The opinion of the court was delivered by: Surrick, J.
Presently before the Court are Petitioner George Woods's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (ECF No. 1), Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hey's Report and Recommendation recommending dismissal of the Petition as untimely filed (ECF No. 7) and Petitioner's Objections to the Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 9). For the following reasons, we will overrule Petitioner's Objections, approve and adopt the Report and Recommendation and dismiss the Petition as untimely filed.
On December 23, 2002, after an extensive colloquy, Petitioner entered a negotiated plea of guilty to four counts of robbery before the Honorable Joseph P. Cronin, Jr., President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. (Certificate of Imposition of J. of Sentence, Del. Cty. Ct. of Common Pleas, Dec. 23, 2002; Sentencing Tr. 3-6, Dec. 23, 2002 (on file with Court).) Pursuant to the plea negotiation, Petitioner was sentenced to an aggregate term of not less than twenty years nor more than forty years in prison. (Sentencing Tr. 25-28.)*fn1
Petitioner did not file an appeal from the judgment of sentence.
Petitioner alleges that on December 9, 2003, he submitted to the Delaware County Clerk of Courts a pro se application, pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9541 et seq., alleging that the plea agreement was not knowing, intelligent or voluntary. (Pet'r's Objections 2, ECF No. 9.) Petitioner alleges that this application was returned undocketed three months later because Petitioner had failed to include transcript numbers in the application. (Id.)*fn2 Petitioner alleges that he subsequently included the transcript numbers and re-submitted the application with a note stating, "I apologize, a friend must have forgotten to include the transcript numbers. Please accept my PCRA back." (Id.) Petitioner also alleges that his family hired an attorney by the name of Donald Chisolm to represent him in the PCRA petition, that Petitioner sent his PCRA petition to Chisolm with the expectation that Chisolm would file that petition, and that Chisolm affirmatively represented to Petitioner that he would file the petition when in fact he did not. (Id.)
On December 14, 2004, Petitioner filed another pro se application pursuant to the PCRA. Commonwealth v. Woods, Entry No. 1. Counsel was appointed to represent Petitioner, and after determining that Petitioner's application was time-barred and without merit, counsel filed a no-merit letter pursuant to Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551 (1987). Commonwealth v. Woods, Entry No. 1. On April 28, 2005, the PCRA court filed a Notice of Intent to Dismiss the PCRA petition without a hearing pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 907. Commonwealth v. Woods, Entry No. 1. On May 25, 2005 and June 3, 2005, Petitioner filed responses to the Notice, in which he alleged that he was coerced by his attorney into entering into the guilty plea. (Id.) On June 28, 2005, the PCRA court dismissed the PCRA petition. (Id.) Petitioner filed an appeal in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. On December 29, 2005, the PCRA court issued an opinion in support of its dismissal of the PCRA petition. (Tr. Ct. Op., Dec. 29, 2005 (on file with Court).) On July 14, 2006, the Superior Court affirmed the PCRA court's dismissal of the petition. (Super. Ct. Mem., July 14, 2006 (on file with Court).) On January 5, 2007, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for allowance of appeal. Commonwealth v. Woods, 916 A.2d 633 (Pa. 2007).
On June 1, 2009, Petitioner filed the instant Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Pet., ECF No. 1.) In his Petition, Petitioner argues that he was denied effective assistance of counsel in violation of his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and that he is entitled to equitable tolling. (Pet'r's Mem. 1-2, ECF No. 1.) On August 17, 2009, Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hey issued her Report and Recommendation ("R & R"). The R & R recommended that we dismiss the Petition as untimely filed. (R & R, ECF No. 7.) Since Magistrate Judge Hey concluded that the Petition was untimely filed, she did not address the merits of Petitioner's claims. (Id. at 10.)
Petitioner has filed Objections to Magistrate Judge Hey's R & R. (Pet'r's Objections.) Petitioner contends that: (i) the R & R omitted certain facts; (ii) the R & R attaches no significance to his "rambling" and "unintelligible" pro se PCRA petition; (iii) the R & R minimizes the seriousness of Petitioner's allegations that he was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel; (iv) the R & R failed to apply principles of equitable tolling; and (v) the R & R failed to adequately address Petitioner's alleged deprivation of his right to receive effective assistance of counsel at all critical stages, including at the plea and appeal stages. (Id.)
We review de novo those portions of the R & R to which specific objections have been made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3); see also Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 141-42 (1985) ("[A] United States district judge may refer . . . petitions for writ of habeas corpus to a magistrate, who shall conduct appropriate proceedings and recommend dispositions. . . . [A]ny party that disagrees with the magistrate's recommendations 'may serve and file written objections' to the magistrate's report, and thus obtain de novo review by the district judge.") (citations and footnotes omitted).
Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), a prisoner has one year from the date of the final disposition of his case in state court to file a habeas petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1); Long v. Wilson, 393 F.3d 390, 393 (3d Cir. 2004). Generally, the one-year period begins to run on the latest of the date "on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review." 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). Since Petitioner did not file a direct appeal, his judgment became final upon expiration of the time period for filing the appeal, which was January 22, 2003. Pa. R. App. P. 903(a). Thus, Petitioner had one year from that date-or until January 22, 2004-to file his federal habeas petition.
A petitioner may rely on two tolling exceptions, statutory tolling and equitable tolling, in arguing that the AEDPA's one-year limitations period should be tolled. Statutory tolling under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2) provides that the time during which a properly-filed application for post-conviction review is pending in state court is not counted toward the one-year limitations period. Schlueter v. Varner, 384 F.3d 69, 75 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Merritt v. Blaine, 326 F.3d 157, 161 (3d Cir. 2003)). Petitioner here does not object on the basis of statutory tolling. Rather, Petitioner objects on grounds of equitable tolling. (See Pet'r's Objections 8 ("Woods is entitled to equitable tolling because the combination of facts alleged in the petition are extraordinary.").) The AEDPA's statute of limitations may be subject to equitable tolling. LaCava v. Kyler, 398 F.3d 271, 275 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Miller v. N.J. State Dep't of Corr., 145 F.3d 616, 617 (3d Cir. 1998)). Equitable tolling is available "only in the rare situation where [it] is demanded by sound legal principles as well as the interests of justice." Id. (quoting United States v. Midgley, 142 F.3d 174, 179 (3d Cir. 1998)). Thus, "courts should be sparing in their use of this doctrine." Id. at 275. Generally, a petitioner seeking to rely on ...