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Conroy v. Thompson

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 11, 2019

Bill Conroy, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Scott Thompson, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued February 21, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 3:16-cv-00338 - David R. Herndon, Judge.

          Before Easterbrook, Sykes, and Barrett, Circuit Judges.

          Barrett, Circuit Judge.

         Bill Conroy filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in 2016 to challenge an Illinois state court conviction from 2007. Although he admitted that he had not filed his petition within the one-year limitations period, he claimed that his mental condition justified equitable tolling. The district court disagreed, concluding both that his petition was untimely and that he had not met the high bar necessary to establish equitable tolling. We agree and affirm.

         I.

         In 2004, Bill Conroy was indicted in Illinois state court for solicitation of murder, solicitation of murder for hire, and attempted first-degree murder. Before trial, the state court held a hearing to determine his competency to stand trial. After hearing from two state experts and one defense expert, the court determined that Conroy was fit to stand trial. On May 8, 2007, Conroy pleaded guilty and was sentenced to thirty years in prison. He did not appeal.

         Later in 2007, Conroy received mental health services through the Illinois Department of Corrections and was diagnosed with depressive and schizoaffective disorders. In 2008, however, Conroy's mental evaluations indicated that he was "alert and oriented," that his "[t]hought processes were logical, coherent and goal directed," and that his "[i]nsight and judgment were fair." His psychiatrist also noted in one 2008 report that Conroy "denied any auditory [or] visual hallucinations or delusions."

         In 2009, Conroy filed a postconviction petition in state court arguing, among other things, that his counsel provided ineffective assistance by not investigating his case and by coercing him into pleading guilty. The state trial court rejected Conroy's arguments, and the state appellate court affirmed. In 2014, Conroy filed several other postconviction motions in state court, which were denied. Throughout this time, Conroy unsuccessfully sought help with his legal issues from the prison library staff. He also says that because he had no money, he was unable to hire "prison lawyers" to help him.

         In 2016, Conroy filed a pro se petition in federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which permits persons in state custody to apply for habeas relief on the ground that their custody violates the Constitution or laws of the United States. Because Conroy named the wrong respondent, however, the district court dismissed his petition without prejudice and appointed a federal public defender to help him amend it. In the amended petition, Conroy alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective in arguing that he was not fit to stand trial. Conroy also argued that the timing for filing his petition should be equitably tolled because his mental limitations prevented him from understanding his legal rights from 2008 until he filed his petition in 2016.

         The state nevertheless moved to dismiss the petition as untimely and argued that Conroy was not entitled to equitable tolling. The district court agreed. It determined that Conroy's mental limitations were not an extraordinary circumstance and that he had failed to show that he had been reasonably diligent in pursing his claim throughout the limitations period. So there was no basis for equitably tolling the time for filing the petition. The court also denied Conroy a certificate of appealability.

         Conroy sought a certificate of appealability, and we granted it on two questions: (1) whether Conroy is entitled to equitable tolling, and (2) "whether trial counsel was ineffective for not arguing that the state psychologist's evaluation revealed" that Conroy was unfit to stand trial. Because we agree with the district court that Conroy's untimely petition is not entitled to equitable tolling, we need only address the former.

         II.

         The government initially argued that Conroy's amended petition constituted a second or successive petition because the district court dismissed his first petition without prejudice for failing to name the correct respondent. If that were true, it would have required Conroy to get our permission before filing with the district court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3). But as the government correctly acknowledged before oral argument, when a district court dismisses a petition without prejudice because of a technical or procedural deficiency, the cured second petition counts as the first. See Pavlovsky ...


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