Artuz v. Bennett

LOCATION:Los Angeles City Hall

DOCKET NO.: 99-1238
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 531 US 4 (2000)
ARGUED: Oct 10, 2000
DECIDED: Nov 07, 2000

Alan S. Futerfas – Argued the cause for the respondent
Dan Schweitzer – As amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, for petitioner
John M. Castellano – Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

In 1984, after firing two bullets at police during a car chase, Tony Bruce Bennett was convicted of attempted murder, among other crimes. Bennett moved pro se to vacate his judgment of conviction in 1995. A New York trial court orally denied Bennett’s motion. Bennett claimed that he never received a copy of a written order reflecting the denial. In 1998, Bennett filed a federal habeas corpus petition alleging violations of his rights to present witnesses in his defense and to a fair trial, to be present at all material stages of the trial, and to the effective assistance of counsel. The Federal District Court dismissed Bennett’s federal habeas corpus petition as untimely under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), which set a 1-year period of limitation on federal habeas corpus applications by state prisoners. In reversing, the Court of Appeals held that Bennett’s habeas petition was not time-barred because his 1995 motion was still pending, under the AEDPA’s tolling provision, since he had never received notification of the state’s decision regarding it. Thus, the time for appealing the denial of that motion had not yet expired. Additionally, the court found that the 1995 motion was a “properly filed” application, even though the claims contained in the motion were procedurally barred under two New York statutory provisions.


Is an application for state postconviction relief containing procedurally barred claims properly filed within the meaning of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996?

Media for Artuz v. Bennett

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 10, 2000 in Artuz v. Bennett

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – November 07, 2000 in Artuz v. Bennett

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 99-1238, Artuz versus Bennett will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

In a 1984 jury trial in the Supreme Court of New York for Queens County, respondent Tony Bruce Bennett was convicted of a number of offenses including attempted murder.

The convictions were upheld on direct appeal.

In 1995, Bennett moved in State Court to vacate his judgment of conviction.

For purposes of this case, we assume that that action is still pending, but that it is subject to state procedural bars since it raises claims that were raised or could have been raised on direct appeal.

In 1998, Bennett brought the present petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal District Court.

The District Court summarily dismissed the petition as untimely under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ,AEDPA, which imposes a one year statute of limitations on suits for federal habeas, but tolls that limitation period, while a “properly filed” application for state habeas relief is pending.

On the assumptions under, which we took this case that tolling provision, 28 U.S.C. Section 2244(d)(2) would apply here and would allow the present suit unless an application that is procedurally barred is not within the terms of the statute “properly filed”.

The Second Circuit reversed and remanded, it concluded that Bennett’s application for state postconviction relief was properly filed since even though it was procedurally barred, it complied with the rules governing whether an application for state postconviction relief is “recognized as such” under state law.

We granted certiorari and now affirm.

We hold, that in order to be properly filed for purposes of 2244(d)(2), an application for state postconviction relief need not comply with all mandatory state law procedural requirements that would bar review of the merits of the application.

An application is filed as that term is commonly understood when it is delivered to, and accepted by the appropriate court officer for placement into the official record, and an application is properly filed when its delivery and acceptance are in compliance with the applicable laws and rules governing filings.

These usually prescribe, for example, the form of the document, certain kinds of time limits upon its delivery, the court and office in which it must be lodged, and the requisite filing fee.

Petitioner contends that such an interpretation of the statutory phrase renders the word “properly”, and possibly both words “properly filed”, surplusage, since if the provision omitted those words, and tolled simply for “the time during, which an application for State postconviction relief is pending”, it would necessarily condition tolling on compliance with filing requirements of the sort described above.

We disagree.

If, for example, an application is erroneously accepted by the Clerk of a Court lacking jurisdiction, or is erroneously accepted without the requisite filing fee, it would be pending, but not properly filed, and we reject petitioner’s position for a more fundamental reason as well.

By construing properly filed application to mean application raising claims that are not mandatorily procedurally barred, petitioner elides the difference between an application and the claim.

Only individual claims, and not the application containing those claims, can be procedurally defaulted under state law pursuant to our holdings in Coleman versus Thompson and Wainwright versus Sykes, which establish the sort of procedural bar on which petitioner here relies.

Ignoring this distinction would require judges to engage in verbal gymnastics when an application contains some claims that are procedurally barred and some that are not.

Presumably a court would have to say that the application is “properly filed” as to the non-barred claims, and not “properly filed” as to the rest.

The statute, however, refers only to “properly filed” applications and does not contain the peculiar suggestion that a single application can be both “properly filed” and not “properly filed.”

The state procedural bars at issue in this case New York Criminal Procedural Law Section 440.10(2)(a) and (c) simply prescribe a rule of decision for a court confronted with claims that were previously determined on the merits of an appeal or that could have been raised on direct appeal but were not.

The way the statute reads, “the court must deny” such claims for relief.

Neither provision purports to set forth a condition to filing, as opposed to a condition for obtaining relief.

Consequently, the alleged failure of respondent’s application to comply with him does not render respondent’s application improperly filed for purposes of §2244(d)(2).

The Court’s decision is unanimous.