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Schmid v. McCauley

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

May 15, 2019




         In this state conviction habeas action, Anastazia Schmid (“Ms. Schmid”) challenges her 2002 convictions for murder and related offenses. Ms. Schmid filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus on February 11, 2014. This Court denied her petition as untimely on June 24, 2014. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the judgment and remanded the case with instructions to consider holding an evidentiary hearing on the issue of equitable tolling. Dkt. 49.

         Ms. Schmid alleges that the state post-conviction court unreasonably determined that her trial counsel was not ineffective when he failed to demand a competency hearing before trial and when he failed to assert a justifiable reasonable force defense. While Ms. Schmid concedes that her petition was filed beyond the one-year limitations period established by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A), she argues that she is entitled to equitable tolling because she suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) that was triggered by working on her legal case, and because she lacked access to her legal file until after the one-year limitations period had expired. The respondent argues that Ms. Schmid is not entitled to equitable tolling both because no extraordinary circumstance prevented her from timely filing her petition and because she did not act with diligence.

         An evidentiary hearing on the issue of equitable tolling was held on February 15, 2019. Dkt. 101. Ms. Schmid was present. She was represented by pro bono counsel Joshua Wackerly.[1] The defendant appeared by counsel. Documentary evidence was submitted, as well as testimony from Ms. Schmid; Michael Troemel, her post-conviction counsel; and Sharon Samsell, a mental health counselor who counseled Ms. Schmid at Rockville Correctional Facility. For the reasons explained in this Entry, the Court finds that Ms. Schmid is entitled to equitable tolling and that her petition was therefore timely filed.


         Legal Standards

         In an attempt to “curb delays, to prevent ‘retrials' on federal habeas, and to give effect to state convictions to the extent possible under law, ” Congress, as part of AEDPA, revised several statutes governing federal habeas relief. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 404 (2000). “Under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A), a state prisoner seeking federal habeas relief has just one year after his conviction becomes final in state court to file his federal petition.” Gladney v. Pollard, 799 F.3d 889, 894 (7th Cir. 2015). “The one-year clock is stopped, however, during the time the petitioner's ‘properly filed' application for state postconviction relief ‘is pending.'” Day v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 198, 201 (2006) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2)).

         A petitioner is entitled to equitable tolling if he can establish that he has “‘(1) . . . been pursuing his rights diligently, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way and prevented timely filing.'” Socha v. Boughton, 763 F.3d 674, 684 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631, 649 (2010)). These two “elements” are distinct. Menominee Indian Tribe of Wis. v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 750, 756 (2016). The diligence element “covers those affairs within the litigant's control; the extraordinary-circumstances prong, by contrast, is meant to cover matters outside its control.” Id. It is the petitioner's “burden to establish both [elements].” Socha, 763 F.3d at 683. A petitioner need demonstrate only “reasonable diligence not maximum feasible diligence” in pursuing her rights. Holland, 560 U.S. at 649; see also Moore v. Knight, 368 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2004) (noting that “a diligence inquiry should take into account that prisoners are limited by their physical confinement”).

         “Although not a chimera-something that exists only in the imagination, equitable tolling is an extraordinary remedy that is rarely granted.” Carpenter v. Douma, 840 F.3d 867, 870 (7th Cir. 2016) (citations and quotation marks omitted); see Socha, 763 F.3d at 684 (“[T]olling is rare; it is reserved for extraordinary circumstances far beyond the litigant's control that prevented timely filing.”) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         The Seventh Circuit has recognized mental incompetency as a ground for equitable tolling. Davis v. Humphreys, 747 F.3d 497, 499 (7th Cir. 2014). Tolling is only appropriate “if the illness in fact prevents the sufferer from managing his affairs and thus from understanding his legal rights and acting upon them.” Obriecht v. Foster, 727 F.3d 744, 750-751 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Miller v. Runyon, 77 F.3d 189, 191 (7th Cir. 1996)).

         The Seventh Circuit has also recognized a prisoner's lack of access to their legal documents as a ground for equitable tolling:

Even the most seasoned attorneys do not, and should not, draft motions, memoranda, or briefs without access to the basic files underlying the actions. They likely would face discipline if they attempted to reconstruct the case from memory alone. To expect [a pro se petitioner] to have a photographic memory permitting him to write a petition without his file is unrealistic.

Socha, 763 F.3d at 686.

         The Seventh Circuit emphasized that when evaluating claims of equitable tolling, courts should use “a ‘flexible' standard that encompasses all of the circumstances [the petitioner] faced and the cumulative effect ...

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