Williams v. United States of America
OPINION REGARDING EQUITABLE TOLLING; signed by Judge Gordon J. Quist (Judge Gordon J. Quist, jmt)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
VERNELL D. WILLIAMS,
Case No. 1:17-CV-367
(Criminal Case No. 1:07:CR:249)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
HON. GORDON J. QUIST
OPINION REGARDING EQUITABLE TOLLING
Pursuant to the Court’s May 10, 2017, Order to Show Cause, Movant, Vernell Williams, has
filed a response stating why he believes he is entitled to equitable tolling. As noted in the May 10,
2017, Order, Williams’s § 2255 Motion is untimely by more than five years.
The Sixth Circuit has held that the doctrine of equitable tolling is applicable to § 2255
motions. See Dunlap v. United States, 250 F.3d 1001, 1004–05 (6th Cir. 2001) (holding that §
2255(f) is not jurisdictional in nature and that equitable tolling is available). Pursuant to the doctrine
of equitable tolling, a court may excuse late-filed habeas claims in appropriate circumstances.
McCray v. Vasbinder, 499 F.3d 568, 571 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Souter v. Jones, 395 F.3d 577, 588
(6th Cir. 2005)). Equitable tolling is “available only in compelling circumstances which justify a
departure from established procedures.” Puckett v. Tenn. Eastman Co., 889 F.2d 1481, 1488 (6th
Cir. 1989). The doctrine is “used sparingly by federal courts. ‘Typically, equitable tolling applies
only when a litigant’s failure to meet a legally-mandated deadline unavoidably arose from
circumstances beyond the litigant’s control.’” Jurado v. Burt, 337 F.2d 638, 642 (6th Cir. 2003)
(quoting Graham-Humphreys v. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Inc., 209 F.3d 552, 560–61 (6th
Cir. 2000)) (citations omitted). “[A] ‘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 timely filing.” Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631, 649, 130 S. Ct.
2549, 2562 (2010) (quoting Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 418, 125 S. Ct. 1807, 1814 (2005)).
In determining whether to apply equitable tolling, a court should consider the following
factors: “(1) the petitioner’s lack of notice of the filing requirement; (2) the petitioner’s lack of
constructive knowledge of the filing requirement; (3) diligence in pursuing one’s rights; (4) absence
of prejudice to the respondent; and (5) the petitioner’s reasonableness in remaining ignorant of the
legal requirement for filing his claim.” Solomon v. United States, 467 F.3d 928, 923 (6th Cir. 2006)
(citing Dunlap, 250 F.3d at 1008, adopting factors set forth in Andrews v. Orr, 851 F.2d 146, 151
(6th Cir. 1988)). These factors are not necessarily comprehensive, nor is each factor relevant in
every case. Id.
Williams argues that he is entitled to equitable tolling because: (1) he only recently became
aware of the facts and legal arguments set forth in his § 2255 Motion; (2) he is untrained in the law
and has been unable to obtain legal assistance in preparing his § 2255 Motion; (3) the facility at
which he is incarcerated does not have properly working typewriters, computers, or a copier, that
would enable him to access legal materials for his argument; (4) he was afforded limited hours in
the law library; and (5) his previous attempt to form his arguments for his § 2255 with the assistance
of a legal writer resulted in countless hours of work being discarded when Williams learned that the
legal writer “was not as versed in the law as he had led [Williams] to believe he was.” (ECF No.
11 at PageID.60–61.)
The reasons Williams offers for equitable tolling fail to support the application of the
doctrine. The fact that a movant is untrained in the law, denied access to a law library, was
proceeding without a lawyer, or may have been unaware of the statute of limitations for a certain
period does not warrant tolling. See Allen v. Yukins, 366 F.3d 396, 403 (6th Cir. 2004); Brown v.
United States, No. 01-1481, 2001 WL 1136000, at *3 (6th Cir. Sept. 21, 2001) (citing United States
v. Baker, 197 F.3d 211, 218–19 (6th Cir. 1999)); Fisher v. Johnson, 174 F.3d 710, 714–15 (5th Cir.
1999). As one district court in the Sixth Circuit has noted, “[c]ourts in this circuit have consistently
found that extraordinary circumstances, justifying equitable tolling, do not exist simply because a
petitioner: (1) is untrained or ignorant of the law; (2) reads and writes poorly; (3) does not have
access to or cannot afford professional legal assistance; or (3) [sic] received bad legal assistance.”
Boylen v. Hudson, No. 5:07CV1697, 2008 WL 3822291, at *7 (N.D. Ohio May 15, 2008) (citations
In addition, Williams has failed to show that some extraordinary circumstance precluded him
from filing a timely § 2255 Motion. The frivolous lawsuit Williams filed in this district and his
numerous filings in his criminal case since November 17, 2011—the date his conviction became
final—demonstrate that nothing hindered Williams’s ability to file a timely § 2255 Motion. See
Williams v. Shekmer, No. 1:15-CV-490 (W.D. Mich.); United States v. Williams, No. 1:07-CR-249
(W.D. Mich.) (ECF Nos. 204, 205, 207, 212). Thus, Williams is not entitled to equitable tolling.
Having concluded that Williams is not entitled to equitable tolling, the Court must next
determine whether a certificate of appealability should issue under 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). A
certificate should issue if a movant has demonstrated a “substantial showing of the denial of a
constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). The Sixth Circuit has disapproved issuance of blanket
denials of certificates of appealability. Murphy v. Ohio, 263 F.3d 466, 467 (6th Cir. 2001). Rather,
the district court must “engage in a reasoned assessment of each claim” to determine whether a
certificate is warranted. Id. at 467. Each issue must be considered under the standards set forth by
the Supreme Court in Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 120 S. Ct. 1595 (2000). Murphy, 263 F.3d
Under Slack, 529 U.S. at 484, 120 S. Ct. at 1604, to warrant a grant of the certificate, “[t]he
petitioner must demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find the district court’s assessment of the
constitutional claims debatable or wrong.” The Court concludes that reasonable jurists could not
find this Court’s conclusion that Williams is not entitled to equitable tolling debatable or wrong.
The Court will thus deny Williams a certificate of appealability.
An Order consistent with this Opinion will enter.
Dated: June 26, 2017
/s/ Gordon J. Quist
GORDON J. QUIST
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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