Watts v. Miniard
OPINION AND ORDER granting 7 Motion to Stay; Hold In Abeyance the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and Administratively Closing Case. Signed by District Judge Robert H. Cleland. (LWag)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
MICHAEL LEE WATTS,
Case No. 3:21-CV-10813
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING THE MOTION TO STAY AND HOLD IN
ABEYANCE THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS (Dkt. 7) AND
ADMINISTRATIVELY CLOSING THE CASE
Petitioner Michael Lee Watts incarcerated at the Saginaw Correctional Facility in
Freeland, Michigan, seeks the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254. In his pro se application, Petitioner challenges his conviction out of the
Wayne County Circuit Court for assault with intent to do great bodily harm, 1 felon in
possession of a firearm, 2 felony-firearm, 3 and being a fourth habitual offender. 4
Petitioner has now filed a motion to hold the petition in abeyance to permit him to
return to the state courts to present additional claims that have not been exhausted and
that are not included in his current habeas petition. The court will hold the petition in
abeyance and stay the proceedings under the terms outlined below to permit Petitioner
Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.84.
Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.224f.
Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b.
Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.12.
to return to the state courts to exhaust his additional claims. The court will also
administratively close the case.
A jury convicted Petitioner in the Wayne County Circuit Court.
Petitioner’s conviction was affirmed on appeal. People v. Watts, No. 338204,
2018 WL 3039709 (Mich. Ct. App. June 19, 2018), leave to appeal denied at, 922
N.W.2d 127 (Mich. 2019).
Petitioner filed a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment with the trial
court, which was denied. People v. Watts, No. 16-007030-01-FC (Wayne Cty.Cir.Ct.,
Aug. 21, 2019). The Michigan appellate courts denied Petitioner leave to appeal.
People v. Watts, No. 351275 (Mich.Ct.App. Feb. 27, 2020), leave to appeal denied at,
948 N.W. 567 (Mich. 2020).
On March 29, 2021, Petitioner filed his application for writ of habeas corpus. 5
Petitioner seeks habeas relief on the grounds that he raised in the state courts on his
direct appeal and in his post-conviction motion.
Petitioner has now filed a motion to hold the petition in abeyance so that he can
return to the state courts to raise claims that have not been exhausted with the state
courts and which are not included in the current petition.
A federal district court has the authority to stay a fully exhausted federal habeas
petition pending the exhaustion of additional claims in the state courts. See Nowaczyk
Under the prison mailbox rule, the court assumes that Petitioner filed his habeas
petition on March 29, 2021, the date that it was signed and dated. See Towns v. United
States, 190 F. 3d 468, 469 (6th Cir. 1999).
v. Warden, New Hampshire State Prison, 299 F.3d 69, 77-79 (1st Cir. 2002)(holding
that district courts should “take seriously any request for a stay.”); Anthony v. Cambra,
236 F.3d 568, 575 (9th Cir. 2000); see also Bowling v. Haeberline, 246 F. App’x. 303,
306 (6th Cir. 2007) (A habeas court is entitled to delay a decision in a habeas petition
that contains only exhausted claims “when considerations of comity and judicial
economy would be served.”) (quoting Nowaczyk, 299 F. 3d at 83); see also Thomas v.
Stoddard, 89 F. Supp. 3d 937, 943 (E.D. Mich. 2015).
The court will grant Petitioner’s motion to hold the petition in abeyance while he
returns to the state courts to exhaust these additional claims. The outright dismissal of
the petition, albeit without prejudice, might bar consideration of Petitioner’s claims in this
court if the one year statute of limitations contained in the Antiterrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) were to expire. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). A common
rationale for holding a habeas petition in abeyance occurs when the original petition was
timely filed, as was the case here, but a second, exhausted habeas petition would be
time barred by the AEDPA’s statute of limitations. See Hargrove v. Brigano, 300 F.3d
717, 720-21 (6th Cir. 2002).
Other considerations favor holding the petition in abeyance to permit Petitioner to
return to the state courts to exhaust his new claims. In particular, “the [c]ourt considers
the consequences to the habeas petitioner if it were to proceed to adjudicate the petition
and find that relief is not warranted before the state courts ruled on unexhausted claims.
In that scenario, should the petitioner subsequently seek habeas relief on the claims the
state courts rejected, he would have to clear the high hurdle of filing a second habeas
petition.” Thomas, 89 F. Supp. 3d at 942 (citing 28 U.S.C. 2244(b)(2)). Moreover, “[I]f
this [c]ourt were to proceed in parallel with state post-conviction proceedings, there is a
risk of wasting judicial resources if the state court might grant relief on the unexhausted
Other factors support granting the motion to stay the petition. The court is unable
at this juncture to determine whether Petitioner’s new claims have any merit, thus, the
court cannot say that the claims are “plainly meritless.” Thomas, 89 F. Supp. 3d at 943.
Nor, on the other hand, is the court able at this time to say that Petitioner’s new claims
warrant granting a writ of habeas corpus. Id. If the state courts deny post-conviction
relief, this court could still benefit from the state courts’ ruling on these claims in
determining whether to permit Petitioner to amend his original petition to add these new
claims. Id. Finally, respondent will not be prejudiced by any stay, whereas Petitioner
“could be prejudiced by having to simultaneously fight two proceedings in separate
courts and, as noted, if this [c]ourt were to rule before the state courts, [petitioner] would
have the heavy burden of satisfying 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(2)’s second-or-successivepetition requirements” should he seek habeas relief on his new claims. Thomas, 89 F.
Supp. 3d at 943.
The court recognizes that under M.C.R. 6.502(G)(1), a criminal defendant in
Michigan can typically file only one motion for relief from judgment with regard to a
criminal conviction. See Banks v. Jackson, 149 F. App’x. 414, 418 (6th Cir. 2005);
Hudson v. Martin, 68 F. Supp. 2d 798, 800 (E.D. Mich. 1999) (citing to People v.
Ambrose, 459 Mich. 884; 587 N. W. 2d 282 (1998)). However, M.C.R. 6.502(G)(2)
states that a defendant may file a second or subsequent motion based on a retroactive
change in law that occurred after the first motion for relief from judgment or a claim of
new evidence that was not discovered before the first such motion. Banks, 149 F.
App’x. at 418; Hudson, 68 F. Supp. 2d at 800-01. In addition, although not specifically
mentioned in M.C.R. 6.502(G)(2), jurisdictional defects can be pursued in a successive
motion for relief from judgment because such defects can be raised at any time. See
People v. Washington, 944 N.W. 2d 142, 145-46 (Mich.Ct.App. 2019). The rationale
behind this additional exception is that “‘Jurisdiction of the subject matter of a judicial
proceeding is an absolute requirement.’” Id., at 146 (internal quotation omitted).
Petitioner alleges that the claims that he wishes to exhaust in the state courts are
based on his claim that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to sentence him as an habitual
offender because the prosecutor failed to file a timely habitual offender notice and his
related claims that trial and appellate counsel were ineffective for failing to raise this
jurisdictional defect at trial, sentencing, or on appeal.
This court “should exercise caution in finding that” 6.502(G) would bar Petitioner
from presenting these claims to the Michigan courts. Banks, 419 F. App’x. at 418.
“Because it is at least debatable whether the Michigan courts would entertain [these
claims] on a second or successive motion for state postconviction relief,” Id., based on
the jurisdictional defect exception to M.C.R. 6.502(G), it is not clear that Petitioner would
be procedurally barred from filing a successive motion, thus, the court will grant
Petitioner a stay of proceedings to permit him to attempt to exhaust the claims
contained in a successive motion for relief from judgment with the state courts. Id. at
419-20; See also Cunningham v. Hudson, 756 F.3d 477, 485-87 (6th Cir. 2014).
Where a stay of the petition is appropriate pending exhaustion, the district court
“should place reasonable time limits on a petitioner’s trip to state court and back.”
Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 278 (2005). To ensure that there are no delays by
Petitioner in exhausting state court remedies, the court imposes time limits within which
he must proceed with his state court post-conviction proceedings. See Palmer v.
Carlton, 276 F. 3d 777, 781 (6th Cir. 2002).
The court holds the petition in abeyance to allow Petitioner to initiate postconviction proceedings in the state courts, but this tolling is conditioned upon Petitioner
initiating his state post-conviction remedies within sixty days of receiving this court’s
order and returning to federal court within sixty days of completing the exhaustion of
state court post-conviction remedies. Hargrove, 300 F. 3d at 721.
Petitioner’s method of properly exhausting these claims in the state courts would
be through filing a motion for relief from judgment with the Wayne County Circuit Court
under M.C.R. 6.502. See Wagner v. Smith, 581 F. 3d 410, 419 (6th Cir. 2009). Denial
of a motion for relief from judgment is reviewable by the Michigan Court of Appeals and
the Michigan Supreme Court upon the filing of an application for leave to appeal. M.C.R.
6.509; M.C.R. 7.203; M.C.R. 7.302. Nasr v. Stegall, 978 F. Supp. 714, 717 (E.D. Mich.
IT IS ORDERED that the proceedings are STAYED and the court will hold the
habeas petition in abeyance. Petitioner must file a motion for relief from judgment in
state court within sixty days of receipt of this order. He shall notify this court in writing
that such motion papers have been filed in state court. If he fails to file a motion or
notify the court that he has done so, the court will lift the stay and will reinstate the
original petition for writ of habeas corpus to the court’s active docket and will proceed to
adjudicate only those claims that were raised in the original petition. After Petitioner
fully exhausts his new claims, he shall file an amended petition that includes the new
claims, along with a motion to lift the stay, within sixty days after the conclusion of his
state court post-conviction proceedings. Failure to do so will result in the court lifting the
stay and adjudicating the merits of the claims raised in Petitioner’s original habeas
To avoid administrative difficulties, IT IS ORDERED that the Clerk of Court is
DIRECTED to CLOSE this case for statistical purposes only. Nothing in this order or in
the related docket entry shall be considered a dismissal or disposition of this matter.
See Thomas, 89 F. Supp. 3d at 943-944. Upon receipt of a motion to reinstate the
habeas petition following exhaustion of state remedies, the court will order the Clerk to
reopen this case for statistical purposes.
S/Robert H. Cleland
ROBERT H. CLELAND
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: July 15, 2021
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was mailed to counsel of record
on this date, July 15, 2021, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
Case Manager and Deputy Clerk
S:\Cleland\Cleland\JUDGE'S DESK\C3 ORDERS\21-10813.WATTS.Abeyance.db.chd.docx
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