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Thomas v. Metzger

United States District Court, D. Delaware

February 5, 2018

JAMES A. THOMAS, Petitioner,
v.
DANA METZGER, Warden, and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In 1993, Thomas pled guilty to first and second degree unlawful sexual intercourse, and he was sentenced to life in prison plus twenty years. (D.I. 1-1 at 2) In 2001, this court dismissed as time-barred Thomas' first habeas petition challenging his 1993 convictions. See Thomas v. Snyder, 2001 WL 1297812 (D. Del. Oct. 3, 2001). In 2016, Thomas filed another habeas petition challenging his 1993 convictions, which the Honorable Sue L. Robinson dismissed on January 23, 2017 for lack jurisdiction because it was an unauthorized second or successive habeas petition. (D.I. 3; D.I. 4)

         On February 1-2, 2017, a hostage incident took place at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware, where Thomas is housed. The docket demonstrates that Thomas did not file a notice of appeal from the January 23, 2017 during the months of January, February, March, April, and May 2017.

         Apparently, in a letter dated April 28, 2017 and sent directly to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Thomas inquired about the status of his appeal from the dismissal of his petition. (D.I. 5 at 3) In a letter dated May 8, 2017, the Third Circuit informed Thomas that a Court of Appeals cannot extend the time to appeal or excuse an untimely notice of appeal, and that only the District Court may grant such an extension. (D.I. 5 at 3) On June 2, 2017, Thomas filed a motion for an extension of time to file an appeal, citing Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(5) and 4(a)(6). (D.I. 5 at 1)

         In October 2017, Thomas filed a Notice of Appeal in this court. (D.I. 6) On November I, 2017, the Third Circuit issued an order explaining that the appeal would be held in abeyance until the disposition of Thomas"'motion to reopen the appeal pursuant to Fed. R. App. R. 4(a)(6)." (D.I. 10) On November 22, 2017, Thomas filed a Rule 60(b)(6) motion for reconsideration. (D.I. 11)

         II. MOTION TO REOPEN TIME TO APPEAL

         "The taking of an appeal within the prescribed time is mandatory and jurisdictional." Bowles v. Russell, 551 U.S. 205, 209 (2007). In order to comply with Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1)(A)'s 30 day period for filing an appeal, Thomas had to file his notice of appeal by February 23, 2017. Thomas filed his motion to reopen[1] the time file an appeal on June 2, 2017, 100 days after the last date on which he could have filed a timely appeal.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(6) ("Rule 4(a)(6)"), the court may grant Thomas' motion to reopen the time appeal for 14 days if: (A) Thomas did not receive notice of the dismissal of his second or successive habeas petition within 21 days after entry of the judgment of dismissal (February 14, 2017); (B) Thomas filed his motion to reopen the time to appeal within 180 days after the entry of the judgment of dismissal (July 24, 2017) or within 14 days after he received notice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 77(d) of the entry of the judgment of dismissal, whichever is earlier; and (C) no party would be prejudiced. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(6).

         In this case, the memorandum and order dismissing Thomas' habeas petition was signed and entered on the docket on January 23, 2017. Eight days later, a hostage incident took place in the prison where Thomas was (and still is) housed. The prison was put on lockdown during the emergency hostage situation and remained on lockdown for an unspecified time thereafter. Given these unique circumstances, the court will presume that Thomas did not receive notice of the dismissal of his petition by February 14, 2017, thereby satisfying Rule 4(a)(6)(A).

         As for Rule 4(a)(6)(B)'s requirements regarding the timing of the motion's filing, Thomas does not address, and the court cannot discern, whether he filed the motion to reopen within 14 days after receiving Fed.R.Civ.P. 77(d) notice of the dismissal of his petition.[2]However, Thomas did file his motion to reopen the time to appeal on June 2, 2017, which was well-before the July 24, 2017 expiration date for the 180 day filing period. Once again, given the extremely unique circumstances caused by the hostage situation, the court views Thomas' compliance with the 180 day filing requirement as satisfying Fed. App. Proc. R. 4(a)(6)(B).

         Finally, Fed. R. App. Proc. 4(a)(6)(C) is satisfied, because no party will be prejudiced by granting the motion to reopen.

         Based on the foregoing, the court will grant Thomas' motion to reopen the time to appeal the January 23, 2017 dismissal of his habeas petition. (D.I. 5) Since Thomas already filed a notice of appeal on October 27, 2017, the court will not direct him to file another notice of appeal.

         III. MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION FILED PURSUANT TO FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 60(b)(6)

         A motion for reconsideration filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) "allows a party to seek relief from a final judgment, and request reopening of his case, under a limited set of circumstances including fraud, mistake, and newly discovered evidence." Gonzalez v. Crosby,545 U.S. 524, 528 (2005). Rule 60(b) motions are addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court, and are guided by accepted legal principles applied in ...


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