Law School Case Brief
Reyes Mata v. Lynch - 135 S. Ct. 2150 (2015)
Circuit courts have jurisdiction when an alien appeals from the Board of Immigration Appeals' (BIA) denial of a motion to reopen a removal proceeding. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C.S. § 1101 et seq., in combination with a statute cross-referenced there, gives the courts of appeals jurisdiction to review “final orders of removal.” 8 U.S.C.S. § 1252(a)(1); 28 U.S.C.S. § 2342. That jurisdiction, as the INA expressly contemplates, encompasses review of decisions refusing to reopen or reconsider such orders. 8 U.S.C.S. § 1252(b)(6). Any review sought of a motion to reopen or reconsider a removal order shall be consolidated with the review of the underlying order. 8 U.S.C.S. § 1252(b)(6). Even as Congress has curtailed other aspects of courts’ jurisdiction over BIA rulings, it has left that authority in place.
After petitioner Noel Reyes Mata, an unlawful resident alien, was convicted of assault in a Texas court, an Immigration Judge ordered him removed to Mexico. Mata's attorney filed a notice of appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA or Board), but never filed a brief, and the appeal was dismissed. Acting through different counsel, Mata filed a motion to reopen his removal proceedings, as authorized by statute. Acknowledging that he had missed the 90-day deadline for such motions, Mata argued that his previous counsel's ineffective assistance was an exceptional circumstance entitling him to equitable tolling of the time limit. But the BIA disagreed and dismissed the motion as untimely. The BIA also declined to reopen Mata's removal proceedings sua sponte based on its separate regulatory authority. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit construed Mata's equitable tolling claim as an invitation for the Board to exercise its regulatory authority to reopen the proceedings sua sponte, and--because circuit precedent forbids the court to review BIA decisions not to exercise that authority--dismissed Mata's appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
Did the circuit court err in declining to take jurisdiction over the alien's appeal because the BIA also declined to reopen his case sua sponte?
The United States Supreme Court held that where an alien sought equitable tolling of the statutory time limit to file a motion to reopen a removal proceeding under 8 U.S.C.S. § 1229a and the BIA denied his motion to reopen, finding that the motion was untimely and deciding that his case was not one that would warrant reopening as an exercise of its sua sponte authority, the circuit court erred in declining to take jurisdiction over the alien's appeal because whether the BIA rejected the alien's motion to reopen because it came too late or because it fell short in some other respect, the court had jurisdiction to review that decision under the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C.S. § 1101 et seq. The circuit court did not lose jurisdiction over the BIA's denial of the alien's motion just because the BIA also declined to reopen his case sua sponte.
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