Unhappy with this result, Petitioner fded a petition for certification on March 28, 2017. (ECF No. 8-10).

         On May 17, 2017, the New Jersey Supreme Court provided Petitioner with a letter which explained to him what he was required to supply to proceed with his appeal. (ECF No. 8-11). When Petitioner argued that he was entitled to counsel, he was provided by the Supreme Court with an application for the appointment of counsel, which he was required to file to receive appointed counsel. (ECF No. 8-12). Petitioner, however, neither filed the documents necessary to proceed with his petition for certification, nor filed the motion for the appointment of counsel he was provided with by the Clerk of the New Jersey Supreme Court. (ECF No. 8-12). On July 24, 2017, the Clerk's Office of the New Jersey Supreme Court sent Petitioner a letter that again explained to Petitioner exactly what was required for him to perfect his appeal or seek the appointment of counsel before the New Jersey Supreme Court.[1] (ECF No. 8-12). Because Petitioner failed to file the required documents or the motion, the New Jersey Supreme Court dismissed his appeal of the adjournment issue for lack of prosecution on August 28, 2017. (ECF No. 8-13).

         While his appeal of the adjournments was pending, Petitioner filed a late notice of appeal of the June 2016 order continuing his commitment on November 14, 2016. (ECF No. 8-14). Petitioner also filed a motion to appeal as within time, which the State did not oppose. (ECF No. 8-15). The Appellate Division granted that motion. (ECF No. 8-16). The Appellate Division also granted Petitioner indigent status. (ECF No. 8-17). Following the grant of indigent status, however, the Appellate Division sent to Petitioner a letter on February 7, 2017, informing him that if he wished to continue with his appeal, he was required to either file a copy of the hearing transcript, or file a motion either to abbreviate the transcript or to have the transcript provided at public expense within fourteen days. (ECF No. 8-18). Petitioner failed to comply with this requirement, and on March 29, 2017, the Appellate Division dismissed his appeal for lack of prosecution. (ECF No. 8-19).

         On April 4, 2017, Petitioner filed another petition for certification challenging the dismissal of his appeal of the order continuing his civil commitment. (ECF No. 8-20). Petitioner was once again provided with a letter which informed him of the actions he needed to take to perfect his appeal. (ECF No. 8-21). Petitioner once again failed to comply with those requirements, and Petitioner's second petition for certification was dismissed for failure to prosecute his appeal on August 28, 2017. (ECF No. 8-22). The Supreme Court also sent Petitioner a letter on August 29, 2017, which explained the dismissal of both of Petitioner's appeals to the New Jersey Supreme Court as follows:

Pursuant to the enclosed Supreme Court Orders, [both of your appeals to the New Jersey Supreme Court] have been dismissed for failing to submit [a perfected] petition for certification and for not complying with the Rules of Court and the instructions of [the New Jersey Supreme Court Clerk's] Office.
. . . [The Clerk's Office] staff. . . has advised you on numerous occasions of the process for perfecting your Supreme Court matters. To date, however, you have not followed those processes, but rather have replied with non-compliant correspondence.
. . . Unfortunately, . .. the volume and extent of your non-compliant correspondence has disrupted staffs work for the Court.

(ECF No. 8-23).

         Petitioner thereafter filed his initial petition in this matter in June 2018. (ECF No. 1). Following initial briefing in this matter, this Court entered an order specifically requiring the parties to address whether Petitioner's claims were exhausted or procedurally defaulted, issues which neither party had addressed in initial briefing. (ECF No. 10). Respondents filed a response to that Order on December 13, 2018, in which they argued that Petitioner's claims were procedurally defaulted given the dismissal of his appeals for failure to prosecute. (ECF No. 11). On January 4, 2019, this Court received from Petitioner a letter dated December 21, 2018, in which he decried the conditions under which he is civilly committed, noted difficulties in preparing a response to Respondents, and requested that the Court "wait for [his] reply" before deciding this matter. (ECF No. 12). Petitioner gave no indication of when he intends to file a reply, nor requested any specific extension of time in which to file a reply.

         Pursuant to the Court's prior Order, Petitioner was to file his reply within thirty days of Respondents' filing a response. (ECF No. 10). Petitioner's reply was thus due on or about January 12, 2019. Despite the passage of more than two months since Petitioner's December 21, 2018, letter and nearly three months since ...

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