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Jackson v. Davis

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 2, 2019

WILLIE FRANK JACKSON, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

          Before HIGGINBOTHAM, SMITH, and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.

          JERRY E. SMITH, Circuit Judge:

         We must decide whether Willie Jackson is entitled to equitable tolling of limitations for his federal petition for writ of habeas corpus. Because, under the specific circumstances presented, equitable tolling is appropriate, we reverse and remand.

          I.

         Jackson was convicted of aggravated robbery and sentenced to ninety years. The Texas Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence on direct appeal, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ("TCCA") denied his petition for review. The Supreme Court denied Jackson's petition for writ of certiorari on February 29, 2016, making his conviction final.[1]

         On April 14, 2016, Jackson filed a pro se application for state habeas relief. The TCCA denied it on July 13, 2016, but Jackson did not receive notice. About a year later, on July 20, 2017, Jackson wrote to the TCCA asking for a "status update." Within a few days, the clerk sent a letter saying that his application was denied, but Jackson did not receive that letter. He wrote again on December 20, 2017, and the clerk again responded with a letter. On January 5, 2018-almost eighteen months after the TCCA had denied his state application and almost six months after the one-year limitations period for filing a federal habeas petition had expired, see 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)- Jackson finally received notice that his application had been denied. The state concedes that he was not notified of the TCCA's denial until January 5, 2018.

         Seventeen days later, on January 22, 2018, Jackson mailed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He explained that he was filing his federal petition more than a year after his conviction became final because he did not receive notice that the TCCA had denied his application for eighteen months after its decision. The petition was referred to a magistrate judge ("MJ"), who recommended denying it as time-barred. The MJ decided that Jackson was not entitled to equitable tolling because, by waiting fifteen months after filing his state application to ask for a status update, he had failed to "show[ ] diligence."

         Jackson filed objections to the MJ's recommendation. The district court overruled them, accepted the recommendation, and denied the petition "with prejudice as barred by the statute of limitations." The court also denied a certificate of appealability ("COA"). Jackson timely appealed, and we appointed counsel. We then granted a COA "as to the equitable-tolling claim that the state court delayed notification that it had denied the habeas application."

         II.

         A state prisoner generally must file for federal habeas relief within a year after his conviction becomes final. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). That limitation period is tolled, however, during the pendency of a properly filed application for state habeas relief. Id. § 2244(d)(2). Additionally, a court may equitably toll limitations if the petitioner establishes "(1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way and prevented timely filing." Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631, 649 (2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Jackson does not dispute that the district court correctly tolled limitations while his state habeas application was pending. He contends, however, that the court also should have equitably tolled while he waited for notice from the TCCA that it had denied his state habeas application. We agree.

         A.

         Equitable tolling is "a discretionary doctrine that turns on the facts and circumstances of a particular case." Fisher v. Johnson, 174 F.3d 710, 713 (5th Cir. 1999). It "does not lend itself to bright-line rules, but we draw on general principles to guide when equitable tolling is appropriate." Id. "We [are] cautious not to apply the statute of limitations too harshly," especially when reviewing dismissal of a ...


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