Robles v. Faneuff et al
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION. For the reasons set forth in the attached ruling, petitioner's motion for reconsideration (Doc. # 14 ) is DENIED. Petitioner's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. #15) and mot ion to appoint counsel (Doc. #16) are accordingly DENIED as moot. If Robles believes he can offer objective evidence of his mental illness during the periods of time he seeks to have tolled, as well as put forth a particularized showing of how hi s condition was causally connected to his failure to timely file, he may submit another motion for reconsideration containing such evidence by August 14, 2017. Any such motion must also address the question of whether the claims raised in the federal habeas petition were fully exhausted in the state courts, in light of the concerns raised above, or explain why the futility exception applies. It is so ordered. Signed by Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer on 6/14/2017. (Levenson, C.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
No. 3:16-cv-01208 (JAM)
W. FANEUFF, et al.,
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION
Petitioner Rolando Robles has filed a motion for reconsideration in response to the
Court’s prior entry of an order dismissing his petition for writ of habeas corpus for failure to
fully exhaust his remedies in the state courts of Connecticut. As explained below, I find that
Robles has not shown that his petition was timely filed within one year of his state court
convictions’ becoming final, nor has he demonstrated that he is entitled to equitable tolling of the
one-year statute of limitations. Accordingly, I will deny his motion for reconsideration.
On July 18, 2016, petitioner Rolando Robles filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See Doc. #1. On December 27, 2016, the Court entered an order
dismissing his habeas petition for failure to fully exhaust his remedies in the state courts of
Connecticut. See Doc. #12. In dismissing his petition, the Court stated that “[i]f Robles properly
exhausts his claims and wishes to re-file a petition for federal habeas corpus relief, he should be
prepared to show that his petition has been timely filed within one year of his state court
convictions’ becoming final (28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)) and, if not, why the statute of limitations
should be equitably tolled in his favor.” Ibid. On March 20, 2017, Robles filed a motion for
reconsideration in response to the Court’s prior order. See Doc. #14.
Statute of Limitations
A state court conviction becomes “final” at the conclusion of any direct appeal of a
conviction—specifically, on the date when the highest court to which petitioner has sought
review has denied relief or, if he has not sought such review, the date when the time for seeking
such review has expired. See Gonzalez v. Thaler, 132 S. Ct. 641, 653–54 (2012); Williams v.
Artuz, 237 F.3d 147, 151 (2d Cir. 2001). The one-year time limit for seeking federal habeas
corpus relief is subject to tolling for certain reasons. First, the time limit may be tolled for any
period of time that a petitioner has maintained collateral or other non-direct-appeal challenges to
his conviction in the state courts (for example, by means of filing a state court habeas corpus
petition). See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2); see also Lawrence v. Florida, 549 U.S. 327 (2007);
Saunders v. Senkowski, 587 F.3d 543, 547–49 (2d Cir. 2009). The time limit may also be subject
to tolling if there are truly extraordinary equitable circumstances that prevented a petitioner from
filing a petition on time. See, e.g., Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631 (2010); Dillon v. Conway,
642 F.3d 358 (2d Cir. 2011) (per curiam).
As noted in my prior ruling, nearly four years elapsed between the time that Robles’s
state court convictions became final and when he first filed a post-conviction motion for relief in
Connecticut state court. Doc. #12 at 1. During that time period, there was no appeal or other
motion pending. Therefore, it is clear that Robles far exceeded the one-year time limit for filing
of a federal habeas corpus petition, and the Court may only consider his petition if he has
grounds for equitable tolling of the statute of limitations.
The doctrine of equitable tolling allows a court to excuse a party’s failure to timely
comply with a legally required filing deadline. Although the “equitable” moniker might suggest
that a court has unfettered discretion to decide if a default should be overlooked, it is well
established that the invocation of equitable tolling is subject to at least two basic pre-conditions.
First, a party must show that extraordinary circumstances stood in his way to prevent timely
filing. Second, the defaulting party must show that—notwithstanding the obstacle posed by
extraordinary circumstances—he pursued his rights with reasonable diligence throughout the
time period that he seeks to have tolled. See Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin v. United
States, 136 S. Ct. 750, 755 (2016); Martinez v. Superintendent of E. Corr. Facility, 806 F.3d 27,
31 (2d Cir. 2015).
Robles offers several arguments for equitable tolling. He first argues that he was unaware
of the one-year statute of limitations, and that until 2011, he was unaware of the change in the
law via the Connecticut Supreme Court case State v. Salamon, 287 Conn. 509 (2008). A
petitioner’s unawareness of the law does not constitute an extraordinary circumstance to excuse
the untimely filing of a federal habeas petition. See Barrett v. United States, 961 F. Supp. 2d 403,
408 (D. Conn. 2013) (“Ignorance of the law and lack of education are not sufficient grounds to
warrant equitable tolling”).
Robles also argues that his lawyers failed to inform him about the statute of limitations
and the change in the law, and that their incompetence warrants equitable tolling. Attorney error
typically does not constitute extraordinary circumstances for purposes of equitable tolling, except
in cases where “an attorney’s behavior [is] so outrageous or so incompetent as to render it
extraordinary.” See, e.g., Dillon v. Conway, 642 F.3d 358, 363–64 (2d Cir. 2011) (finding
extraordinary circumstances where attorney affirmatively misled petitioner by promising that he
would file the petition before the “last day to file”); Baldayaque v. United States, 338 F.3d 145,
150–53 (2d Cir. 2003) (finding extraordinary circumstances where attorney failed to file habeas
petition, despite explicit directions to do so); Holland, 560 U.S. at 652 (suggesting that
“extraordinary circumstances” may be present when attorney failed to file a timely habeas
petition despite petitioner’s many letters instructing him to do so, did not inform petitioner that
the state’s highest court had decided his case, and ignored petitioner’s letters for a period of
years). The alleged conduct by Robles’s lawyers does not meet this high bar for demonstrating
extraordinary circumstances warranting equitable tolling.1
Next, Robles contends that he is entitled to equitable tolling because he “is indigent, and
in 2008 had no job to pay for an attorney.” Doc. #14 at 3. But Connecticut law requires the
Office of the Public Defender to represent indigent prisoners in state habeas corpus proceedings.
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-296(a). Thus, Robles’s indigency does not explain the years-long delay in
challenging his conviction in state court, nor does it constitute an extraordinary circumstance for
equitable tolling purposes. See Horton v. McCoy, 2012 WL 34071, at *5 (W.D.N.Y. 2012)
(“circumstances such as indigency . . . are not sufficiently ‘extraordinary’ to merit equitable
Finally, Robles argues that he is entitled to equitable tolling due to his mental illness. The
Second Circuit has held that a petitioner’s mental illness can justify equitable tolling of the
statute of limitations for federal habeas claims. See Bolarinwa v. Williams, 593 F.3d 226, 231 (2d
Cir. 2010). However, “mental illness does not toll a filing deadline per se; determining whether
equitable tolling is warranted in a given situation is a highly case-specific inquiry.” Id. at 232
(internal quotation marks omitted). In order to be entitled to equitable tolling, “a habeas
petitioner must demonstrate that [his] particular disability constituted an ‘extraordinary
Robles further claims that his lawyers “verbally abused, bullied, and coerced [him] into pleading out and
waiving [his] rights, when [he] wanted to go to trial.” Doc. #19 at 1. While this allegation may provide an
explanation for why he pled guilty instead of proceeding to trial, it does not explain or relate to his delay in pursuing
his rights following his conviction.
circumstance’ severely impairing [his] ability to comply with the filing deadline, despite [his]
diligent efforts to do so.” Ibid. The burden is on the petitioner to provide a “particularized
description of how [his] condition adversely affected [his] capacity to function generally or in
relationship to the pursuit of [his] rights.” Ibid.
Robles has not met his burden of demonstrating that equitable tolling is warranted on the
basis of his mental illness. He contends in his motion and a subsequent letter to the Court (Doc.
#19) that he has suffered from mental health issues, including depression, attention deficit
disorder, and a learning disability. He also argues that he was “incompetent” between 2005 and
2010. Petitioner has not provided objective evidence (e.g., medical records) to substantiate his
claims of mental illness during the relevant time period, nor has he provided any kind of
particularized description as to how his condition was causally connected to his failure to comply
with the filing deadline. See, e.g., Outman v. Superintendent, Five Points Corr. Facility, 2017
WL 318852, at *5 (N.D.N.Y. 2017) (no equitable tolling due to mental illness where petitioner
did not attach any medical records; “[e]vidence of mental illness during the AEDPA’s one-year
filing period is critical to a viable equitable tolling argument”); Barrett, 961 F. Supp. 2d at 408
(no equitable tolling where petitioner “failed to provide any objective evidence or explanation
regarding how his mental condition was causally connected to his failure to timely file the
petition”); King v. Lee, 2012 WL 1038562, at *5 (W.D.N.Y. 2012) (no equitable tolling despite
petitioner’s documented schizophrenia, where petitioner has not “borne his burden of providing
particulars concerning how his condition adversely affected his ability to function in general or,
specifically, to pursue his legal rights during the time for which he seeks tolling”).
In addition, Robles’ claim that his mental illness impeded him from filing a timely
petition is not supported by the transcript of his prior testimony that he has filed on the docket in
this case. See Doc. #18. As that transcript indicates, Robles was subject to questioning during
one of his state court hearings on June 30, 2014, about why he had waited so long between 2007
and 2011 to seek relief in the state courts:
Q. . . . Um, you didn’t file this petition until November of 2011. Why that
length of time?
A. I was coming in and of technical violations and I wasn’t aware of the change
in the law. It wasn’t until I was in my last – my last – till I – when I got arrested in, um,
oh – oh – 2011 where somebody told me, Hey, you know, they changed the kidnapping
law and I was – you know, I was angry because, you know, hey, I’m getting resentenced
and when I go before the Court, everybody’s staying silent. Nobody wants to read the
factual basis. Nobody does – does anything. They just – you know? . . .
Doc. #18 at 112. It is significant that Robles did not suggest that he had been mentally ill or that
he had been unable by reason of that illness to have timely sought relief.
In sum, Robles has not adequately demonstrated any extraordinary circumstances
warranting equitable tolling of the one-year statute of limitations. His petition for a writ of
habeas corpus is therefore time-barred.
Apart from the issue of the statute of limitations, it is not clear that Robles has properly
exhausted his claims in the state courts. With certain exceptions, a prerequisite to relief under 28
U.S.C. § 2254 is that a petitioner have previously presented and fully exhausted his federal
claims in the state courts. Id., § 2254(b)(1)(A); Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).
Robles contends that he has now exhausted his claims, or alternatively, that the Court should
waive the exhaustion requirement based on the futility exception. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(b)(1)(B)(i)-(ii) (exhaustion is futile if “there is an absence of available State corrective
process” or “circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the
Unlike at the time of my prior ruling, it appears that Robles no longer has any claims
pending in the state courts.2 In addition, Robles no longer concedes lack of exhaustion.3
Nevertheless, there remains a question as to whether the claims raised in his federal habeas
petition were properly presented and exhausted in the state courts.
In his state court habeas petition, Robles raised a due process claim related to State v.
Salamon, and a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. But after losing on the merits at the
trial court level, he pursued a different legal claim on appeal, arguing that his Alford pleas were
not made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. The Appellate Court ruled that it could not
review this appeal because the claim raised in the appeal had not been distinctly raised in the
habeas trial court. Robles separately pursued the Salamon claim by means of a motion to correct
an illegal sentence, but the trial court found (and the Appellate Court confirmed) that it lacked
subject matter jurisdiction over the motion, because the motion sought to challenge Robles’s
convictions rather than his sentence. See State v. Robles, 169 Conn. App. 127, 2016 WL
6081826, at *4 (2016). This procedural history suggests that the claims that Robles now raises in
federal court were never considered on their merits by the state appellate courts. But because I
find that Robles’s federal petition is untimely and that he is not entitled to equitable tolling, I
At the time of my prior ruling, Robles had a motion for reconsideration en banc pending in the
Connecticut Appellate Court, in connection with his appeal of the denial of his state habeas petition. The Appellate
Court denied his motion for reconsideration on January 11, 2017, and the Connecticut Supreme Court subsequently
denied his petition for certification. See www.jud.ct.gov, Supreme and Appellate Court Case Look-up, by Docket
Number, AC 37686. Robles also had a separate petition for certification pending in the Connecticut Supreme Court
at the time of this Court’s prior ruling, in connection with his appeal of the denial of his motion to correct an illegal
sentence. The Connecticut Supreme Court denied that petition for certification on January 4, 2017. See id., AC
In my prior ruling, I indicated that “Robles explicitly concedes that he did not raise any of [the four claims
raised in his federal habeas petition] in state court proceedings,” given that in the petition itself he answered “no” to
the question, “Did you raise this issue through a post-conviction motion or petition for habeas corpus in a state trial
court?” Doc. #12 at 5. Robles now clarifies that he “checked the wrong thing on the form.” Doc. #14 at 2.
need not resolve the question of exhaustion here, nor do I need to address whether the futility
exception to the exhaustion requirement applies.
For the reasons explained above, petitioner’s motion for reconsideration (Doc. #14) is
DENIED. Petitioner’s motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. #15) and motion to
appoint counsel (Doc. #16) are accordingly DENIED as moot.
If Robles believes he can offer objective evidence of his mental illness during the periods
of time he seeks to have tolled, as well as put forth a particularized showing of how his condition
was causally connected to his failure to timely file, he may submit another motion for
reconsideration containing such evidence by August 14, 2017. Any such motion must also
address the question of whether the claims raised in the federal habeas petition were fully
exhausted in the state courts, in light of the concerns raised above, or explain why the futility
It is so ordered.
Dated at New Haven this 14th day of June 2017.
/s/ Jeffrey Alker Meyer
Jeffrey Alker Meyer
United States District Judge
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