Gonzalez v. Thaler

Decision Date10 January 2012
Docket NumberNo. 10–895.,10–895.
Citation181 L.Ed.2d 619,565 U.S. 134,132 S.Ct. 641
Parties Rafael Arriaza GONZALEZ, Petitioner v. Rick THALER, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Patricia A. Millett, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

Jonathan F. Mitchell, Solicitor General, Austin, TX, for Respondent.

Ann O'Connell, for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the Respondent.

Amit Kurlekar, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP, San Francisco, CA, John B. Capehart, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP, Dallas, TX, Patricia A. Millett, Counsel of Record, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP, Washington, DC, J. Carl Cecere, Hankinson Levinger LLP, Dallas, TX, for Petitioner.

Greg Abbott, Attorney General of Texas, Daniel T. Hodge, First Assistant Attorney General, Don Clemmer, Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice, Edward L. Marshall, Chief, Postconviction Litigation Division, Jonathan F. Mitchell, Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, James P. Sullivan, Arthur C. D'Andrea, Assistant Solicitors General, Office of the Attorney General, Austin, TX, for Respondent.

Justice SOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case interprets two provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The first, 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c), provides that a habeas petitioner must obtain a certificate of appealability (COA) to appeal a federal district court's final order in a habeas proceeding. § 2253(c)(1). The COA may issue only if the petitioner has made a "substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right," § 2253(c)(2), and "shall indicate which specific issue" satisfies that showing. § 2253(c)(3). We hold that § 2253(c)(3) is not a jurisdictional requirement. Accordingly, a judge's failure to "indicate" the requisite constitutional issue in a COA does not deprive a court of appeals of subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the habeas petitioner's appeal.

The second provision, 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A), establishes a 1–year limitations period for state prisoners to file federal habeas petitions, running from "the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review." We hold that, for a state prisoner who does not seek review in a State's highest court, the judgment becomes "final" on the date that the time for seeking such review expires.


Petitioner Rafael Gonzalez was convicted of murder in Texas state court. The intermediate state appellate court, the Texas Court of Appeals, affirmed Gonzalez's conviction on July 12, 2006. Gonzalez then allowed his time for seeking discretionary review with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (Texas CCA)the State's highest court for criminal appeals—to expire on August 11, 2006. Tex. Rule App. Proc. 68.2(a) (2011). The Texas Court of Appeals issued its mandate on September 26, 2006.

After Gonzalez, proceeding pro se, petitioned unsuccessfully for state habeas relief, he filed a federal habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on January 24, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. His petition alleged, inter alia, that the nearly 10–year delay between his indictment and trial violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The District Court, without discussing Gonzalez's constitutional claims, dismissed Gonzalez's petition as time barred by the 1–year statute of limitations in § 2244(d)(1)(A). Although Gonzalez argued that his judgment had not become final until the Texas Court of Appeals issued its mandate, the District Court held that Gonzalez's judgment had become final when his time for seeking discretionary review in the Texas CCA expired on August 11, 2006. Counting from that date, and tolling the limitations period for the time during which Gonzalez's state habeas petition was pending, Gonzalez's limitations period elapsed on December 17, 2007—over a month before he filed his federal habeas petition. The District Court denied a COA.

Gonzalez applied to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for a COA on two grounds: (1) his habeas petition was timely, and (2) his Sixth Amendment speedy-trial right was violated. A Court of Appeals judge granted a COA on the question "whether the habeas application was timely filed because Gonzalez's conviction became final, and thus the limitations period commenced, on the date the intermediate state appellate court issued its mandate." App. 347. The COA did not mention the Sixth Amendment question.

The Court of Appeals affirmed. 623 F.3d 222 (2010). Acknowledging that a sister Circuit had run the limitations period from the date of a state court's issuance of a mandate, the Court of Appeals deemed the mandate's issuance "irrelevant" to determining finality under § 2244(d)(1)(A). Id., at 224, 226 (disagreeing with Riddle v. Kemna, 523 F.3d 850 (C.A.8 2008) (en banc)). The Court of Appeals held that because a judgment becomes final at "the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review," § 2244(d)(1)(A), the limitations period begins to run for petitioners who fail to appeal to a State's highest court when the time for seeking further direct review in the state court expires. The Court of Appeals therefore concluded that Gonzalez's conviction became final on August 11, 2006, and his habeas petition was time barred.

The Court of Appeals did not address Gonzalez's Sixth Amendment claim or discuss whether the COA had been improperly issued. Nor did the State allege any defect in the COA or move to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

Gonzalez petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari. In its brief in opposition, the State argued for the first time that the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Gonzalez's appeal because the COA identified only a procedural issue, without also "indicat[ing]" a constitutional issue as required by § 2253(c)(3). We granted certiorari to decide two questions, both of which implicate splits in authority: (1) whether the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to adjudicate Gonzalez's appeal, notwithstanding the § 2253(c)(3) defect;1 and (2) whether Gonzalez's habeas petition was time barred under § 2244(d)(1) due to the date on which his judgment became final.2 564 U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 2989, 180 L.Ed.2d 820 (2011).


We first consider whether the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to adjudicate Gonzalez's appeal.


Section 2253, as amended by AEDPA, governs appeals in habeas corpus proceedings. The first subsection, § 2253(a), is a general grant of jurisdiction, providing that district courts' final orders in habeas proceedings "shall be subject to review, on appeal, by the court of appeals." 28 U.S.C. § 2253(a). The second, § 2253(b), limits jurisdiction over a particular type of final order. See § 2253(b) ("There shall be no right of appeal from a final order in a proceeding to test the validity of a warrant [of] remov[al] ..."). This case concerns the third, § 2253(c), which provides:

"(1) Unless a circuit justice or judge issues a certificate of appealability, an appeal may not be taken to the court of appeals ...
"(2) A certificate of appealability may issue under paragraph (1) only if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.
"(3) The certificate of appealability under paragraph (1) shall indicate which specific issue or issues satisfy the showing required by paragraph (2)."

When, as here, the district court denies relief on procedural grounds, the petitioner seeking a COA must show both "that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid claim of the denial of a constitutional right and that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the district court was correct in its procedural ruling." Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484, 120 S.Ct. 1595, 146 L.Ed.2d 542 (2000).

In this case, the Court of Appeals judge granted a COA that identified a debatable procedural ruling, but did not "indicate" the issue on which Gonzalez had made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right, as required by § 2253(c)(3). The question before us is whether that defect deprived the Court of Appeals of the power to adjudicate Gonzalez's appeal. We hold that it did not.

This Court has endeavored in recent years to "bring some discipline" to the use of the term "jurisdictional." Henderson v. Shinseki, 562 U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1197, 1202–1203, 179 L.Ed.2d 159 (2011). Recognizing our "less than meticulous" use of the term in the past, we have pressed a stricter distinction between truly jurisdictional rules, which govern "a court's adjudicatory authority," and nonjurisdictional "claim-processing rules," which do not. Kontrick v. Ryan, 540 U.S. 443, 454–455, 124 S.Ct. 906, 157 L.Ed.2d 867 (2004). When a requirement goes to subject-matter jurisdiction, courts are obligated to consider sua sponte issues that the parties have disclaimed or have not presented. See United States v. Cotton, 535 U.S. 625, 630, 122 S.Ct. 1781, 152 L.Ed.2d 860 (2002). Subject-matter jurisdiction can never be waived or forfeited. The objections may be resurrected at any point in the litigation, and a valid objection may lead a court midway through briefing to dismiss a complaint in its entirety. "[M]any months of work on the part of the attorneys and the court may be wasted." Henderson, 562 U.S., at ––––, 131 S.Ct., at 1202. Courts, we have said, should not lightly attach those "drastic" consequences to limits Congress has enacted. Ibid.

We accordingly have applied the following principle: A rule is jurisdictional "[i]f the Legislature clearly states that a threshold limitation on a statute's scope shall count as jurisdictional."

Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 515, 126 S.Ct. 1235, 163 L.Ed.2d 1097 (2006). But if "Congress does not rank a statutory...

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