MOSES v. JOYNER, NO. 15-2

Decided: March 8, 2016

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling.

Appellant Errol Duke Moses (“Moses”) challenges the district court’s denial of his motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). Moses argues the court abused its discretion in finding the motion was untimely under 60(c) and for finding that a change in habeas procedural law did not constitute the kind of “extraordinary circumstance” needed to reopen Moses’ case.

Moses was convicted for the murder of Ricky Griffin and Jacinto Dunkley and the trial court imposed two death sentences. After the state supreme court affirmed and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari, Moses filed a “Motion for Appropriate Relief” (MAR) alleging ineffective assistance of counsel violated his Sixth Amendment right and that any procedural default of his claims was negated. A magistrate judge held Moses’ claims were procedurally barred and both the district court and this Court affirmed. This case surrounds the later 60(b) motion filed by Moses for relief from judgment while his third MAR was pending. Moses claims relief is warranted due to the 2012 decision of Martinez v. Ryan that states a procedural default under state law will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim if the prisoner’s attorney failed to raise the claim in the initial state proceedings. The rule was extended in Trevino v. Thaler to cases where it was “highly unlikely” that the defendant would have a meaningful opportunity to raise that claim on appeal.

Appellant asserts that the change in decisional law represents “extraordinary circumstances” under 60(b)(6).  He asserts his counsel’s failures fall within the Martinez exception, his ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claims are not procedurally forfeited, and that the district court’s decision dismissing his federal habeas petition should be vacated. The district court held that Moses’ motion was not only untimely under Rule 60(c), but that a change in habeas decisional law, without more, is an insufficient basis for 60(b)(6) relief.

Moses waited to file his motion nearly two and a half years after Martinez was decided and fifteen months after the Trevino decision, despite having notice as to the relevance of Martinez to his case. Courts have ruled similar motions untimely in cases involving a one-year delay. The Court therefore held the delay did not satisfy the timeliness requirement under Rule 60(c), which requires 60(b) motions “be made within a reasonable time”. Furthermore, the 60(b) motion that was pending when Martinez was decided raised two issues, neither of which related to procedural default of his ineffectiveness claim. Moses did not amend this motion even in light of the change in procedural default rules. Lastly, the very same grounds Moses claims for reopening judgment under 60(b)(6) has been held insufficient to show “extraordinary circumstances” in Gonzalez v. Crosby.

Because Moses’ 60(b) claim was untimely under 60(c) and the change in post-conviction procedural default rules fashioned by Martinez and Travino do not constitute “extraordinary circumstances,” Appellant Moses is not entitled to relief from a final judgment under 60(b)(6).

 Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s ruling.

Full Opinion

Whitney Kamerzel

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