United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER HOLDING IN ABEYANCE THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND ADMINISTRATIVELY CLOSING THE CASE
GEORGE CARAM STEEH, District Judge.
William Edward Lavely, ("Petitioner"), confined at the Saginaw Correctional Facility in Freeland, Michigan, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his convictions for two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, MICH. COMP. LAWS § 750.520(b)(1)(A). Petitioner has filed a motion hold the petition in abeyance to permit him to return to the state courts to present additional claims that have not been exhausted with the state courts and that are not included in his current habeas petition. For the reasons stated below, the Court holds the petition in abeyance and stays the proceedings under the terms outlined in this opinion to permit petitioner to return to the state courts to exhaust his additional claims. The Court will also administratively close the case.
Petitioner was convicted following a jury trial in the Clare County Circuit Court. Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. People v. Lavely, No. 312389 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov. 12, 2013); lv. den. 495 Mich. 994 (2014).
Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, seeking habeas relief on the one claim that he raised on his appeal of right before the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Petitioner has filed a motion to hold the petition in abeyance, so he can return to the state courts to raise additional claims which have not been exhausted with the state courts.
A federal district court has authority to abate or dismiss a federal habeas action pending resolution of state post-conviction proceedings. Brewer v. Johnson, 139 F.3d 491, 493 (5th Cir. 1998). However, to stay federal proceedings and hold a habeas petition in abeyance pending resolution of state court proceedings, there must be exceptional or unusual circumstances. Sitto v. Bock, 207 F.Supp.2d 668, 676 (E.D. Mich. 2002); Hudson v. Martin, 68 F.Supp.2d 798, 800 (E.D. Mich. 1999). A federal district court is authorized to stay fully exhausted federal habeas petitions pending the exhaustion of other claims in the state courts. See Nowaczyk v. Warden, New Hampshire State Prison, 299 F.3d 69, 77-79 (1st Cir. 2002)(holding that district courts should "take seriously any request for a stay."); Anthony v. Cambra, 236 F.3d 568, 575 (9th Cir. 2000); See also Bowling v. Haeberline, 246 Fed.Appx. 303, 306 (6th Cir. 2007)(a habeas court is entitled to delay a decision in a habeas petition that contains only exhausted claims "when considerations of comity and judicial economy would be served")(quoting Nowaczyk, 299 F.3d at 83). Indeed, although there is no bright-line rule that a district court can never dismiss a fully-exhausted habeas petition because of the pendency of unexhausted claims in state court, in order for a federal court to justify departing from the "heavy obligation to exercise jurisdiction, " there must be some compelling reason to prefer a dismissal over a stay. Nowaczyk, 299 F.3d at 82 (internal quotation omitted); see also Bowling, 246 Fed.Appx. at 306 (district court erred in dismissing petition containing only exhausted claims, as opposed to exercising its jurisdiction over petition, merely because petitioner had independent proceeding pending in state court involving other claims).
The Court grants petitioner's motion to hold the petition in abeyance while he returns to the state courts to exhaust. The outright dismissal of the petition, albeit without prejudice, might result in preclusion of consideration of petitioner's claims in this Court due to the expiration of the one year statute of limitations contained in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). A common circumstance calling for abating a habeas petition arises when the original petition was timely filed, but a second, exhausted habeas petition would be time barred by the AEDPA's statute of limitations. See Hargrove v. Brigano, 300 F.3d 717, 720-21 (6th Cir. 2002).
The U.S. Supreme Court suggested that a habeas petitioner who is concerned about the possible effects of his state post-conviction filings on the AEDPA's statute of limitations could file a "protective" petition in federal court and then ask for the petition to be held in abeyance pending the exhaustion of state post-conviction remedies. See Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 416 (2005)(citing Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269; 278 (2005)). A federal court may stay a federal habeas petition and hold further proceedings in abeyance pending resolution of state court post-conviction proceedings, if there is good cause for failure to exhaust and the unexhausted claims are not "plainly meritless." Rhines, 544 U.S. at 278.
Petitioner's claims do not appear to be "plainly meritless." Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 419 (6th Cir. 2009). Further, petitioner asserts that he did not previously raise these claims in the state courts due to the ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Id., at 419, nn. 4 and 5. Finally, it does not appear that petitioner has engaged in "intentionally dilatory tactics."
When a district court determines that a stay is appropriate pending exhaustion of state court remedies, the district court "should place reasonable time limits on a petitioner's trip to state court and back." Rhines, 544 U.S. at 278. To ensure that petitioner does not delay in exhausting his state court remedies, the Court imposes upon petitioner time limits within which he must proceed. See Palmer v. Carlton, 276 F.3d 777, 781 (6th Cir. 2002). Petitioner must present his claims in state court by filing a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment with the state trial court within sixty days from the date of this Order. See id. Further, he must ask this Court to lift the stay within sixty days of exhausting his state court remedies. See id.
Petitioner's method of properly exhausting his claims in the state courts would be through filing a motion for relief from judgment with the Clare County Circuit Court under M.C.R. 6.502. See Wagner, 581 F.3d at 419. A trial court is authorized to appoint counsel for petitioner, seek a response from the prosecutor, expand the record, permit oral argument, and hold an evidentiary hearing. M.C.R. 6.505-6.507, 6.508 (B) and (C). Denial of a motion for relief from judgment is reviewable by the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court upon the filing of an application for leave to appeal. M.C.R. 6.509; M.C.R. 7.203; M.C.R. 7.302. Nasr v. Stegall, 978 F.Supp. 714, 717 (E.D. Mich. 1997). Petitioner, in fact, is required to appeal the denial of his postconviction motion to the Michigan ...