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Name: Williams v. Filson
Case #: 13-99002
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 11/09/2018

Federal habeas petitioner was entitled to equitable tolling where he relied on the unsettled state of the law related to the relation-back standard in deciding when to file his amended petition. In 1983, Williams pleaded guilty to murder and a three-judge panel sentenced him to death. In January 1998, he filed a federal writ petition, which he amended in 1999 and again in May 2002. In 2003, the federal court stayed proceedings while Williams pursued additional state claims. In 2007, having exhausted his state claims, he reopened his federal proceeding, adding new issues. The district court held the new claims barred by AEDPA or procedurally defaulted, and that Williams was not entitled to equitable tolling. Williams appealed. Held: Reversed in part. To assert equitable tolling, a habeas petitioner must show: (1) that he was diligently pursuing his rights, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way and prevented timely filing. Here, the state did not contest that Williams diligently pursued his rights. Further, he relied on the unsettled state of the law when he assumed that his new claims in his amended petitions related back to those asserted in his initial petition. Federal law allows an amendment to a pleading to “relate back” to the original pleading when the amendment asserts a claim or defense that “arose out of the conduct, transaction or occurrence set out . . . in the original pleading.” (Fed. Rules Civ.Proc., rule 15.) When the Supreme Court limited the scope of the relation-back standard in Mayle v. Felix (2005) 545 U.S. 644, it was too late for Williams to cure any timeliness issues that arose as a result. His “reasonable assumption” that the unsettled state of the law allowed him to assert additional claims under Rule 15 constituted an extraordinary circumstance that prevented him from filing a timely petition, entitling him to equitable tolling.

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