Chamberlain v. Wetzel et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re: petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus 13 . (See memo for complete details.) Signed by Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner on 12/05/13. (ki)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
TERRY RAY CHAMBERLAIN,
JOHN E. WETZEL, Secretary:
designee, Pennsylvania Department :
of Corrections; LOUIS B. FOLINO, :
Superintendent of the State
Correctional Institution at Greene; :
and MARIROSA LAMAS,
Superintendent of the State
Correctional Institution at
CIVIL ACTION NO: 1:12-CV-01272
(Chief Judge Conner)
THIS IS A CAPITAL CASE
This is a capital habeas corpus proceeding brought by a Pennsylvania state
prisoner. Following his convictions for first degree murder and related counts,
petitioner, Terry Ray Chamberlain, was sentenced to death on May 31, 1994, in the
Court of Common Pleas of Bradford County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1.) Petitioner’s
convictions and sentence of death were affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme
Court on October 14, 2011. See Commonwealth v. Chamberlain, 30 A.2d 381 (Pa.
2011), reargument denied, No. 586 CAP (Dec. 19, 2011). His petition for certiorari
review was denied on May 14, 2012. Chamberlain v. Pennsylvania, 132 S. Ct. 2377
On July 2, 2012, petitioner filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma
pauperis and for appointment of federal habeas corpus counsel. (Doc. 1.) The court
granted the motion on July 13, 2012, and petitioner was directed to file a status
report apprising the court of the procedural posture of petitioner’s state court
proceedings and any other pertinent matters on or before January 8, 2013. (Doc. 6.)
Petitioner filed his status report on January 8, 2013, informing the court that on
September 4, 2012, petitioner filed an initial PCRA petition and unopposed
amended motion for a stay of execution. (Doc. 9.) In the initial PCRA petition,
petitioner’s state counsel stated petitioner’s intent to file an amended PCRA
petition with additional claims after a full investigation. (Id.) On September 6,
2012, the Bradford County court issued an order that: (1) stayed petitioner’s
execution, (2) stated that the court would not act on the initial PCRA petition until
such time as petitioner filed an amended PCRA petition, and (3) directed an
amended PCRA petition be filed within the one-year limitations period. (Id.)
By order dated November 6, 2013, this court directed petitioner to file a
second status report apprising the court of the procedural posture of his state court
proceedings and any other pertinent matters on or before November 20, 2013. (Doc.
10.) On November 19, 2013, petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus,
(Doc. 13), and motion for leave to file the petition in excess of the page limitation,
(Doc. 11). Also on that date, petitioner filed a motion to stay these federal
proceedings or, in the alternative, dismiss the habeas petition without prejudice to
allow petitioner to expeditiously exhaust his federal claims in state court. (Doc. 14.)
On November 20, 2013, petitioner filed his second status report indicating that on
July 15, 2013, he filed his amended PCRA petition. (Doc. 16.) He also informed the
court that at an October 2, 2013 status conference, the PCRA court directed the
Commonwealth to respond to the amended PCRA petition within ninety (90) days.
(Id.) Based on this new information presented in petitioner’s second status report,
and the fact that this case has yet to proceed beyond the PCRA court, the court will
grant petitioner’s motion to dismiss the federal habeas petition without prejudice to
allow petitioner to expeditiously exhaust his federal claims in state court.
A. Statutory Framework
A district court is authorized to “entertain an application for a writ of habeas
corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court
only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or
treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A petition for writ of habeas
corpus is the exclusive federal remedy for a state prisoner challenging the very fact
or duration of his or her confinement. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 499
A petitioner filing for relief under the federal Antiterrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), must generally comply with the exhaustion
requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A), before a federal court can consider the
merits of his habeas corpus petition. Pursuant to § 2254(b)(1)(A), the petitioner
must give the state courts an opportunity to review allegations of error before
seeking relief in federal court. Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004). “An
applicant shall not be deemed to have exhausted the remedies available in the
courts of the State, within the meaning of this section, if he has the right under the
law of the State to raise, by any available procedure, the question presented.” 28
U.S.C. § 2254(c); see also Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 518-19 (1982) (finding that
before a federal court can adjudicate claims under habeas corpus, interests of
comity and federalism dictate that the state courts must have the first opportunity
to decide a petitioner’s claims).
AEDPA also establishes a one-year statute of limitations for filing a federal
habeas corpus petition. 28 U.S.C. § 1154(d)(1); Wilson v. Beard, 426 F.3d 653, 659
(3d Cir. 2005). This one-year period runs from the date on which the judgment
became final by the conclusion of direct review or when the time for seeking
certiorari review expires. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A); Clay v. United States, 537 U.S.
522, 525 (2003). The one-year limitations period is tolled, however, while a properly
filed application for state post-conviction or other collateral review is pending. 28
U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2); see also Pace v. Diguglielmo, 544 U.S. 408 (2005).
Under Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act, a petitioner must file for
PCRA relief within one year of the date the judgment becomes final. 42 PA. CONS.
STAT . § 9545(b)(1). For purposes of the PCRA, a judgment becomes final at the
conclusion of direct review, including discretionary review in the United States
Supreme Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, or at the expiration of time
for seeking such review. Id. § 9545(b)(3).
B. Chamberlain’s Petition
Although courts have routinely entered stays to permit petitioners to exhaust
state post-conviction proceedings, the United States Supreme Court has recognized
Stay and abeyance, if employed too frequently, has the potential to
undermine [AEDPA’s] purpose. Staying a federal habeas petition
frustrates AEDPA’s objective of encouraging finality by allowing a
petitioner to delay the resolution of the federal proceedings. It also
undermines AEDPA’s goal of streamlining federal habeas proceedings
by decreasing a petitioner’s incentive to exhaust all his claims in state
court prior to filing his federal petition.
Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 277 (2005). Accordingly, stays of federal habeas
petitions pending the exhaustion of state remedies are available only where: (1) the
petitioner has shown good cause for failing to exhaust his claims first in state court;
(2) his unexhausted claims are potentially meritorious; and (3) the petitioner has not
engaged in intentionally dilatory litigation tactics. Rhines, 544 U.S. at 277-78;
Heleva v. Brooks, 581 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009).
Unlike Rhines and Heleva, in the case at bar, there is little concern that
refusing to grant a stay in this matter will in any way prejudice petitioner’s ability to
seek federal habeas relief. The statute of limitations on petitioner’s federal and
state post-conviction proceedings began to run on May 14, 2012. On September 4,
2012, petitioner filed a petition for PCRA relief in the Bradford County Court of
Common Pleas. See Commonwealth v. Chamberlain, CP-08-CR-0000226-1993,
Criminal Docket Sheet. Thus, the filing of petitioner’s PCRA petition tolled the
one-year federal limitations period. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2). Therefore, once
petitioner exhausts his claims through the PCRA process, he will have 250 days
remaining on his one-year limitations period in which to file a timely federal habeas
petition. Because there is no real danger that refusing to grant a stay of these
federal proceedings will result in his federal claims becoming time barred, the court
will grant petitioner’s motion to dismiss the habeas petition without prejudice
rather than issue a stay of these proceedings. See Dowling v. Beard, No. 3:06-CV02085, 2012 WL 6091572 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 7, 2012) (lifting stay of federal proceedings
and stay of execution where 252 days remained to timely file federal habeas
petition); Dick v. Wetzel, No. 1:10-CV-00988, 2012 WL 5966538 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 29,
2012) (denying stay of federal proceedings where 286 days remained to timely file
federal habeas petition); Frey v. Beard, No. 1:07-CV-00260, 2012 WL 5845548 (M.D.
Pa. Nov. 19, 2012) (lifting stay of federal proceedings and stay of execution where
228 days remained to timely file federal habeas petition); Housman v. Wetzel, No.
1:11-CV-0167, 2012 WL 983551 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 22, 2012) (denying stay of federal
proceedings and lifting stay of execution where 109 days remained to timely file
federal habeas petition); Sherwood v. Beard, No. 1:10-CV-1073, 2011 WL 6888653
(M.D. Pa. Dec. 30, 2011) (denying stay in capital case where petitioner had “ample
time to file a new habeas petition after exhausting his state claims”); Walter v.
Beard, No. 1:09-CV-2465, 2011 WL 5593125 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 17, 2011) (refusing to
grant a stay in a capital habeas proceeding when the petitioner would have 256 days
to file a timely habeas petition after exhausting her claims in state court);
Cummings v. Beard, No. 09-CV-4033, 2011 WL 239794 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 25, 2011)
(concluding that where petitioner would have 248 days to file a timely habeas
petition, a stay under Rhines or Heleva was not warranted).
Because petitioner is afforded ample time to return to this court after he
exhausts his state collateral claims, he has failed to satisfy the good cause
requirement under Rhines for the issuance of a stay and abeyance order.
Consequently, the court will grant petitioner’s motion to dismiss the federal habeas
petition without prejudice to allow petitioner to expeditiously exhaust his federal
claims in state court. (Doc. 14.) A certificate of appealability will be denied. An
order consistent with this memorandum follows.
/S/ CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER
Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge
United States District Court
Middle District of Pennsylvania
December 5, 2013
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