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Fifth Circuit: No Mailbox Rule for Texas State Habeas Actions

By Matt Clarke

On November 7, 2007, the Fifth Circuit court of appeals ruled that the "mailbox rule" did not apply to Texas state habeas corpus actions.

Gene Edward Howland, a Texas state prisoner, delivered a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus to prison officials for mailing to the state district court. Two months later, he sent a letter to the district clerk asking about the status of his petition. He received no reply. Five months later, he wrote the district clerk again—he included a motion to amend his petition, but did not attach an original or amended petition. He again received no reply. After sending the district clerk a third letter a month later, the clerk replied that the petition had not been received.

Within a week, Howland sent the clerk a second copy of the petition. It was not on the proper form and was returned to him. A week later, Howland filed a motion to invoke the mailbox rule, but it was another eight months before he sent the district clerk the habeas petition on the proper form. The habeas petition was denied and Howland filed a federal habeas corpus application pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

The federal district court granted the state's summary judgment motion based upon the one-year AEDPA limitations period. Howland appealed to the Fifth Circuit court of appeals.
On appeal, Howland argued that recent rulings applying the mailbox rule to Louisiana state habeas corpus actions, Causey v. Cain, 450 F.3d 601 (5th Cir. 2006) and to Texas state civil actions, Warner v. Glass, 135 S.W.3d 681 (Tex. 2004), required a rethink of the Fifth Circuit's previous ruling that the mailbox rule did not apply to Texas state habeas actions.
The Fifth Circuit rejected Howland's argument. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had ruled that state habeas actions are criminal, not civil and that the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure (TRCP) did not apply to them. Aranda v. District Clerk, 207 S.W.3d 785 (Tex.Crim.App. 2006). Thus Warner, a civil rule-based decision, did not apply. Additionally, TRCP Rule 5, the Texas mailbox rule, only applies to documents with filing deadlines, something a Texas habeas action does not have.

The Fifth Circuit refused to apply equitable tolling, reasoning that Howland was not misled by any state actor and should have filed another copy of his petition as a precaution as soon as he suspected that there might be a problem. The fact that Texas state prisoners have no access to photocopiers was not taken into account. The Fifth Circuit also mentioned that Howland could have filed a "protective" federal habeas corpus before the limitations period ran out and requested a stay while he exhausted state remedies. It used the fact that Howland properly filed two other state habeas petitions in unrelated cases without incident to cast doubts on whether there were actually any problems with the state district clerk in this case. Therefore, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. See: Howland v. Quarterman, 507 F.3d 840 (5th Cir. 2007).

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Related legal case

Howland v. Quarterman