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Pavlic v. Kauffman

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 15, 2017

GARY PAVLIC, Petitioner,

          District Judge, Mark R. Hornak



         Pending before the Court is a “Motion for Injunction to Halt Unwanted, Unlawful, Commencement of Resumed PCRA Proceedings at Unwanted, Unlawful ‘Remand, '” (ECF No. 69), that the Petitioner filed on February 10, 2017, presumably in response to the appointment of counsel by the Washington County Court of Common Pleas regarding Petitioner's long pending Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”) petition in that court. This Court held a telephone status conference with the parties on January 20, 2017, (ECF No. 59). During that conference, the Court discussed, among other issues, the status of Petitioner's PCRA petition that has been pending in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County since November 8, 2000.[1] Following lengthy discussion, Petitioner agreed to the appointment of counsel in his PCRA proceedings, so the Court requested that counsel for Respondents petition the President Judge of Washington County to appoint counsel for Petitioner to pursue his state court PCRA petition or file a report detailing inexcusable delay such that the federal court can proceed with reviewing Petitioner's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, (ECF No. 1).[2]

         On January 29, 2017, counsel for Respondents filed a Status Report, (ECF No. 64), indicating that on January 27, 2017, Washington County President Judge Katherine Emery appointed Petitioner PCRA counsel, Stephen Paul, Esq., who was given sixty days in which to file a no merit letter or an amended PCRA petition on behalf of Petitioner, (ECF No. 64-1). Petitioner now requests, for various reasons that are largely incoherent, that this Court “halt” those PCRA proceedings and continue with the instant federal habeas corpus proceedings, including reviewing his claims in his Petition on the merits.[3] This, the Court will not do.

         First, where state court remedies are unexhausted, “principles of federalism and comity require district courts to abstain from enjoining pending state criminal proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances.” Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). Moore v. DeYoung, 515 F.2d 437, 447-48 (3d Cir. 1975). Younger abstention will apply when: “(1) there are ongoing state proceedings that are judicial in nature; (2) the state proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3) the state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to raise the federal claims.” Lazaridis v. Wehmer, 591 F.3d 666, 670 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Addiction Specialists, Inc. v. Twp. of Hampton, 411 F.3d 399, 408 (3d Cir. 2005)). If the three Younger requirements are satisfied, abstention is required unless the petitioner demonstrates that the state proceedings are motivated by bad faith, the state law being challenged is patently unconstitutional, or there is no adequate alternative state forum where the constitutional issues can be raised. Id. at 670 n.4 (citing Schall v. Joyce, 885 F.2d 101, 106 (3d Cir. 1989)). These exceptions are to be construed “very narrowly” and invoked only in “extraordinary circumstances.” Id.; Moore, 515 F.2d at 448. See also Brian R. Means, Postconviction Remedies, § 10.3 Younger abstention (July 2012).

         Here, there is an ongoing state judicial proceeding, as Petitioner's PCRA proceedings are still pending, and it is clear that grating his request for relief would interfere with those proceedings.[4] Additionally, Pennsylvania's enforcement of criminal laws and the administration of its judicial system are vital state interests. Finally, his PCRA proceedings provide a forum for Petitioner to raise constitutional claims in the context of his state criminal proceedings. Thus, the requirements of abstention have been satisfied, and the instant habeas action, and the arguments set forth in Petitioner's Motion, does not raise the type of extraordinary circumstances contemplated under Younger.

         Second, as of now, the Court will not excuse Petitioner from exhausting his state court remedies.[5] In his Motion, Petitioner appears to argue that it would be futile to continue with his PCRA proceedings because of state and judicial bias, including bias from his appointed PCRA counsel. The Third Circuit has held that:

likely futility on the merits . . . in state court of a petitioner's habeas claim does not render that claim “exhausted” within the meaning of § 2254(b)(1)(A) so as to excuse the petitioner's failure to exhaust that claim by presenting it in state court before asserting [it] in a federal habeas petition. Allowing petitioners to bypass state court merely because they believe that their constitutional claims would have failed there on the merits would fly in the face of comity and would deprive state courts of a critical opportunity to examine and refine their constitutional jurisprudence.

Parker v. Kelchner, 429 F.3d 58, 64 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 128 (1982)). That holding is equally applicable here. Petitioner's argument that it is likely futile for him to continue with his state court proceedings, and, therefore, this Court should excuse exhaustion, is clearly foreclosed by Parker. Also, to the extent Petitioner objects to the appointment of his PCRA counsel, and demands to proceed pro se, he must pursue that request before the state court as this Court will not order the state court to grant him that right. See Peay, 133 F.App'x at 32-33.

         Furthermore, while exhaustion is not a jurisdictional limitation, federal courts may only review the merits of a state prisoner's claims prior to exhaustion when no appropriate state remedy exists. Christy v. Horn, 115 F.3d 201, 206 (3d Cir. 1997); Doctor, 96 F.3d at 681; Carter v. Vaughn, 62 F.3d 591, 594 (3d Cir. 1995). A petitioner shall not be deemed to have exhausted state remedies, however, if he has the right to raise his claims by any available state procedure. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c). Here, through his PCRA proceedings, Petitioner still has an available procedure by which to seek review of his claims. Once Petitioner has exhausted his state court remedies, the federal court will, of course, be open to him, if need be, to entertain his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.[6]

         At this time, the Court finds it appropriate to stay these habeas corpus proceedings until such time as Petitioner has exhausted his state court remedies. No filings will be permitted except for a quarterly report that counsel for Respondents shall file informing the Court as to the status of Petitioner's state court proceedings. All other filings will be dismissed by reason of the stay. In the event that Petitioner does not get the relief he seeks in state court, he shall file a motion to lift the stay and reopen this case within thirty (30) days of exhaustion of state court remedies.

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED this 15th day of February, 2017, that Petitioner's “Motion for Injunction to Halt Unwanted, Unlawful, Commencement of Resumed PCRA Proceedings at Unwanted, Unlawful ‘Remand, '” (ECF No. 69), is DENIED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that this case is stayed and the Clerk of Court is directed to administratively close it.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that counsel for Respondents shall file a quarterly report informing the Court as to the status of ...

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