Watts v. Hoffner
OPINION and ORDER Denying Respondent's 5 Motion to Dismiss and Ordering Respondent to File Responsive Pleading, (Responsive Pleading due by 12/27/2017.) Signed by District Judge Thomas L. Ludington. (KWin)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 1:16-cv-12997
Hon. Thomas L. Ludington
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING RESPONDENT’S MOTION TO DISMISS AND
ORDERING RESPONDENT TO FILE RESPONSIVE PLEADING
Petitioner Roosevelt Watts, a Michigan Department of Corrections prisoner serving a life
sentence, filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner
challenges his Wayne Circuit Court jury trial conviction of one count of first-degree murder,
MICH. COMP. LAWS § 750.316, and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission
of a felony. MICH. COMP. LAWS § 750.227b.
This matter is before the Court on the Respondent’s motion to dismiss the petition as
untimely filed. Petitioner has filed a response to the motion, asserting that the Respondent’s
calculations are incorrect and that his petition was timely filed. For the reasons stated below, the
Court will deny the Respondent’s motion and order the Respondent to file a responsive pleading
to the petition.
Following his conviction and sentence, Petitioner filed an appeal of right with the
Michigan Court of Appeals. On March 25, 2008, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an
unpublished opinion reversing his convictions. People v. Watts, No. 272369, 2008 WL 782588
(Mich. Ct. App. Mar. 25, 2008). The prosecutor filed an application for leave to appeal in the
Michigan Supreme Court. On September 10, 2008, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the
Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings. People v.
Watts, 755 N.W.2d 188 (Mich. 2008). The Michigan Court of Appeals then issued an
unpublished opinion affirming Petitioner’s convictions. People v. Watts, No. 272369, 2009 WL
3321511 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 15, 2009). Petitioner sought leave to appeal in the Michigan
Supreme Court, but the application was denied on January 29, 2010. People v. Watts, 777
N.W.2d 420 (Mich. 2010) (table). Petitioner’s motion for reconsideration was denied on March
29, 2010, ending his direct appeal. People v. Watts, 779 N.W.2d 810 (Mich. 2010) (table).
For statute of limitations purposes, Petitioner’s conviction became final 90-days later, on
June 28, 2010, when the time for filing a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States
Supreme Court expired. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A); Jimenez v. Quarterman, 555 U.S. 113,
120 (2009) (explaining that a conviction becomes final when “the time for filing a certiorari
Before the statute of limitations began running, on April 16, 2010, Petitioner filed his
first petition for habeas corpus with this Court. Watts v. Howes, E.D. Mich. No. 1:10-cv-11548.
On February 7, 2011, Petitioner moved to hold the petition in abeyance so he could present new
claims to the state courts. On March 8, 2011, the Court denied the motion, noting that abeyance
was not warranted because the petition was filed before the statute of limitations began running.
Id., Dkt. 13, at 2. The Court further noted that limitations period would be equitably tolled for the
time the first petition had been pending:
While the time in which this case has been pending in federal court is not
statutorily tolled, see Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 181-82 (2001) (a federal
habeas petition is not an “application for State postconviction or other collateral
review” within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2) so as to statutorily toll the
limitations period), such time is equitably tolled. See, e.g., Johnson v. Warren,
344 F. Supp. 2d 1081, 1088-89 (E.D. Mich. 2004). The limitations period will
also be tolled during the time in which any properly filed post-conviction or
collateral actions are pending in the state courts. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2);
Carey v. Saffold, 536 U.S. 214, 219-221 (2002). Given that the full one-year
period remains, Petitioner has sufficient time to exhaust additional issues in the
state courts and return to federal court should he wish to do so.
Id., at 2.
Petitioner then moved to dismiss the petition without prejudice, and the Court granted the
motion on April 11, 2011. Id., at Dkt. 15.
On June 30, 2011, Petitioner filed a motion for relief from judgment in the state trial
court. The trial court denied the motion on October 14, 2011. Petitioner filed a delayed
application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals that was denied on September
13, 2012. People v. Watts, No. 314132 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 13, 2013). Petitioner next filed an
application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, but it was denied on June 28,
2016. People v. Watts, 880 N.W.2d 573 (Mich. 2016) (table).
Petitioner dated his present petition on August 12, 2016, and it was filed with the Court
on August 16, 2016.
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) provides a oneyear period of limitation for a habeas petition filed by a state prisoner seeking habeas relief from
a state court judgment. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). The limitation runs from one of four specified
dates, usually either the day when the judgment becomes final by the conclusion of direct review
or the day when the time for seeking such review expires. § 2244(d)(1)(A). The limitation period
is tolled while “a properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review . .
. is pending.” § 2244(d)(2).
Section 2244(d)(1)(A) provides the operative date from which the one-year limitations
period is measured in this case. Under this section the one-year limitations period runs from “the
date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of
the time for seeking such review.” Here, as discussed above, that date is June 28, 2010, the last
day Petitioner could have filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme
Court—90 days after the Michigan Supreme Court denied Petitioner’s application for leave to
appeal following his direct appeal. When the limitations period began to run, the petitioner had
already filed his first federal habeas petition.
While the respondent correctly notes that the limitations period is not statutorily tolled
while a prior federal habeas petition is pending, the Court expressly instructed Petitioner that he
would be entitled to equitable tolling for the time during which his first petition was pending.
Watts v. Howes, E.D. Mich. No. 1:10-cv-11548, Dkt. 13, at 2. Indeed, the provision of equitable
tolling was the basis for the Court denying Petitioner’s motion to stay his first petition. When the
Court dismissed the first habeas petition after denying Petitioner’s motion for a stay, more than
one-year had already passed since the Michigan Supreme Court denied relief. Accordingly,
Petitioner is entitled to equitable tolling from the time his first petition was filed until April 11,
2011, when it was dismissed without prejudice for him to present his new claims to the state
courts. See Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 180 (2001) (noting the “potential unfairness to
litigants who file timely federal habeas petitions that are dismissed without prejudice after the
limitations period has expired”).
The limitations period therefore did not begin to run until April 12, 2011, the day after his
first habeas petition was dismissed. It continued to run until June 30, 2011, when Petitioner filed
his motion for relief from judgment in the trial court. This was a period of only 78 days. Once
the state post-conviction review proceeding was filed, the limitations period was statutorily
tolled under § 2244(d)(2).
That tolling continued until the Michigan Supreme Court denied relief on June 28, 2016.
After that date, Petitioner no longer had a state post-conviction review proceeding pending in the
state courts to statutorily toll the limitations period. The limitations period started running again
the next day, on June 29, 2016, and continued to run until August 12, 2016, when Petitioner filed
the present habeas petition. This was a period of 43 days. Adding the two periods in which the
period of limitations ran together, only 121 days, or well less than one-year elapsed. The petition
was therefore timely filed, and Respondent’s motion to dismiss will be denied.
For the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that the respondent’s motion to dismiss,
ECF No. 5, is DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the respondent shall file a responsive pleading to the
petition on or before December 27, 2017.
Dated: September 26, 2017
s/Thomas L. Ludington
THOMAS L. LUDINGTON
United States District Judge
PROOF OF SERVICE
The undersigned certifies that a copy of the foregoing order was served
upon each attorney or party of record herein by electronic means or first
class U.S. mail on September 26, 2017.
KELLY WINSLOW, Case Manager
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