LOCATION: Broward County Circuit Court
DOCKET NO.: 09-5327
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
CITATION: 560 US 631 (2010)
GRANTED: Oct 13, 2009
ARGUED: Mar 01, 2010
DECIDED: Jun 14, 2010
Petitioner Scott D Makar - for the respondent
Todd G. Scher - for the petitioner (appointed by the Court)
Facts of the case
A Florida state court convicted Albert Holland of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, attempted sexual battery, and armed robbery, and sentenced him to death. After exhausting his state court remedies, Mr. Holland petitioned for federal habeas relief in a Florida federal district court. The district court denied the petition as untimely.
On appeal, Mr. Holland argued that his attorney failed to communicate with him about the status of his case, then failed to file a timely federal habeas corpus petition, despite repeated instructions by Mr. Holland to do so. Therefore, Mr. Holland contended that he was entitled to equitable tolling of the statute of limitations. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit disagreed, holding that absent an allegation and proof of bad faith, dishonesty, divided loyalty, or mental impairment on the attorney's part, no mere negligence of the attorney's rises to the level of egregious misconduct that would entitle a habeas corpus petitioner to equitable tolling.
Can "gross negligence" by counsel that directly results in the late filing of a petition for habeas corpus relief qualify as a circumstance warranting equitable tolling?
Media for Holland v. FloridaAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 01, 2010 in Holland v. Florida
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 14, 2010 in Holland v. Florida
Stephen G. Breyer:
Now the second case is Holland versus Florida that a Federal Habeas Corpus statute with certain exceptions gives a state prisoner one year from the time a state court conviction becomes final, until the time he must file a Habeas petition in Federal Court.
The answer in this case, two questions related to the running of that one year period.
First, is that statute of limitations subject to the doctrine of equitable tolling?
That doctrine means that a judge can toll i.e postpone the running of the statute for strong equitable reasons.
The doctrine would permit a federal judge to extend the one year Habeas Corpus time limit, provided there are sufficiently strong equitable grounds for doing so.
Eleven Courts of Appeals upheld that the doctrine of equitable tolling does apply.
Federal statutes of limitations are normally subject to this kind of tolling and we can't find any good reason here for departing from that nor.
To the contrary, the underlying subject matter Habeas Corpus is itself an equitable remedy and that fact makes application of the equitable tolling doctrine a particularly suitable thing to do.
So like the others, we hold it applies.
Second, did the Court of Appeals properly apply the doctrine in this case?
The Court of Appeals said that where a prisoner seeks equitable tolling on the ground that his lawyer behaved badly, the petitioner, the prisoner can succeed in showing he needs equitable tolling only if he proves quote bad, faith, dishonesty, divided loyalty, mental impairment and so forth.
In our view this standard is too rigid.
Equitable doctrines are by their very nature, more flexible and we believe that the Court of Appeals should have applied a more flexible test set out in our prior cases i,e equitable tolling may be justified, one, in extraordinary circumstances as long as, two, the petitioner has been indulged in seeking his remedies.
We believe there is adequate judicial precedent to guide this for courts in applying this more general standard.
Given the facts of this case which we set out in our opinion, the petitioner maybe entitled to equitable tolling under this more flexible standard.
So we remand the cases to the Court of Appeals so that it can reconsider them.
Justice Alito has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Thomas joins in part.