Wood v. Milyard

RESPONDENT:Kevin Milyard, Warden, Sterling Correctional Facility, et al.
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado

DOCKET NO.: 10-9995
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 566 US (2012)
GRANTED: Sep 27, 2011
ARGUED: Feb 27, 2012
DECIDED: Apr 24, 2012

Daniel D. Domenico – Solicitor General of Colorado, for the respondents
Kathleen A. Lord – for the petitioner
Melissa Arbus Sherry – Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondents

Facts of the case

Patrick Wood filedpro se (on his own behalf) in federal court for a writ of habeas corpus claiming that his convictions for felony murder and second degree murder violated the Sixth Amendment privilege against double jeopardy and challenging the validity of his jury trial waiver. The District Court denied relief. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit appointed Wood with an attorney and directed the parties to address the timeliness of Wood’s petition. The appeals court found that Wood’s habeas petition was untimely and affirmed the decision of the District Court.


1) Does an appellate court have the authority to raise the statute of limitations defense without a request by any party?

2) Does the state’s declaration before the district court that it “will not challenge, but [is] not conceding, the timeliness of Wood’s habeas petition,” amount to a deliberate waiver of any statute of limitations defense the state may have had?

Media for Wood v. Milyard

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 27, 2012 in Wood v. Milyard

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 24, 2012 in Wood v. Milyard

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Ginsburg has our opinion this morning in case 10-9995, Wood versus Milyard.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This case presents a question of time.

When a State deliberately refrains from challenging a federal habeas petition as filed too late, may a Court of Appeals on its own initiative dismiss the petition as untimely?

The answer we hold is no.

Colorado prisoner, Patrick Wood, filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in federal court in 2008, 19 years after he was tried and convicted in state court.

In the interim, Wood pursued ultimately unavailing petitions for state court relief.

Upon receiving Wood’s petition, the District Court asked the state’s attorney, “Do you plan to argue that the petition was untimely?”

The State twice told the Court, it would not challenge, but was not conceding the timeliness of Wood’s petition.

Thereafter, the District Court rejected Wood’s claim on the merits.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit directed parties to brief both the merits and the question whether Wood’s petition had been timely filed.

Post-briefing, the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of Wood’s petition, but solely on the ground that the petition was untimely.

We reverse the Tenth Circuit’s judgment.

As our recent decisions explain, federal courts have discretion to consider on their own motion, a statute of limitations defense, the State failed to raise in answering a habeas petition, but that authority should be reserved for exceptional cases.

It should not be exercised when a State is aware of a timeliness defense and intelligently chooses not to rely on it in the court of first instance, that is what occurred here.

The State was well aware of the statute of limitations defense and of the arguments it could make in support of that defense.

Nevertheless, the State informed the District Court both preliminarily and in its formal answer that it would not challenge the timeliness of Wood’s petition.

The State does deliberately relinquish the limitations defense and invited a decision on the merits.

Because the State waived the objection that Wood sued too late, the Tenth Circuit should have followed the District Court’s lead and decided the merits of Wood’s claims.

Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which Justice Scalia joins.