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Name: Foley v. Biter
Case #: 12-17724
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 07/14/2015

Petitioner whose attorney failed to notify him of denial of federal habeas petition was entitled to relief so that he could timely appeal the denial because his attorney abandoned him. Foley was convicted of murder in state court and filed a federal habeas petition in 2001. The district court denied his petition in 2004. After informing Foley that the federal habeas proceedings would take a long time, his attorney forgot that he represented Foley, never informed Foley about the court’s denial, and ignored Foley’s letters requesting updates about the petition. Years later, Foley discovered that the petition was denied. Foley then sent a letter to the court, which was construed as a motion for relief from judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). The district court denied the motion. Foley sought review. Held: Reversed. Rule 60(b)(6) allows courts to vacate judgments whenever such action is appropriate to accomplish justice. A party is only entitled to relief when extraordinary circumstances prevented him from taking timely action to prevent or correct an erroneous judgment. Attorney abandonment may constitute an extraordinary circumstance under Rule 60(b)(6) where a petitioner fails to timely appeal the district court’s denial of a habeas petition. Here, the district court erred by finding that Foley was not abandoned by his attorney. Counsel failed to notify Foley that his petition had been denied, and did not move to withdraw as counsel so that Foley could be served directly. The failure to communicate, to preserve Foley’s ability to appeal, and to withdraw from the case, clearly constituted abandonment. Further, even though 14 months passed after he learned his petition was denied, Foley’s motion for relief was timely. Foley made reasonable efforts to determine if relief was available and how to seek relief. The delay was reasonable given his lack of legal resources and training, and attempts to find an attorney.