United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JOHNSON COLEMAN United States District Court Judge
Ramell Sturdivant, filed a writ of habeas corpus alleging
that he was deprived of his constitutional rights at multiple
points during the course of his trial. The government now
moves to dismiss Sturdivant's petition as time-barred.
For the reasons set forth below, this Court grants that
a jury trial, Sturdivant was convicted of first degree murder
and sentenced to thirty-two years in prison. Sturdivant
appealed his conviction to the Illinois Appellate Court and
the Illinois Supreme Court, before filing a petition for a
writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. That
writ was denied on June 25, 2012. On December 19, 2012,
one-hundred-and-seventy-six days later, Sturdivant filed a
post-conviction petition in the Circuit Court of Cook County.
Sturdivant's post-conviction petition was denied, and he
appealed that denial to the Illinois Appellate Court and then
to the Illinois Supreme Court, which denied his petition for
leave to appeal on January 28, 2015. Sturdivant subsequently
filed the present petition for habeas corpus. Although
Sturdivant states he filed his petition on September 18,
2015, this Court notes that his petition was notarized on
September 22, 2015 and thus could not have been filed prior
to that date. As is pertinent here, Sturdivant asserts that
he was held in segregated confinement at Menard Correctional
Center from March 14, 2014 until March 25, 2015. Although
uncontroverted prison records suggest that Sturdivant exited
segregated confinement on March 12, 2015, that discrepancy
need not be resolved in order to rule on the present motion.
Sturdivant was in segregated confinement, his appointed
counsel withdrew from his post-conviction appeal. Because he
was in segregated confinement, Sturdivant was unable to
procure the assistance of jailhouse lawyers in the general
population who had previously assisted him with his legal
filings. Accordingly, Sturdivant sought to solicit the aid of
legal clerks working for Menard's law library. These
clerks, fellow inmates with no legal training, provided
copying services for those members of Menard's population
engaged in pending legal matters. The legal clerks that
Sturdivant asked refused to help him, stating either that
they had no legal training or that they were prohibited from
assisting other inmates with their legal matters.
August 24, 2014, a jailhouse lawyer named Travis Weston was
admitted to segregated confinement. Sturdivant promptly sent
Weston a “scribe” explaining his alleged mental
illness and his current legal dilemma. Regrettably,
Sturdivant also sent Weston all of his legal documents.
Weston did not respond to Sturdivant's scribe, so after
waiting a few days Sturdivant “yelled down the gallery
to other inmates to grab his attention.” Sturdivant
then learned that Weston had been transferred out of
segregated confinement while he was in possession of all of
Sturdivant's legal documents. Because Sturdivant was in
segregated confinement, he was unable to contact Weston or
secure the return of his legal papers. Sturdivant had no
further contact with Weston until March 2015, when Sturdivant
was released into the general population and was again able
to contact Weston by Scribe. Weston subsequently assisted
Sturdivant in researching and preparing this petition.
Sturdivant filed this petition, this Court ordered him to
show cause why this case should not be dismissed pursuant to
the statute of limitations. Sturdivant responded to that
order to show cause, asserting that the statute of
limitations should be statutorily or equitably tolled.
Accordingly this Court discharged the order to show cause.
The respondent subsequently filed the present motion to
dismiss based on the statute of limitations. Despite a
lengthy extension, Sturdivant failed to timely file a
response to that motion. Rather than treating the present
motion as unopposed, however, this Court will instead
consider those arguments that Sturdivant advanced in his
response to the show-cause order.
one-year statute of limitations applies to habeas petitions
filed by state prisoners. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). The
limitation period begins to run on “the date on which
the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review
or the expiration of the time for seeking such review.”
Id. The statute of limitations is tolled, however,
while an application for state post-conviction review with
respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending. 28
U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2).
Sturdivant's conviction became final on June 25, 2012,
when the Supreme Court denied his petition for a writ of
certiorari on direct appeal. Thus, the limitations period ran
from that date until December 19, 2012, when Sturdivant filed
his postconviction petition. The limitations period was then
tolled until January 29, 2015, when Sturdivant's
post-conviction petition for leave to appeal was denied.
Accordingly, the statutory limitations period expired on
August 6, 2015. Sturdivant, however, contends that he is
entitled to either statutory or equitable tolling of the
limitations period, based on numerous obstacles that he faced
in filing the present petition.
first contends that he is entitled to statutory tolling.
Section 2244 provides that the limitations period does not
begin to run until “the date on which the impediment to
filing an application created by State action in violation of
the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if
the applicant was prevented from filing by such State
action.” Here, Sturdivant contends that multiple state
impediments prevented him from filing while he was in
segregated confinement. Specifically, Sturdivant contends
that (1) prison policy barred inmate law clerks from
assisting other inmates with their legal problems; (2) prison
policy prevented inmates in segregated confinement from
communicating with their jailhouse lawyers who were in the
general population; and (3) prison policy prevented jailhouse
lawyers transferred out of segregation from returning legal
papers to “clients” remaining in segregation.
Aside from a conclusory assertion that these policies
burdened his right of access under Bounds v. Smith,
however, Sturdivant does not identify any legal authority
demonstrating that these policies violated the constitution
or federal laws.
constitution requires that prison authorities provide
prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance
from persons trained in the law. Bounds v. Smith,
430 U.S. 817, 828, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977). But
here, there is no allegation that Sturdivant was denied
access to a prison law library. Moreover, Sturdivant concedes
that the inmate law clerks were not trained in the law; he
therefore had no constitutional right to their legal
assistance under Bounds. Nor was it illegal for the
prison to interfere in Sturdivant's contact with his
jailhouse lawyer while Sturdivant was in segregated
confinement. Knell v. Bensinger, 522 F.2d 720, 727
(7th Cir. 1975). And, finally, this Court notes that
Sturdivant has not plausibly argued how his unfortunate
decision to send his legal papers to another inmate, sight
unseen, constituted a state-created impediment to the filing
of his petition. Cf. United States v. Cicero, 214
F.3d 199, 204-05 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (recognizing that inmates
entrust jailhouse lawyers with their legal documents at their
Sturdivant contends that he is entitled to equitable tolling.
A litigant seeking equitable tolling of the statute of
limitations bears the burden of establishing both that he has
been pursuing his rights diligently, and that some
extraordinary circumstance stood in his way and prevented
timely filing. Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631,
649, 130 S.Ct. 2549, 177 L.Ed.2d 130 (2010). Here, Sturdivant
contends that equitable tolling is warranted in light of (1)
his “mental dysfunction and illiteracy”; (2) the
unavailability of assistance from the prison law clerks or
jailhouse lawyers; and (3) his jailhouse lawyer's
inability to return Sturdivant's legal papers.
Court does not perceive an extraordinary circumstance that
prevented Sturdivant from filing his petition on time.
Although Sturdivant asserts that he suffers from a mental
disorder, he fails to elaborate on the nature or extent of
his impairment or to describe in any detail how his condition
actually prevented him from exercising his rights. Absent
such explanations, this Court cannot determine that tolling
is warranted. See Miller v. Runyon, 77 F.3d 189, 191
(7th Cir. 1996) (“[M]ental illness tolls a statute of
limitations only if the illness in fact prevents the
sufferer from managing his affairs and thus from
understanding his legal rights and acting upon them.”).
Similarly, Sturdivant's alleged illiteracy, absent more,
does not warrant equitable tolling. See Montenegro v.
United States, 248 F.3d 585, 594 (7th Cir. 2001)
(denying equitable ...