United States District Court, D. Maryland
RICHARD D. BENNETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
response to this counseled Petition for Writ of Habeas
Corpus, Respondents alleged that the petition is time-barred.
ECF 4. Petitioner's Reply (ECF 7) asserts that
Respondents improperly aver that the time during which
Petitioner's Petition for Writ of Certiorari was pending
before the Maryland Court of Appeals did not operate to toll
the one-year limitations period applicable to petitions filed
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254. For the reasons stated
herein, the Court finds the petition was timely filed and
grants the unopposed Motion for Stay and Abeyance (ECF
challenges his 1996 convictions on charges of first-degree
rape, first degree sex offense (two counts), malicious
injury, battery, and kidnapping from the Circuit Court for
Prince George's County for which he received three
concurrent life sentences plus 15 years consecutive; a
sentence he has been serving since he was 16 years old. ECF
1; ECF 7 at Ex. 1, p. 7. He asserts that under "28
U.S.C. §2244(d)(1)(C), the combined effect of two
Supreme Court cases, Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct.
2455 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct.
718 (2016), filed on January 25, 2016, resulted in
petitioners having one year after Montgomery v.
Louisiana was decided in January, 2016, to file a §
2254 petition based on the newly declared right applicable to
discretionary life sentence cases recognized in
Montgomery, but not earlier in Miller, and
retroactive effect of the sentencing procedures set forth
therein." ECF 1 at p. 3. Petitioner asserts that
"because he received discretionary life sentences, his
one year period began with Montgomery in 2016, not
Miller in 2012." Id. When
Montgomery was decided, however, Petitioner was in
the process of pursuing post-conviction remedies in the
Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the
Circuit Court for Prince George's County on September 23,
2014. ECF 1-10 at p. 20. The circuit court granted his Motion
to Reopen and held a hearing on the claims raised on November
4, 2015. Id. at p. 22 In a decision dated November
9, 2015, relief was denied. Id. An application for
leave to appeal filed with the Maryland Court of Special
Appeals on September 26, 2016, was summarily denied. On
October 5, 2016, a Motion to Reconsider the denial of the
application was filed and later denied on December 1, 2016.
See ECF 7-1 (letter dated December 7, 2016 informing
Petitioner that Order and Mandate of December 1, 2016 was
mailed to the incorrect address).
October 5, 2016, Petitioner filed a pro se pleading with the
Court of Appeals (see ECF 7-2) which was construed
by that court as a Petition for Writ of Certiorari.
See ECF 7-2 (letter from Court of Appeals Clerk to
Petitioner). Petitioner was informed he had until November 7,
2016, to file a supplement for the petition. Id. He
filed the supplemental pleading on November 3, 2016 (ECF
7-5), and the Court of Appeals granted the State to and
including November 18, 2016, to file a response to the
Petition for Writ of Certiorari. The State did not file a
response. The Petition for Writ of Certiorari was
"denied as there has been no showing that review by
certiorari is desirable and in the public interest" on
December 15, 2016. ECF 7-7.
assert that when an application for leave to appeal is
summarily denied by the Court of Special Appeals, there is no
right to further review. ECF 4 at p. 5, citing Stachowski
v. State, 416 Md. 276, 298 (2010). They further reason
that the operative date for purposes of filing this federal
habeas petition is one-year from December 1, 2016, the date
Petitioner's motion for reconsideration was denied by the
Maryland Court of Special Appeals; and the instant petition
was filed on December 15, 2017, or 14 days late in
Respondents' estimation. Id.
Reply, Petitioner asserts that the Maryland Court of Appeals
accepted the Petition for Writ of Certiorari, considered it
on the merits, and denied it on the merits. Had the petition
been improperly filed, as Respondents maintain, the Court of
Appeals was free to dismiss it as improperly filed rather
than denying it on the merits as it did. Further, the Court
of Appeals also permitted Petitioner an opportunity to
supplement the Petition for Writ of Certiorari and also gave
the State the opportunity to oppose it, which they declined
to do on any basis, including that it was improperly filed on
procedural grounds. Finally, Petitioner asserts that this
Court is obliged to defer to the Court of Appeals'
interpretation of State law matters such as whether it had
jurisdiction to consider the Petition for Writ of Certiorari.
28 U.S.C. §2244(d)(2) "[t]he time during which a
properly filed application for State post-conviction or other
collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or
claim is pending shall not be counted toward any period of
limitation under this subsection." This Court is obliged
to afford a "highly deferential standard for evaluating
state-court rulings." Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S.
320, 333, n. 7 (1997). Section 2254(d) "demands that
state-court decisions be given the benefit of the
doubt." Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 455 (2005),
quoting Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24
(2002). Where, as here, the state court's ruling pertains
only to Maryland state law, the deference afforded to that
decision is even greater. "[I]t is not the province of a
federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations
on state-law questions." Estelle v. McGuire,
502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991). Given this standard of review, this
Court is not inclined to conclude that the Maryland Court of
Appeals improperly considered Petitioner's pro se
pleading as a Petition for Writ of Certiorari or that its
decision denying it on the merits was improper. Thus, the
Petition for Writ of Certiorari was properly filed and
continued to toll the limitations for filing a federal habeas
petition until December 15, 2016. As such, the Petition for
Writ of Habeas Corpus filed in this Court is timely filed.
Motion for Stay and Abeyance (ECF 2) asserts cause for
failure to exhaust the claim based on Montgomery v.
Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). When the
Montgomery decision was issued Petitioner was in the
process of litigating post-conviction claims and did not have
the Montgomery decision available to him as a basis
for relief. ECF 2. Under Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S.
269, 277 (2005), a petitioner who is able to demonstrate good
cause for failing to exhaust a claim is permitted to return
to state court to present the unexhausted claim while the
federal habeas petition remains stayed. A stay is available
only in limited circumstances, and is appropriate only for
good cause, where the unexhausted claims are potentially
meritorious and no dilatory tactics are shown. Id.
Even if a Petitioner had good cause for that failure, the
district court would abuse its discretion if it were to grant
a stay if the unexhausted claims are plainly meritless.
Rhines, 544 U.S. at 277.
instant case granting a stay of these proceedings does not
run afoul of the cautionary language in Rhines,
which warns a stay should only be used in limited
circumstances because it "effectively excuses a
petitioner's failure to present his claims."
Id., Here, Petitioner had no opportunity to present
the Montgomery claim to the appropriate Maryland
courts for review before the timely filing of this petition
and staying this matter does not operate to excuse an idle
failure to pursue the claims presented. Accordingly, this
matter shall be stayed pending Petitioner's exhaustion of
that claim before the Maryland courts. Counsel will be
required to provide status reports to this Court regarding
the progress of the case through the state courts.
separate Order follows.
 This Court's Order of December 29,
2017, directed Respondents, in part, to respond to the Motion
for Stay and Abeyance, but they did not address the ...