February 21, 2019
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Illinois. No. 3:16-cv-00338 - David R. Herndon,
Easterbrook, Sykes, and Barrett, Circuit Judges.
Barrett, Circuit Judge.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...