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Jones v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

October 29, 2018

PHILIP WALTER JONES, Petitioner - Appellant,

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 3:14-cv-00757-BJD-JBT

          Before WILSON and NEWSOM, Circuit Judges, and VINSON, [*] District Judge.


         In June 2006, the petitioner, Philip Walter Jones, was convicted in a Florida state court of aggravated domestic battery (for shooting his wife) and sentenced to 20 years incarceration. After his conviction became final on September 18, 2007, he filed numerous motions for post-conviction relief in state court (including two petitions for habeas corpus; two motions to correct illegal sentence under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.800; and a petition for writ of mandamus), but only one of his several motions requires our attention. Specifically, on September 19, 2013-a full six years after his conviction became final-the petitioner moved to vacate his sentence based on newly discovered evidence under Rule 3.850 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. He alleged in this motion that he had only recently discovered that his trial counsel failed to tell him that the prosecutor had offered a pre-trial plea deal with ten years imprisonment, and that if he had been told of the plea offer at that time he would have accepted it instead of going to trial where, as noted, he was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years. He argued that his lawyer's failure to tell him about a plea offer that he would have accepted and that would have cut his prison time in half constituted "ineffective assistance of counsel [that] prejudiced him." The state trial court denied the motion by written order on November 6, 2013 (Trial Court Order), and Florida's First District Court of Appeal summarily affirmed without opinion on April 15, 2014.

         Two months later, on June 27, 2014, the petitioner filed a federal petition for habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The respondents moved to dismiss the federal petition as untimely. In granting the motion, the District Court held that the Rule 3.850 Motion was not "properly filed" in the state court and thus did not toll the one-year statute of limitations in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which (without tolling) expired nine days before he filed his federal petition. The petitioner subsequently filed this appeal pro se, and we appointed him counsel and granted a Certificate of Appealability (COA) on one issue: whether the Rule 3.850 Motion was a "properly filed" tolling motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2), such that the District Court erred in dismissing his federal petition as time-barred.[1]

         Therefore, the only question for us to decide is whether the petitioner's Rule 3.850 Motion was properly filed in state court so that it tolled ADEPA's one-year statute of limitations. If it was properly filed, his federal petition was timely (and the District Court erred in dismissing it); if it wasn't, then his petition was untimely (and the District Court did not err). After carefully reviewing the briefs and record de novo, [2] and having the benefit of oral argument, we find that the District Court did not err and we affirm.



         We begin our analysis with some brief history and basic legal principles. The writ of habeas corpus is "'the most celebrated writ in the English law.'" Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 399-400 (1963) (quoting 3 Blackstone, Commentaries 129). "It is 'a writ antecedent to statute, and throwing its root deep into the genius of our common law. . . . It is perhaps the most important writ known to the constitutional law of England, affording as it does a swift and imperative remedy in all cases of illegal restraint or confinement.'" Id. at 400 (quoting Secretary of State for Home Affairs v. O'Brien (1923) A.C. 603, 609 (H.L.)). The "Great Writ" was received into our own law in the colonial period, id., and it is now codified by statute. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (providing that federal courts shall entertain habeas petitions filed by state prisoners); 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (providing same for federal prisoners). Pursuant to the former statute-the one relevant to this case-a state prisoner may bring a petition for habeas corpus in federal 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).

         Like all good things, however, the writ may be (and has been) abused. See Woodard v. Hutchins, 464 U.S. 377 (1984); see also, e.g., McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467, 496 (1991) ("The writ of habeas corpus is one of the centerpieces of our liberties. 'But the writ has potentialities for evil as well as for good. Abuse of the writ may undermine the orderly administration of justice and therefore weaken the forces of authority that are essential for civilization.'") (citation omitted). In years past, federal courts were "deluged with a flood" of habeas petitions, and statistics from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts showed that only a very small percentage of the petitions were meritorious. See John J. Parker, Limiting the Abuse of Habeas Corpus, 8 F.R.D. 171, 172 & n.3 (1948) (noting that between the years 1943-1945, for example, relief was granted in just 76 of the 3, 126 federal petitions filed during that period).

         Against this historical backdrop, Congress enacted AEDPA in 1996, which, among other things, "included many significant restrictions on the availability of post-conviction relief in the federal courts" and "'incorporate[d] reforms to curb the abuse of the statutory writ of habeas corpus[.]'" See Medberry v. Crosby, 351 F.3d 1049, 1058 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 104-518, at p. 111 (1996), reprinted in 1996 U.S.C.C.A.N. 944, 944).

         In relevant part, AEDPA requires that a state prisoner seeking habeas relief under Section 2254 must bring his federal petition within a year from the date that his state conviction becomes "final," either by the conclusion of his direct review or the expiration of time to seek such review. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A); accord Carey v. Saffold, 536 U.S. 214, 216 (2002). This one-year statute of limitations will be tolled, however, for "[t]he time during which a properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review" is pending in the state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2) (emphasis added).


         In Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408 (2005), the United States Supreme Court expressly held that a state court motion for post-conviction relief cannot be considered "properly filed" for tolling under Section 2244(d)(2) if the motion was untimely under state law. That case has significant-and potentially dispositive- bearing on this appeal. Before getting to Pace, however, and in order to properly understand it, we have to discuss an earlier Supreme Court case: Artuz v. Bennett, 531 U.S. 4 (2000).

         In Artuz, the Supreme Court was called upon to decide if an application for state post-conviction relief that contained a claim that was procedurally barred by New York law was "properly filed" within the meaning of Section 2244(d)(2). 531 U.S. at 5. In deciding that question (which it answered in the affirmative), the Supreme Court said the following:

An application is "filed," as that term is commonly understood, when it is delivered to, and accepted by, the appropriate court officer for placement into the official record. And an application is "properly filed" when its delivery and acceptance are in compliance with the applicable laws and rules governing filings. These usually prescribe, for example, the form of the document, the time limits upon its delivery, the court and office in which it must be lodged, and the requisite filing fee. In some jurisdictions the filing requirements also include, for example, preconditions imposed on particular abusive filers, or on all filers generally. But in common usage, the question whether an application has been "properly filed" is quite separate from the question whether the claims contained in the application are meritorious and free of procedural bar.
The state procedural bars at issue in this case-N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law §§ 440.10(2)(a) and (c) (McKinney 1994)-simply prescribe a rule of decision for a court confronted with claims that were "previously determined on the merits upon an appeal from the judgment" of conviction or that could have been raised on direct appeal but were not: "[T]he court must deny" such claims for relief. Neither provision purports to set forth a condition to filing, as opposed to a condition to obtaining relief. Motions to vacate that violate these provisions will not be successful, but they have been properly delivered and accepted so long as the filing conditions have been met. Consequently, the alleged failure of respondent's application to comply with §§ 440.10(2)(a) and (c) does not render it "[im]properly filed" for purposes of § 2244(d)(2).

Id. at 8-11 (internal citations and footnote omitted). After noting that time limits on post-conviction motions are "condition[s] to filing," so that an untimely motion would not be regarded as "properly filed," the Supreme Court went on to say: "We express no view on the question whether the existence of certain exceptions to a timely filing requirement can prevent a late application from being considered improperly filed." See id. at 8, 11 & n.2 (emphasis added). Five years later, the Court in Pace had to confront the precise question that it left unanswered in Artuz.

         In Pace, a state prisoner in Pennsylvania filed a petition for post-conviction relief pursuant to the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). 544 U.S. at 410. The PCRA rendered untimely any petition filed more than a year after the judgment became final-unless the petition alleged and the petitioner could prove that he fell within one of three exceptions, including that the facts upon which the claim was predicated were both unknown to the petitioner and could not have been discovered with due diligence. Id. at 410-11 & n.1; accord id. at 422 n.4 (Stevens, J., dissenting). The Pennsylvania Superior Court dismissed the petitioner's petition as untimely after it found that he had "neither alleged nor proven" that he satisfied one of the three statutory exceptions. Id. at 411. The petitioner subsequently filed a federal habeas petition, and the respondent moved to dismiss it as untimely. Id. at 411-12. The District Court recognized that, without tolling, the federal petition was indeed time-barred. Id. at 412. Nevertheless, it concluded that the petitioner was entitled to statutory tolling for the time that his PCRA petition was pending in state court. Id. In so holding, the District Court found that, even though the state court had rejected his PCRA petition as untimely, that did not prevent the petition from being "properly filed" within the meaning of § 2244(d)(2). Id. It reasoned that because the PCRA provided judicially reviewable exceptions to the one-year time limit, that time limit wasn't a "condition to filing" but, rather, a "condition to obtaining relief" as the Supreme Court had described those "distinct concepts" in Artuz. Id. On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed, and the Supreme Court affirmed, holding:

As in Artuz, we are guided by the "common usage" and "commo[n] underst[anding]" of the phrase "properly filed." Id., at 8, 9, 121 S.Ct. 361. In common understanding, a petition filed after a time limit, and which does not fit within any exceptions to that limit, is no more "properly filed" than a petition filed after a time limit that permits no exception. The purpose of AEDPA's statute of limitations confirms this commonsense reading. On petitioner's theory, a state prisoner could toll the statute of limitations at will simply by filing untimely state postconviction petitions. This would turn § 2244(d)(2) into a de facto extension mechanism, quite contrary to the purpose of AEDPA, and open the door to abusive delay.

. . . [Petitioner] asserts that "condition[s] to filing" are merely those conditions necessary to get a clerk to accept the petition, as opposed to conditions that require some judicial consideration. [Respondent] characterizes petitioner's position . . . as a juridical game of "hot potato," in which a petition will be "properly filed" so long as a petitioner is able to hand it to the clerk without the clerk tossing it back. Be that as it may, petitioner's theory is inconsistent with Artuz, where we explained that jurisdictional matters and fee payments, both of which often necessitate judicial scrutiny, are "condition[s] to filing." See 531 U.S., at 9, 121 S.Ct. 361. We fail to see how timeliness is any less a "filing" requirement than the mechanical rules that are enforceable by clerks, if such rules exist.

544 U.S. at 413-15 (internal citation and footnote omitted). In short, the Supreme Court held that "time limits, no matter their form, are 'filing' conditions. Because the state court rejected petitioner's PCRA petition as untimely, it was not 'properly filed,' and he is not entitled to statutory tolling under § 2244(d)(2)." Id. at 417.

         This Court has recognized that "[t]he key takeaway from Pace is that an untimely application was not, and could not ever have been considered, properly filed." Hernandez-Alberto v. Secretary, Florida Dep't of Corr., 840 F.3d 1360, 1366 (11th Cir. 2016). But that, of course, does not answer the question we face here: ...

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