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Habeas petition timely under equitable tolling doctrine

Thomas Socha v. Gary Broughton, 7th Circuit Court of Appeals No. 12-1598, 8/14/14

In Socha’s previous appeal of the dismissal of his federal habeas petition, the Seventh Circuit held the district court was not compelled to dismiss the petition just because it was filed after the one-year AEDPA deadline because there were a couple possible theories—specifically, equitable tolling or equitable estoppel—for finding the petition was timely filed. Socha v. Pollard, 621 F.3d 667 (7th Cir. 2010). On remand the district court rejected these theories and again dismissed Socha’s petition. The Court of Appeals again reverses the district court. Based on the “unusual obstacles that confronted Socha in filing his petition, his repeated attempts to obtain his record [from his lawyer] and comply with the deadline, and the district court’s initial grant of a motion to extent the deadline, we are convinced that equity requires his failure to file a completed before the deadline to be forgiven.” (Slip op. at 2).

After detailing the difficulties Socha encountered in getting his file from prior counsel, and his limited access to the law library due to his segregation status, the Court of Appeals concludes the only available basis for excusing the late filing is equitable tolling. (Slip op. at 3-8, 13-14). Rejecting the state’s argument that equitable tolling is “a chimera” in view of the fact it has never previously been invoked in a Seventh Circuit case (slip op. at 15), the Court finds the “extraordinary circumstances” in Socha to justify invoking the doctrine in this case. (Slip op. at 16-23).

Equitable tolling is rare, but so are the facts of this case. Based on Socha’s repeated efforts to obtain an unjustifiably withheld file, the minimal time he had in which to complete a petition afterward, and the initial judicial determination that tolling was appropriate, we conclude that it was an abuse of discretion to deny tolling of the AEDPA deadline. We reach this conclusion using the flexible, fact-specific standard described by the Supreme Court in Holland. In light of all the circumstances, Socha is entitled to equitable tolling of the one-year deadline for his habeas corpus petition. (Slip op. at 24).

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