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Derrick Cramer v. Secretary Department of Corrections

December 7, 2012

DERRICK CRAMER,
PETITIONER,
v.
SECRETARY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL., RESPONDENTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Chief Judge Kane)

MEMORANDUM

Derrick Cramer, an inmate currently confined at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on March 16, 2007. (Doc. No. 1.) On April 5, 2007, the Court issued an order serving the petition, and directing that Respondents address the timeliness of Cramer's filing. (Doc. No. 6.) A response addressing the timeliness of the petition was submitted on May 8, 2007. (Doc. No. 10.) Cramer submitted a reply thereto. On May 21, 2007, the Court issued a Memorandum and Order dismissing Cramer's petition as untimely, and closing this case. (Doc. No. 12.) Thereafter, an appeal was filed with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. (Doc. No. 13.) On April 21, 2011, the Third Circuit issued an opinion vacating this Court's decision of May 21, 2007, and remanding the case back to this Court for consideration of whether Petitioner is entitled to equitable tolling with respect to the filing of his federal habeas corpus petition. (Doc. No. 23.) Following the issuance of the mandate by the Third Circuit, the case was reopened in this Court on May 19, 2011. The parties have briefed the issue of equitable tolling (Doc. Nos. 32, 34 and 35), and the matter is now ripe for consideration. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that equitable tolling is not warranted in this matter.

I. Factual Background

On May 9, 2003, Cramer was convicted of First Degree murder following a jury trial in the York County Court of Common Pleas, Pennsylvania. He received a sentence of life in prison. On direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the conviction and sentence were affirmed on March 16, 2004. A timely petition for allowance of appeal was denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on August 12, 2004.

On February 8, 2005, Cramer filed a counseled petition for post-conviction relief pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act. The petition was denied on June 13, 2005. An appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court was denied on March 29, 2006. Cramer states that due to a court error, his attorney did not receive notice of the Superior Court's denial until May 30, 2006, following the expiration of time for filing an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. His attorney thereafter filed a petition for leave to file a petition for allowance of appeal outside of the thirty-day period or nunc pro tunc. The Supreme Court granted leave, and afforded Cramer until August 30, 2006 to file his appeal. On December 15, 2006, the petition for allowance of appeal was denied.

The pending petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to § 2254 was filed on March 16, 2007. This Court raised the statute of limitations issue sua sponte, and directed the parties to address whether the petition was timely under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). Respondents maintained that the petition was untimely because it was not filed within one year of the date when the judgment became final. Cramer responded that the petition was timely because the statute was tolled during the pendency of his PCRA petition from February 8, 2005 until December 15, 2006.

After considering these arguments, this Court denied the habeas petition as untimely on May 21, 2007. This decision was based on the following calculation. The statute of limitations ran from November 11, 2004, the date when Cramer had to file a petition for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court on direct appeal, until February 8, 2005, the date when Cramer filed his PCRA petition. This time period totaled approximately 88 days. The statute was found to be tolled from February 8, 2005 until March 29, 2006, the date on which the Superior Court denied Cramer's request for PCRA relief. Because Cramer's petition for allowance of appeal filed on August 30, 2006 was not filed within thirty days of the denial, this Court found that the statute of limitations began to run again on March 29, 2006, at which point Cramer had approximately 277 days remaining, or until early January 2007, to submit a timely habeas petition.*fn1 Because he did not file his petition here until March 16, 2007, he was approximately 21/2 months late.

Cramer appealed this Court's order dismissing his petition as untimely, and filed an application for a certificate of appealability attaching exhibits. One of the exhibits included a copy of an order from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dated July 31, 2006, granting him leave to file his petition for allowance of appeal nunc pro tunc within thirty (30) days of the order. Because it appeared from the record that this Court was unaware that an extension had been granted, the Third Circuit issued an order on January 11, 2008, granting Cramer's request for a certificate of appealability. The State was ordered to show cause why this Court's order dismissing the petition as untimely should not be summarily vacated, and the petition remanded for consideration of any procedural or substantive issues other than the issue of timeliness. Because the State disputed the timeliness of the petition, the Third Circuit appointed counsel and scheduled briefing. Following the submission of briefs, the Third Circuit issued an opinion on April 21, 2011, finding that Cramer was not entitled to statutory tolling, but remanding the petition to this Court for consideration of whether he is entitled to equitable tolling. (Doc. No. 23.) The issue has been briefed, and the Court will now address the issue of equitable tolling in light of the facts of this case.

II. Standard for Equitable Tolling

Although claims may be untimely under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d), the United States Supreme Court has held that § 2244(d) "is not jurisdictional" and does not set forth "an inflexible rule requiring dismissal . . . [whenever the] clock has run." Day v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 198, 205, 208 (2006). Rather, "§ 2244(d) is subject to equitable tolling in appropriate cases." Holland v. Florida, ___U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 2549, 2560 (2010).

In Pabon v. Mahanoy, 654 F.3d 385, 399-400 (3d Cir. 2011), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals set forth the standard for equitable tolling as follows:

In determining whether equitable tolling should be granted, we address two questions: (1) whether the petitioner faced extraordinary circumstances that stood in the way of timely filing; and (2) whether he or she exercised reasonable diligence. Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 418 (2005); see also Pabon v. Superintendent S.C.I. Mahanoy, et al., 654 F.3d 385 (3d Cir. 2011). It is established that equitable tolling may be applied to the statutory limitations period set forth in the AEDPA. Holland v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2549, 2560 (2010)(footnote omitted).

There are no bright lines in determining whether equitable tolling is warranted in a given case. Rather, the particular circumstances of each petitioner must be taken into account. Id. at 2563. As Holland explains, while prior decisions provide guidance, rigid reliance on precedent should be avoided. Id. In each case, there is a need for "flexibility," "avoiding mechanical rules," and "awareness . . . that specific circumstances, often hard to predict in advance, could warrant special treatment in an appropriate case." Id. (internal citation and footnote omitted.) In sum, equitable tolling is appropriate when "principles of equity would make the rigid application of a limitation period unfair." Miller v. N.J. State Dep't of Corr., 145 F.3d 616, 618 (3d Cir. 1998); see also LaCava v. Kyler, 398 F.3d 271, 275 (3d Cir. 2005). However, courts need to be "sparing in their use of" the doctrine. Jones v. Morton, 195 F.3d 153, 159 (3d Cir. 1999). Pabon, 654 F.3d at 399-400.

The Third Circuit recently reinforced these principles and confirmed that in meeting the extraordinary circumstances prong, a petitioner must show that he was prevented from asserting his rights in some extraordinary way. Munchinski v. Wilson, 694 F.3d 308, 329 (3d Cir. 2012). The Court also addressed the issue of when a habeas petitioner has demonstrated the ...


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