Williamson v. Woods
OPINION and ORDER Summarily Denying the 1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus; Denying Petitioner's Motions for Equitable Tolling 7 and for the Appointment of Counsel 8 and Declining to Issue a Certificate of Appealability and Leave to Appeal In Forma Pauperis. Signed by District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds. (JCur)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
RODNEY B. WILLIAMSON, #186967,
Civil No. 2:12-14323
HONORABLE NANCY G. EDMUNDS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
OPINION AND ORDER SUMMARILY DENYING THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS, DENYING PETITIONER’S MOTIONS FOR EQUITABLE
TOLLING AND FOR THE APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL, AND DECLINING TO
ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY AND LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA
Rodney B. Williamson, (“Petitioner”), presently confined at the Chippewa
Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Michigan, has filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas
corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in which he challenges his conviction for seconddegree murder, M.C.L.A. 750.317; and possession of a firearm during the commission of
a felony, M.C.L.A. 750.227b. Respondent has filed a motion for summary judgment,
contending that petitioner has failed to comply with the statute of limitations contained in
28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). Petitioner has filed a motion for equitable tolling and a reply to the
motion, as well as a motion for the appointment of counsel. For the reasons stated below,
the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is SUMMARILY DENIED.
Petitioner was convicted of the above offenses following a jury trial in the Detroit
Recorder’s Court. Petitioner’s direct appeals with the Michigan courts ended on November
29, 1989, when the Michigan Supreme Court denied petitioner leave to appeal following the
affirmance of his conviction by the Michigan Court of Appeals. People v. Williamson, No.
85873 (Mich.S.Ct. November 29, 1989).
On September 30, 1994, petitioner filed a post-conviction motion for relief from
judgment with the trial court, which was denied. People v. Williamson, No. 86-4526 (Detroit
Recorder’s Court, June 5, 1996). The Michigan Court of Appeals subsequently denied
petitioner leave to appeal. People v. Williamson, No. 203751 (Mich.Ct.App. December 5,
1997). Petitioner did not seek leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court. 1
Petitioner filed a second motion for relief from judgment with the trial court on
December 29, 2008. The trial court denied the motion. People v. Williamson, No. 86-4526
(Wayne County Circuit Court, June 17, 2009).
The trial court subsequently denied
petitioner’s motion for reconsideration. People v. Williamson, No. 86-4526 (Wayne County
Circuit Court, December 7, 2009).
Petitioner then filed a second motion for
reconsideration, which was also denied. People v. Williamson, No. 86-4526 (Wayne County
Circuit Court, April 16, 2010). The Michigan Court of Appeals denied petitioner leave to
appeal. People v. Williamson, No. 300664 (Michigan Court of Appeals, December 8, 2010).
Petitioner’s motion for reconsideration was also denied. People v. Williamson, No. 300664
(Michigan Court of Appeals, January 13, 2011).
The Michigan Supreme Court denied
petitioner’s application for leave to appeal the denial of his second post-conviction motion
See Affidavit of Corbin R. Davis, Clerk of the Michigan Supreme Court, dated December 4,
2012 (This Court’s Dkt. # 11).
In 1996, the Michigan Legislature abolished the Detroit Recorder’s Court and merged its
functions with the Wayne County Circuit Court. See Anthony v. Michigan, 35 F. Supp. 2d 989, 996-97
(E.D. Mich. 1999).
on September 26, 2012. People v. Williamson, 490 Mich. 872; 803 N.W.2d 331
(2011)(Table). Petitioner’s habeas application was filed on September 28, 2012.
Summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.” Sanders v. Freeman, 221 F. 3d 846, 851 (6th Cir. 2000)(quoting Fed.
R. Civ. P. 56(c). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must set
forth specific facts sufficient to show that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in
his favor. Id. The summary judgment rule applies to habeas proceedings. See Redmond
v. Jackson, 295 F. Supp. 2d 767, 770 (E.D. Mich. 2003).
Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), a one year
statute of limitations shall apply to an application for writ of habeas corpus by a person in
custody pursuant to a judgment of a state court. See Corbin v. Straub, 156 F. Supp. 2d
833, 835 (E.D. Mich. 2001). The one year statute of limitation shall run from the latest of:
(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct
review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review;
(B) the date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State
action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed,
if the applicant was prevented from filing by such State action;
(C) the date on which the constitutional right asserted was initially recognized
by the Supreme Court, if the right has been newly recognized by the
Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral
(D) the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented
could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.
28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1).
Although not jurisdictional, the AEDPA’s one year limitations period “effectively bars
relief absent a showing that the petition’s untimeliness should be excused based on
equitable tolling and actual innocence.” See Akrawi v. Booker, 572 F. 3d 252, 260 (6th Cir.
2009). A petition for writ of habeas corpus must be dismissed where it has not been filed
within the one year statute of limitations. See Holloway v. Jones, 166 F. Supp. 2d 1185,
1187 (E.D. Mich. 2001). Thus, the AEDPA’s statute of limitations must be complied with
by a habeas petitioner before a federal court can address the merits of the habeas petition
itself. See Sweger v. Chesney, 294 F. 3d 506, 518-19 (3rd Cir. 2002). A merits decision is
therefore unnecessary where a district court denies a habeas petition on statute of
limitations grounds. See Bachman v. Bagley, 487 F.3d 979, 982 (6th Cir. 2007).
Petitioner’s direct appeal of his conviction ended when the Michigan Supreme Court
denied petitioner leave to appeal on November 29, 1989. Petitioner’s conviction would
become final, for the purposes of the AEDPA’s limitations period, on the date that the 90
day time period for seeking certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court expired. See Jimenez
v. Quarterman, 555 U.S. 113, 119 (2009). Petitioner’s judgment therefore became final on
February 27, 1990, when he failed to file a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S.
Supreme Court. Holloway, 166 F. Supp. 2d at 1188. Because petitioner’s conviction
became final prior to the April 24, 1996 enactment date of the AEDPA, petitioner had a one
year grace period from this date to timely file a petition for habeas relief with the federal
court. See Israfil v. Russell, 276 F. 3d 768, 771 (6th Cir. 2001). Absent state collateral
review, petitioner would have been required to file his petition for writ of habeas corpus with
this Court no later than April 24, 1997 in order for the petition to be timely filed. See Corbin
v. Straub, 156 F. Supp. 2d at 836.
Petitioner filed a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment with the state trial
court on September 30, 1994, prior to the enactment of the AEDPA’s statute of limitations.
28 U.S.C. § 2244 (d)(2) expressly provides that the time during which a properly filed
application for state post-conviction relief or other collateral review is pending shall not be
counted towards the period of limitations contained in the statute. See Corbin v. Straub,
156 F. Supp. 2d at 836 . Because petitioner’s first post-conviction motion was still pending
in the state courts on the enactment date of the AEDPA, the one year grace period for filing
a habeas petition was further tolled until the conclusion of petitioner’s state post-conviction
proceedings. See Israfil, 276 F. 3d at 771. Post-conviction review of petitioner’s first motion
for relief from judgment was concluded when the Michigan Court of Appeals denied
petitioner’s application for leave to appeal on December 5, 1997. Although petitioner had
fifty six days following the denial of his appeal by the Michigan Court of Appeals to file an
application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, See M.C.R. 7.302(C)(3),
petitioner never filed an application for leave to appeal with that court. A post-conviction
application is “pending,” within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2), during “the period
between (1) a lower court’s adverse determination, and (2) the prisoner’s filing of a notice
of appeal, provided that the filing of the notice of appeal is timely under state law.” Evans
v. Chavis, 546 U.S. 189, 191 (2006)(citing Carey v. Saffold, 536 U.S. 214 (2002))(emphasis
in original). Because petitioner never filed an application for leave to appeal with the
Michigan Supreme Court, tolling of the limitations period ended when the Michigan Court
of Appeals denied petitioner’s post-conviction appeal on December 5, 1997. Petitioner
therefore had until December 5, 1998 to timely file his habeas petition with this Court unless
the limitations period was somehow otherwise tolled.
Petitioner filed his second post-conviction motion for relief from judgment on
December 29, 2008, long after the one year limitations period had already expired. A state
court post-conviction motion that is filed following the expiration of the limitations period
cannot toll that period pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2) because there is no period
remaining to be tolled. See Jurado v. Burt, 337 F. 3d 638, 641 (6th Cir. 2003); see also
Hargrove v. Brigano, 300 F. 3d 717, 718, n. 1 (6th Cir. 2002). Petitioner’s second motion
for relief from judgment which was filed in the state court after the expiration of limitations
period therefore did not toll the limitations period. See Parker v. Renico, 105 Fed. Appx. 16,
18 (6th Cir. 2004); Hunt v. Stegall, 174 F. Supp. 2d 565, 568 (E.D. Mich. 2001).
Petitioner has filed a motion for equitable tolling. The AEDPA’s statute of limitations
“is subject to equitable tolling in appropriate cases.” Holland v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2549,
2560 (2010). A habeas petitioner is entitled to equitable tolling “only if he shows ‘(1) that
he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance
stood in his way’” and prevented the timely filing of the habeas petition. Id. at 2562 (quoting
Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 418 (2005)). The Sixth Circuit has observed that “the
doctrine of equitable tolling is used sparingly by federal courts.” See Robertson v. Simpson,
624 F. 3d 781, 784 (6th Cir. 2010). The burden is on a habeas petitioner to show that he
or she is entitled to the equitable tolling of the one year limitations period. Id.
In his motion for equitable tolling, petitioner argues that the limitations period should
be equitably tolled because he suffers from a “mental impairment and learning disability.”
Petitioner has attached to this motion a page from his pre-sentence report that was
prepared at the time of his sentencing that indicated that he had left Detroit Northeastern
High School in 1979 as an “overage” student and had been in the tenth grade. The report
indicates that petitioner had received all “E’s” in his classes except for a “C” that he had
received in World History. The report indicates that petitioner had been tested in 1971 and
found to be “mildly retarded.” The report further indicates that petitioner had attended
special education classes in elementary school and while he was at the Dexter School.
Petitioner claims that because of his mild mental retardation, he did not understand the
AEDPA’s filing requirements. Petitioner further claims that both of his motions for relief
from judgment were filed in the trial court by attorneys and that his current habeas petition
was done by a “jailhouse lawyer.”
A habeas petitioner’s mental incompetence or incapacity may provide a basis for
equitable tolling of the AEDPA’s statute of limitations. See Ata v. Scutt, 662 F. 3d 736, 742
(6th Cir. 2011). In order to obtain equitable tolling of AEDPA’s statute of limitations on the
basis of mental incompetence, a habeas petitioner must show that (1) he is mentally
incompetent, and (2) his mental incompetence caused his failure to comply with the
AEDPA’s statute of limitations. Id. Moreover, “ a blanket assertion of mental incompetence
is insufficient to toll the statute of limitations. Rather, a causal link between the mental
condition and untimely filing is required.” Id. (internal citation omitted). In order for a
habeas petitioner’s mental incapacity to warrant the equitable tolling of the AEDPA’s statute
of limitations, “the petitioner must demonstrate that the incompetence affected his or her
ability to file a timely habeas petition.” Robertson v. Simpson, 624 F. 3d at 785. Moreover,
“[m]ental incompetence is not a per se reason to toll a statute of limitations.” McSwain v.
Davis, 287 Fed. Appx. 450, 456 (6th Cir. 2008); See also Brown v. McKee, 232 F. Supp. 2d
761, 767 (E.D. Mich. 2002). “In order to be entitled to equitable tolling the petitioner must
make a threshold showing of incompetence and must also demonstrate that the alleged
incompetence affected her ability to file a timely habeas petition.” McSwain, 287 Fed. Appx.
at 456, See also Nowak v. Yukins, 46 Fed.Appx. 257, 259 (6th Cir. 2002). A habeas
petitioner must allege more than the “mere existence of physical or mental ailments” in
order to qualify for the equitable tolling of the AEDPA’s statute of limitations. Brown v.
McKee, 232 F. Supp. 2d at 767.
In the present case, petitioner alleges that he suffers from mild mental retardation.
A habeas petitioner’s mild mental retardation is not grounds for equitably tolling the
limitations period in the absence of any indication that this mild mental retardation made
him unable to manage his court filings or participate in the court proceedings. See Pinchon
v. Myers, 615 F. 3d 631, 641-42 (6th Cir. 2010).
Petitioner has failed to show that his mild mental retardation prevented him from
timely filing his habeas petition. Petitioner was able to timely request the appointment of
appellate counsel to file an appeal of right on his behalf with the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Following the affirmance of his appeal by the Michigan Court of Appeals, petitioner
managed to file his own timely letter request with the Michigan Supreme Court, in which
he asked that court to grant him leave to appeal the Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision
affirming his conviction. 3 Petitioner had the wherewithal to hire an attorney to file his first
post-conviction motion for relief from judgment with the trial court. Although petitioner hired
an attorney to file his second motion for relief from judgment, petitioner filed his own pro
se application for leave to appeal the denial of his second post-conviction motion for relief
from judgment with the Michigan Court of Appeals, along with a motion to remand.
See Dkt. # 12-11.
Petitioner subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration on his own behalf. 4 Petitioner
thereafter filed a pro se application for leave to appeal the denial of his second postconviction motion for relief from judgment with the Michigan Supreme Court. There is also
some suggestion from the documents attached to the Michigan Supreme Court records that
petitioner had filed his own pro se motions for reconsideration with the Wayne County
Circuit Court after his second motion for relief from judgment was denied by that court. 5
Finally, petitioner managed to file his current habeas petition while suffering from this
In the present case, petitioner was able to pursue both direct and collateral
challenges to his conviction in the state courts as well as federal post-conviction relief while
suffering from his alleged mental impairment, thus, he has failed to show a causal
connection between his mental impairment and his ability to timely file a habeas petition,
so as to justify the equitable tolling of the limitations period. See McSwain v. Davis, 287
Fed. at 457; See also Bilbrey v. Douglas, 124 Fed. Appx. 971, 973 (6th Cir. 2005). Because
petitioner has failed to show that his mild mental retardation prevented him from timely filing
his habeas petition, he is not entitled to equitable tolling on this basis. Pinchon, 615 F. 3d
Petitioner also argues that the limitations period should be equitably tolled because
he was unaware of the AEDPA’s one year limitations period. Equitable tolling of the
AEDPA’s one-year limitations period is not warranted on the basis of petitioner’s alleged
See Dkt. # 12-14.
See Dkt. # 12-15.
lack of actual or constructive knowledge of the filing requirement, because case law and
the clear statutory provisions of the AEDPA regarding the statute of limitations afforded
petitioner constructive knowledge of the filing deadline. See Allen v. Yukins, 366 F. 3d 396,
402-03 (6th Cir. 2004). In addition, even if petitioner lacked actual knowledge of the
limitations period, ignorance of the law alone is insufficient to warrant equitable tolling. Id.
The one year statute of limitations may be equitably tolled based upon a credible
showing of actual innocence under the standard enunciated in Schup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298
(1995). See Souter v. Jones, 395 F. 3d 577, 599-600 (6th Cir. 2005). To establish actual
innocence, “a petitioner must show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror
would have found petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” Id. at 590 (quoting Schlup
513 U.S. at 327). For an actual innocence exception to be credible, such a claim requires
a habeas petitioner to support his or her allegations of constitutional error “with new reliable
evidence--whether it be exculpatory scientific evidence, trustworthy eyewitness accounts,
or critical physical evidence--that was not presented at trial.” Schlup, 513 U.S. at 324;
Souter, 395 F. 3d at 590. The Sixth Circuit further noted that “actual innocence means
factual innocence, not mere legal insufficiency.” Souter, 395 F. 3d at 590 (quoting Bousley
v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 623 (1998)). Finally, the Sixth Circuit in Souter recognized
the Supreme Court’s admonition that the actual innocence exception should “remain rare”
and “only be applied in the ‘extraordinary case.’” Id. (quoting Schlup, 513 U.S. at 321).
Petitioner’s case falls outside of the actual innocence tolling exception enunciated
in Souter, because petitioner has presented no new, reliable evidence to establish that he
was actually innocent of the crimes charged. See Ross v. Berghuis, 417 F. 3d 552, 556 (6th
Cir. 2005). Petitioner’s sufficiency of evidence claim [Claim # 6] cannot be considered by
this Court in determining whether an actual innocence exception exists for purposes of
tolling the statute of limitations period. Redmond, 295 F. Supp. 2d at 773; Grayson v.
Grayson, 185 F. Supp. 2d 747, 752 (E.D. Mich. 2002). Accordingly, the Court will deny
petitioner’s motion for equitable tolling.
Petitioner has also field a motion for the appointment of counsel.
The Court will deny the motion for the appointment of counsel. There is no
constitutional right to counsel in habeas proceedings. Cobas v. Burgess, 306 F. 3d 441,
444 (6th Cir. 2002). The decision to appoint counsel for a federal habeas petitioner is within
the discretion of the court and is required only where the interests of justice or due process
so require. Mira v. Marshall, 806 F. 2d 636, 638 (6th Cir. 1986). “Habeas corpus is an
extraordinary remedy for unusual cases” and the appointment of counsel is therefore
required only if, given the difficulty of the case and petitioner’s ability, the petitioner could
not obtain justice without an attorney, he could not obtain a lawyer on his own, and he
would have a reasonable chance of winning with the assistance of counsel. See Thirkield
v. Pitcher, 199 F. Supp. 2d 637, 653 (E.D. Mich. 2002).
In light of the fact that the issues involving the applicability of the statute of
limitations to time-bar petitioner’s habeas application are not particularly complex, the Court
will deny petitioner’s motion for the appointment of counsel. See e.g. Wardlaw v. Cain, 541
F. 3d 275, 279 (5th Cir. 2008).
The Court determines that the current habeas petition is barred by the AEDPA’s one
year statute of limitations contained in § 2244(d)(1). Accordingly, the Court will summarily
dismiss the current petition. The Court will also deny petitioner a certificate of appealability.
28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1)(A) and F.R.A.P. 22(b) state that an appeal from the district court’s
denial of a writ of habeas corpus may not be taken unless a certificate of appealability
(COA) is issued either by a circuit court or district court judge. If an appeal is taken by an
applicant for a writ of habeas corpus, the district court judge shall either issue a certificate
of appealability or state the reasons why a certificate of appealability shall not issue.
F.R.A.P. 22(b). To obtain a certificate of appealability, a prisoner must make a substantial
showing of the denial of a constitutional right. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2).
When a district court denies a habeas petition on procedural grounds without
reaching the prisoner’s underlying constitutional claims, a certificate of appealability should
issue, and an appeal of the district court’s order may be taken, if the petitioner shows that
jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the petitioner states a valid claim of the
denial of a constitutional right, and that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the
district court was correct in its procedural ruling. Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484
(2000). When a plain procedural bar is present and the district court is correct to invoke
it to dispose of the case, a reasonable jurist could not conclude either that the district court
erred in dismissing the petition or that the petition should be allowed to proceed further.
In such a circumstance, no appeal would be warranted. Id. “The district court must issue
or deny a certificate of appealability when it enters a final order adverse to the applicant.”
Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, Rule 11(a), 28 U.S.C. foll. § 2254.
The Court will deny petitioner a certificate of appealability, because reasonable
jurists would not find it debatable whether this Court was correct in determining that
petitioner had filed his habeas petition outside of the one year limitations period. Grayson,
185 F. Supp. 2d at 753. The Court will also deny petitioner leave to appeal in forma
pauperis, because the appeal would be frivolous. Id.
Based upon the foregoing, IT IS ORDERED that the petition for a writ of habeas
corpus is DENIED WITH PREJUDICE.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the motions for equitable tolling [Dkt. # 7] and for
the appointment of counsel [Dkt. # 8] are DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED That a certificate of appealability is DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that petitioner will be DENIED leave to appeal in forma
s/Nancy G. Edmunds
Nancy G. Edmunds
United States District Judge
Dated: May 10, 2013
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon counsel of record
on May 10, 2013, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
s/Johnetta M. Curry-Williams
Acting in the Absence of Carol Hemeyer
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