United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division
KENDRICK D. CHERRY, Petitioner,
AARON SMITH, Warden Respondent.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER APPOINTING COUNSEL TO ASSIST PETITIONER IN DEVELOPING THE EVIDENCE AND DETERMINING WHETHER AN EVIDENTIARY HEARING IS WARRANTED
LANNY KING, District Judge.
Pending before the Court is Petitioner's pro-se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, to which Respondent has filed an answer, and Petitioner has replied. Docket Numbers (DN) 1, 13, and 16. The Court referred this matter to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for rulings on all non-dispositive motions; for appropriate hearings, if necessary; and for findings of fact and recommendations on any dispositive matter. DN 8.
For the reasons below, the Court will appoint counsel to represent Petitioner in developing the evidence and determining whether an evidentiary hearing is warranted on the issue of whether Petitioner can demonstrate the required extraordinary circumstances triggering application of the doctrine of equitable tolling. Additionally, upon resolution of the equitable tolling issue, the Court may direct counsel to assist Petitioner in arguing the underlying merits of the petition.
Evidence Bearing on the Question of Equitable Tolling
Petitioner admits that he filed his petition outside the 1-year period of limitation established by 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d) but claims that he is entitled to equitable tolling due to his mental impairment and being cut off from communications with the outside world while in the prison psychiatric ward.
Approximately 5 months of Petitioner's 1-year period remained in February, 2012, at the conclusion of exhaustion of state-court remedies, when the Kentucky Court of Appeals denied Petitioner's motion to alter, amend, or vacate pursuant to Kentucky Rules of Criminal Procedure (RCr) 11.42. Petitioner did not file the petition until October, 2014 - over 2 years late.
According to Petitioner:
The attached [prison] mental health records confirm Petitioner's mental health deterioration was confirmed on 12/18/2007, with symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, intellectual deterioration, social isolation, delusions, and auditory hallucinations.
(DN 16, p. 6 referring to records at DN 16-1, pp. 20-29).
During this 2012 period [after the state court's ruling on his 11.42] to present, petitioner was placed on many one on one watches to be observed 24 hours a days.... Finally, at the end of June 2014 petitioner's mental illness began to subside with the help of proper medications and the Psychiatric Staff, to the point petitioner could communicate with the assigned legal aide to the CPTU [Corrections Psychiatric Treatment Unit]. (DN 1, p. 11).
A petitioner's mental incompetence, which prevents timely filing, is an extraordinary circumstance that may equitably toll the 1-year statute of limitations. To obtain equitable tolling on the basis of mental incompetence, a petitioner must demonstrate that (1) he is mentally incompetent and (2) his mental incompetence caused his failure to comply with the statute of limitations. Ata v. Scutt, 662 F.3d 736, 742 (6th Cir.2011).
An evidentiary hearing is required when sufficiently specific allegations would entitle the petitioner to equitable tolling. Id. at 743. It is within the Court's sound discretion whether or not to hold a hearing. Id. at n.6.
As in Ata, it is unclear that Petitioner will meet his burden to demonstrate his entitlement to equitable tolling or whether he will prevail on the merits. His pro-se petition makes bare allegations that, upon further development, may justify an evidentiary hearing. See also Carneal v. Donahue, No. 5:09-CV-32-R, 2010 WL 816791, at *2 (W.D.Ky.) (evidentiary hearing warranted as "Carneal has presented at least a colorable argument that equitable tolling  applies in this case based on his alleged mental incompetency") and Scott v. Pancake, No. 5:08-CV-51-R, DN 43, p. 4 ...