Massaline v. Williams, No. S01A1182.

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
Writing for the CourtFLETCHER, Chief Justice.
Citation274 Ga. 552,554 S.E.2d 720
Docket NumberNo. S01A1182.
Decision Date22 October 2001

554 S.E.2d 720
274 Ga. 552


No. S01A1182.

Supreme Court of Georgia.

October 22, 2001.

Reconsideration Denied December 3, 2001.

James C. Bonner, Jr., Atlanta, for appellant.

Thurbert E. Baker, Atty. Gen., Daniel G. Ashburn, Asst. Atty. Gen., William P. Rowe, III, Duluth, for appellee.

FLETCHER, Chief Justice.

Robert Massaline is incarcerated in Georgia's prison system and is without legal representation. Massaline filed pro se an application for certificate of probable cause to appeal ("application"), requesting this Court to review the superior court's denial of his petition for writ of habeas corpus. We dismissed his application because it was received in the Clerk of Court's office one day after the due date. We granted Massaline's motion for reconsideration and his application to consider whether we should adopt a

554 S.E.2d 721
mailbox rule under which a pro se prisoner's application should be deemed filed on the date he delivers it to the prison authorities for forwarding to the clerk of court. We answer this question affirmatively and adopt a mailbox rule for pro se prisoners pursuing review of their habeas corpus cases

Massaline filed pro se a petition for writ of habeas corpus, which the superior court denied on April 24, 2000. The deadline for Massaline to appeal was May 24, 2000. He mailed his application to this Court and his notice of appeal to the Clerk of the Gwinnett County Superior Court. Both documents were dated May 22, 2000. The notice of appeal was filed timely in the superior court on May 24. Massaline's application, however, was filed in this Court on May 25, one day late. Unless Massaline's application is covered by a mailbox rule, his appeal will be dismissed as untimely.1

1. The United States Supreme Court adopted a mailbox rule for pro se prisoners in Houston v. Lack,2 holding that a notice of appeal was deemed filed on the date the pro se prisoner handed it to prison authorities for mailing to the clerk of the district court. The Court reasoned that a mailbox rule was needed because of the unique obstacles faced by those who are both imprisoned and unrepresented.3 Unlike litigants who are not incarcerated, pro se prisoners [274 Ga. 553] cannot monitor the processing of their appellate filings to ensure that the clerk of the court timely receives them. They cannot personally travel to the courthouse to see that their filings are stamped "filed" timely, and they cannot regularly call the clerk of court to monitor whether their filing has been received, knowing that a last minute trip to the courthouse will save them if their papers have not arrived by the due date. And, of course, being pro se, they cannot rely on their lawyer to ensure the safe and timely filing of their appeals. Pro se prisoners also must entrust their legal papers to the prison officials, even though the warden is typically the named defendant in a habeas corpus action. "No matter how far in advance the pro se prisoner delivers his notice to the prison authorities, he can never be sure that it will ultimately get stamped `filed' on time."4

Unskilled in law, unaided by counsel, and unable to leave the prison, his control over the processing of his notice necessarily ceases as soon as he hands it over to the only public officials to whom he has access—the prison authorities—and the only information he will likely have is the date he delivered the notice to those prison authorities and the date ultimately stamped on his notice.5

Other state courts have adopted mailbox rules because pro se prisoners in those states face the same kinds of obstacles as described by the United States Supreme Court in Houston.6 The pro se prisoners who come before this Court are no different. Georgia's prisoners already enjoy the benefits of a mailbox rule when filing in the federal courts,7 and we conclude that this Court also should make allowances for the unique circumstances faced by pro se prisoners who

554 S.E.2d 722
bring their habeas corpus petitions to this Court. 8[274 Ga. 554]

2. The State argues that this Court lacks the power to deem an event other than delivery into the hands of the clerk of the court as "filing" because OCGA § 9-14-52(b) says that applications and notices of appeal must be filed "with the clerk." This argument is unpersuasive for at least two reasons.

First, Georgia's general appellate statutes require filing "with the clerk."9 Yet, Supreme Court Rule 13 permits litigants to satisfy their obligation to file with the clerk by sending their papers by registered or certified mail, and we recently expanded Rule 13 to include overnight delivery services within its scope. Our adoption of Rule 13 demonstrates that the appellate statutes do not restrict us in determining the manner in which filing with the clerk may be accomplished, including permitting filing by means other than personal delivery.

Similarly, adopting a mailbox rule for pro se prisoners in habeas corpus appeals is consistent with the statutory language in OCGA § 9-14-52(b), which contains the same "with the clerk" language that is in the other appeals statutes.10 Just as we have adopted Rule 13 to permit non-incarcerated litigants to satisfy the statutory requirement that they file "with the clerk" by means other than personally delivering their papers to the courthouse, we also can permit pro se prisoners to satisfy their filing requirements in ways other than personally handing their applications and notices of appeal to the clerk of court.

Second, the "with the clerk" language from OCGA § 9-14-52(b) and OCGA §§ 5-6-34, -35, -37 is the same as the language in the federal rules that the United States Supreme Court considered in Houston.11 Faced with the same "with the clerk" language as contained in Georgia's appeals statutes, the United States Supreme Court adopted a mailbox rule for pro se prisoners filing their notices of appeal in the federal trial courts. Given the considerable challenges presented to a pro se prisoner's ability to pursue his constitutional right to habeas corpus, we reach the same conclusion as the United States Supreme Court reached in Houston: adopting a mailbox rule for pro se prisoners promotes judicial fairness and helps assure that habeas corpus cases are decided on the merits and not the overly technical application of procedural rules.

The State also argues that it has no way in which to monitor [274 Ga. 555] when an inmate delivers court papers to prison officials for filing. Of course, the State has been faced with the mailbox rule in the federal courts since at least 1993 and has managed prison legal mail in the federal litigation it faces.12 The State also, if it chooses, can develop a system for logging prisoners' outgoing legal mail, or otherwise ensuring an accurate record of the dates prisoners deliver their legal papers to prison officials, just as the State says that it already does for mail delivered to inmates.

3. (a) Having considered the arguments presented, we adopt today the following mailbox rule: when a prisoner, who is proceeding pro se, appeals from a decision on his habeas corpus petition, his application for certificate of probable cause to appeal and notice of appeal will be deemed filed on the date he delivers them to the prison authorities for forwarding to the clerks of this Court

554 S.E.2d 723
and the superior court, respectively. Just as the timeliness of Massaline's appeal will be analyzed under this Court's mailbox rule, all pro se prisoners similarly situated to Massaline (i.e. those whose habeas corpus appeals have been filed and may be untimely based on the date the clerk stamped their papers `filed') also will have the timeliness of their appeals considered under the mailbox rule.13

(b) We recognize that the mechanics for administering this Court's adoption of a mailbox rule may require some refinements after it is put in practice. Whether the unrepresented inmate-litigant delivered his court papers to the prison officials on or before the court deadline will be the question. Absent an established system for logging the date an inmate's outgoing legal mail is delivered to prison officials, a pro se prisoner may prove the timeliness of his filing in, at least, the following ways:

(a) an official United States Postal Service post-mark showing a date before the deadline will be conclusive;

(b) the date on the certificate of service will give rise to a rebuttable presumption that the prisoner handed his filing to the prison officials on that date; or

(c) an affidavit reflecting the date and the fact the prisoner provided his legal filing with sufficient prepaid postage for first-class mail will give rise to a rebuttable presumption.

The State may rebut the presumption that arises when a litigant relies on methods (b) or (c) by proving...

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    • April 23, 2009 court rule for his or her document to be deemed timely filed in accordance with prison mailbox rule]; Massaline v. Williams (2001) 274 Ga. 552, 554 S.E.2d 720, 721-723 (Massaline) [notice of appeal]; Setala v. J.C. Penney Co. (2002) 97 Hawai`i 484, 40 P.3d 886, 888-892 [same]; Tatum v. L......
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