RESPONDENT: Loretta Lynch, Attorney General of the United States
LOCATION: Board of Immigration Appeals
DOCKET NO.: 14-185
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
CITATION: 576 US (2015)
GRANTED: Jan 16, 2015
ARGUED: Apr 29, 2015
DECIDED: Jun 15, 2015
Anthony A. Yang - for the respondent in support of reversal and remand
Mark C. Fleming - for the petitioner
William R. Peterson - for amicus curiae in support of judgment below
Facts of the case
Noel Reyes Mata, a citizen of Mexico, was convicted of assaulting a woman he was dating; he was deported in 2010. His appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) was dismissed after his attorney failed to file an appellate brief. Mata subsequently moved to reopen his case based on ineffective assistance of counsel, but the BIA denied Mata's motion as untimely because it was filed well after the 90 days allowed. Mata appealed the BIA's denial of his motion to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and argued that the BIA should not have enforced the filing period limitation because his attorney's failure to file a brief deprived him of his due process rights. The appellate court held that such a motion was subject to the complete discretion of the BIA, and thus the appellate court lacked the jurisdiction to review the decision.
Did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit err in holding that it did not have the jurisdiction to review a Board of Immigration Appeals decision not to suspend the 90-day filing limitation?
Media for Reyes Mata v. LynchAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 29, 2015 in Reyes Mata v. Lynch
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 15, 2015 in Reyes Mata v. Lynch
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Justice Kagan has our opinion this morning in case 14-185 Mata v. Lynch.
The petitioner in this case Noel Reyes Mata entered the country unlawfully about 15 years ago.
After he committed a crime the government sought to have him removed from the country.
The Board of Immigration Appeals, which I will just call the BIA, agreed with the government and entered what's called an Order of Removal.
In our immigration system a person who receives such an order gets one chance to file what's called a Motion to Reopen with the BIA to argue that he be allowed to stay in the country.
Under the Immigration laws that motion must be filed within 90 days of the order to leave.
Here Mata filed his motion after the 90-day deadline had elapsed.
He argued that the BIA should overlook that fact.
He said that because of exceptional circumstances in his case he was entitled to equitable tolling, which just means a reprieve from the deadline for fairness reasons.
The BIA disagreed and denied his motion to reopen.
Mata then appealed that decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
The question this case presents is whether that court had jurisdiction to decide his appeal.
That's not asking about the merits of his case, it's just asking whether the court had the power to decide it one way or the other.
We hold that the Court of Appeals did have jurisdiction.
We pretty much decided this issue in a prior case.
There we held that when the BIA denies an immigrant's Motion to Reopen a Court of Appeals has jurisdiction to hear his appeal from that decision.
That's exactly the situation here.
The Fifth Circuit applied a different role because of the reason for the BIA's denial that is because the BIA found that Mata had filed his motion too late and wasn't entitled to equitable tolling.
But the court's jurisdiction does not depend on why the BIA denied the motion, whether the BIA rejects the motion because it comes too late or because it falls short in some other respect just does not matter, either way the courts have jurisdiction to review the decision.
We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion.