Day v. McDonough

RESPONDENT:James R. McDonough, Interim Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections
LOCATION:Board of Immigration Appeals

DOCKET NO.: 04-1324
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 547 US 198 (2006)
GRANTED: Sep 27, 2005
ARGUED: Feb 27, 2006
DECIDED: Apr 25, 2006

Christopher M. Kise – argued the cause for Respondent
Douglas Hallward-Driemeier – argued the cause for Respondent
J. Brett Busby – argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Patrick Day was convicted of murder in state court. After a long delay, he filed a petition for federal review, arguing that his counsel was inadequate. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, federal habeas corpus petitions must be filed within a one-year time limit. Day’s petition was late, but the state of Florida failed to notice the untimeliness of the petition and instead addressed only the merits of Day’s argument. Later a Federal Magistrate Judge did notice Day’s failure to meet the deadline, and recommended to the District Court that the petition be dismissed. Day argued that by responding to the petition without disputing the timeliness, the state had forfeited the statute-of-limitations defense. The District Court disagreed and dismissed the petition. Day appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, claiming that the District Court had acted unfairly when it ruled against him based on an argument that the state had not made. The Circuit Court rejected Day’s argument and affirmed the District Court, ruling that the state’s erroneous concession of the timeliness of the petition did not prevent the court from dismissing it.


May a court dismiss a federal habeas petition as untimely, even after the state concedes the timeliness of the petition and submits other arguments?

Media for Day v. McDonough

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 27, 2006 in Day v. McDonough

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 25, 2006 in Day v. McDonough

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Ginsburg has the opinion in 04-1324, Day v. McDonough.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This case concerns a federal court’s authority, unprompted by a party, to raise a question concerning the timeliness of a Petition of a writ of habeas corpus.

The federal statute at issue allows one year for state prisoners to file petitions for habeas corpus seeking federal-court review of the legality of their imprisonment.

The time clock for such petitions starts once the prisoner’s state conviction becomes final.

In this case, Florida prisoner Patrick Day filed a petition for federal habeas relief, and the State conceded the timeliness of his petition.

The U.S. magistrate judge assigned to review Day’s petition, however, noticed the State had made a computation error.

Under the controlling circuit precedent, a correct calculation would have revealed the untimeliness of Day’s petition.

The judge called the calculation error to the parties’ attention and gave Day an opportunity to show why his petition should not be dismissed for failure to meet the statutory deadline.

Day was unable to justify the late filing.

The U.S. District Court therefore dismissed Day’s petition, and the dismissal was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, whose judgment we now affirm.

The question presented is one on which courts of appeals have divided.

May a U.S. trial-court judge, acting on his or her own initiative, raise an issue as to the timeliness of a state prisoner’s federal habeas corpus petition?

Ordinarily, a defending party, here the State of Florida, forfeits an objection to the opposing party’s pleading as untimely if the objection is not asserted in the answer to the opening pleading or in an amendment thereto.

In Day’s case, the State did not intelligently forego the objection.

Its assumption that Day’s petition was timely stemmed from an evident miscalculation.

It would have been proper, all members of this Court agree, if the federal judge instead of acting on his own initiative had informed the State of the computation error and invited amendment of the State’s answer to allege the time bar.

That move, as the Court’s majority sees it, is substantially equivalent to the path taken here.

In the opinion released today, we hold that in the circumstances Day’s case presents an apparent counting slip on the part of the State.

No rule, statute or constitutional provision commands the judge who spotted the error to suppress that knowledge.

The judge, we stress, is not obliged to check the state’s math to uncover a miscalculation and then raise the timeliness of the prisoner’s habeas petition sua sponte.

Our opinion rejects both an inflexible rule requiring dismissal whenever the court notices that the one-year clock has run and, at the opposite pole, a rule treating the State’s failure initially to plead the one-year time bar as an irretrievable forfeiture.

We hold simply and only that upon noticing a calculation error, a federal court has discretion to ask and answer this question: Is the administration of justice better served by dismissing the case as time-barred or by reaching the merits of the petition?

Two dissenting opinions have been filed, one by Justice Stevens, in which Justice Breyer joins; the other by Justice Scalia, in which Justice Thomas and Justice Breyer join.