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Reaux v. Vannoy

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 12, 2019

GREGORY REAUX, Plaintiff
v.
DARREL VANNOY, Defendant

         SECTION: “E” (4)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Report and Recommendation issued by Magistrate Judge van Meerveld recommending Petitioner Gregory Reaux's petition for federal habeas corpus relief be dismissed with prejudice as time-barred.[1] Petitioner objected to the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation.[2] For the reasons that follow, the Court ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation as its own, and hereby DENIES Petitioner's application for relief.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 24, 2013, Petitioner was convicted of three counts of armed robbery under Louisiana law.[3] On September 4, 2013, he was sentenced on each count to a term of ninety-nine years imprisonment, ordered to be served consecutively and without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.[4] On November 25, 2014, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed his convictions and sentences.[5] The Louisiana Supreme Court then denied his related writ application on October 9, 2015.[6]

         Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief with the state district court on January 25, 2016, [7] and a supplemental application on February 4, 2016.[8] The state district court denied relief on July 27, 2016.[9] Petitioner's related writ applications were then likewise denied by the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal on December 2, 2016, [10] and the Louisiana Supreme Court on April 6, 2018.[11]

         On March 18, 2019, Petitioner filed a federal application seeking habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.[12] The state filed a response arguing the application is untimely, [13] and Petitioner filed a reply.[14] Magistrate Judge van Meerveld recommended his petition be dismissed with prejudice as time-barred.[15]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         In reviewing the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendations, the Court must conduct a de novo review of any of the magistrate judge's conclusions to which a party has specifically objected.[16] As to the portions of the report not objected to, the Court needs only review those portions to determine whether they are clearly erroneous or contrary to law.[17]

         Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), a federal court must defer to the decision of the state court on the merits of a pure question of law or a mixed question of law and fact unless that decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.”[18] A state court's decision is contrary to clearly established federal law if: “(1) the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law announced in Supreme Court cases, or (2) the state court decides a case differently than the Supreme Court did on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.”[19] AEDPA requires a federal court “accord the state trial court substantial deference.”[20]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Under AEDPA, a petitioner generally must bring his § 2254 claims within one year of the date on which his underlying state criminal judgment became “final.”[21] A state judgment becomes “final, ” and the statute of limitations for bringing a federal habeas petition begins to run, on the date of “the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review.”[22] If a habeas petitioner pursues relief on direct appeal through a state's highest court, this means his or her judgment becomes final “ninety days after the highest court's judgment is entered, upon the expiration of time for filing an application for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.”[23]

         This one-year limitation is subject to certain exceptions, however. For instance, AEDPA expressly allows the one-year limitations period to be tolled throughout “[t]he 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.”[24] Additionally, the one-year period of limitation may be equitably tolled in extraordinary circumstances.[25]

         In this case, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied Petitioner's direct-review writ application on October 9, 2015.[26] Accordingly, his state criminal judgment became final for AEDPA purposes on January 7, 2016, upon the expiration of his time for seeking review in the United States Supreme Court. As a result, his federal limitations period commenced on that date and then expired one year later, unless the deadline was extended through tolling.

         Magistrate Judge van Meerveld recommended this Court dismiss Petitioner's claim as untimely because Petitioner failed to file his federal habeas petition within the one-year statute of limitations period, and tolling does not apply as Petitioner contends.[27] The Court agrees with the magistrate judge's recommendation. Because Petitioner does not argue any other exceptions to the one-year limitations period apply, [28] the Court only addresses whether Petitioner is entitled to statutory tolling or equitable tolling of the AEDPA one-year limitations period.

         B. Statutory Tolling Does Not Extend to Petitioner's Federal Habeas Petition

         Section 2244(d)(2) of AEDPA provides 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 the one-year limitation period.[29] With respect to what it means for an application to be “properly filed, ” The United States Supreme Court has explained:

[A]n application is “properly filed” when its delivery and acceptance are in compliance with the applicable laws and rules governing filings. These usually prescribe, for example, the form of the document, the time limits upon its delivery, the court and office in which it must be lodged, and the requisite filing fee.[30]

         Accordingly, no tolling applies where an application is filed in the wrong court.[31] Likewise, an untimely state application is not “properly filed” for the purposes of § 2244(d)(2).[32] And, if a petitioner's writ application has been rejected by the state court as untimely, the petitioner is entitled to no statutory tolling whatsoever for that writ application.[33]

         Further, a matter is “pending” for § 2244(d)(2) purposes for the duration of the post-conviction proceedings, so long as the petitioner continues to seek review at the higher levels of the state court system in a timely manner.[34] However, if the petitioner fails to properly file an appeal for a higher level of review in a timely fashion, then the application ceases to be “pending” for the purposes of § 2244(d)(2) when his time for seeking such review expires.[35]

         In this case, Petitioner's limitation period for filing a federal habeas petition began running on January 7, 2016. Petitioner tolled this limitations period just seventeen days later by filing a post-conviction application with the state district court on January 25, 2016.[36] After the state district court denied relief on July 27, 2016, Petitioner attempted to seek further review, which generally should continue the tolling period. But due to his counsel's errors explained below, the related filings with the intermediate appellate courts were not “properly filed” and did not qualify for § 2244(d)(2) tolling.

         Petitioner's counsel initially sought review of the state district court's July 27 decision by filing a writ application with the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal on September 12, 2016.[37] However, that court lacked jurisdiction over the case, and state law instead required the application be filed in the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.[38]When Petitioner's counsel discovered the mistake, he filed a writ application with the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal on November 3, 2016, [39] but on December 2, 2016, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal denied that application as untimely.[40] As a result, Petitioner's application to the Louisiana circuit courts likewise did not toll the federal limitations period. Because Petitioner failed to properly file a writ application with the correct state court of appeal in a timely fashion, his state post-conviction application ceased to be “pending, ” and his federal limitations period resumed running, on August 26, 2016, when his time expired for seeking review of the district court's July 27 ruling denying post-conviction relief.[41]

         At that point, Petitioner still had three hundred forty-eight days of his federal limitations period remaining. After another one hundred twenty-four days elapsed, Petitioner again tolled the federal limitations period on December 29, 2016, by filing a writ application with the Louisiana Supreme Court to challenge the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal's denial of relief.[42] When the Louisiana Supreme Court then denied relief on April 6, 2018, [43] the federal limitations period again resumed.[44] As of that date, Petitioner still had two hundred twenty-four (224) days of his federal limitations period remaining. Accordingly, he had until November 16, 2018, either to toll the limitations period or file his federal application. Petitioner had no other applications pending before the state courts at any time on or before November 16, 2018. As a result, he is not entitled to further statutory tolling, and his March 18, 2019, petition is untimely.

         C. Equitable Tolling Does Not Apply to Petitioner's Case

         AEDPA's statute of limitations can be equitably tolled only “in rare and exceptional circumstances.”[45] “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.”[46] Extraordinary circumstances “would exist, for example, if ‘the plaintiff was actively misled by the defendant about the cause of action or was prevented in some extraordinary way from asserting his rights.'”[47]“But, a ‘garden variety claim of excusable neglect' by the petition does not support equitable tolling.'”[48] Finally, “equitable tolling ‘is not intended for those who sleep on their rights.'”[49]

         In the instant case, Petitioner argues, in his reply[50] and in his objection to Magistrate Judge van Meerveld's report and recommendation, [51] his untimeliness should be excused due to his attorney's error in failing to file a timely writ application with the correct Louisiana Court of Appeal after the state district court denied post-conviction relief. Specifically, Petitioner argues his application should be considered timely in light of the Supreme Court case Martinez v. Ryan.[52] Martinez is inapplicable here because it concerned procedural default in federal habeas cases, not AEDPA's statute of limitations.[53] However, the Court will broadly construe Petitioner's argument as one for equitable tolling. The Court rejects Petitioner's argument on three bases: (1) counsel's error did not constitute an “extraordinary circumstance;” (2) counsel's error did not “prevent” Petitioner from seeking federal relief in a timely fashion; and (3) Petitioner did not pursue federal relief diligently.

         Frist, attorney error normally does not constitute an extraordinary circumstance warranting equitable tolling.[54] In Holland v. Florida, the United States Supreme Court carved out a limited exception to this general rule, holding a “garden variety claim of misconduct” does not warrant equitable tolling but “far more serious instances of attorney misconduct” may.[55] For example, equitable tolling applied in Holland because there was an almost complete breakdown in communication between Holland and his counsel, and Holland's attorney failed even to inform Holland when the state supreme court denied him relief, much less file a timely federal application to preserve his's rights.[56]

         The facts in Petitioner's case are significantly less egregious. In this case, Petitioner's counsel initially filed the application with the wrong Court of Appeal. That error resulted from nothing more than garden-variety negligence, and, as such, does not qualify as an “extraordinary circumstance” warranting equitable tolling.[57] Further, while it may seem harsh to fault Petitioner ...


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