Hernandez v. Garland, 19-60274

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtEDITH H. JONES, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
PartiesFredy Omar Gonzalez Hernandez, also known as Fredy Omar Gonzalez, Petitioner, v. Merrick Garland, U.S. Attorney General, Respondent.
Decision Date13 August 2021
Docket Number19-60274

Fredy Omar Gonzalez Hernandez, also known as Fredy Omar Gonzalez, Petitioner,
v.

Merrick Garland, U.S. Attorney General, Respondent.

No. 19-60274

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 13, 2021


Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals BIA No. A043 733 593

Before Jones, Costa, and Duncan, Circuit Judges.

EDITH H. JONES, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

Fredy Omar Gonzalez Hernandez, a lawful permanent resident reared in Katy, Texas, was removed to El Salvador because of a conviction that qualified as a "crime of violence" under the Immigration Nationality Act. Years later, on April 17, 2018, Gonzalez Hernandez learned of the Supreme Court's decision in Sessions v. Dimaya, which he alleged made his removal unlawful. 138 S.Ct. 1204 (2018). He filed a motion to reconsider and terminate, or, in the alternative, to reopen proceedings. The Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") construed the motion as one to reconsider and dismissed it, concluding that the equitable tolling period (if any) ended on April 17, and the motion was filed more than 30 days later, beyond the statutory deadline. The BIA also declined to consider the motion as one to reopen, although, taking tolling into account, it was timely filed before the 90-day statutory deadline. Gonzalez Hernandez petitioned this court for review of the denial of his motion both as to reconsideration and as to reopening. We deny relief and emphasize the statutory difference between these two administrative review devices.

BACKGROUND

Fredy Omar Gonzalez Hernandez is a native and citizen of El Salvador. He arrived in the United States with his family when he was six years old. In 1992, he became a lawful permanent resident.

On January 18, 2001, Gonzalez Hernandez pled guilty to one count of violating Texas Penal Code § 22.05(b), entitled "Deadly Conduct," which criminalizes knowingly discharging a firearm at or in the direction of one or more individuals or a habitation, building, or vehicle while being reckless as to whether that habitation, building, or vehicle is occupied. Originally, Gonzalez Hernandez was sentenced to eight years deferred adjudication. He was sentenced to four years of incarceration and a $500 fine after he violated the terms of his deferred adjudication.

On May 10, 2001, Gonzalez Hernandez was served with a Notice to Appear (NTA). The NTA charged Gonzalez Hernandez as removable under 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii) as an alien who committed an aggravated felony defined by 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(F) as a crime of violence. The NTA did not specify a date or time for the hearing. A second notice, which included a date and time, was served on June 13, 2001.[1]

Gonzalez Hernandez, acting pro se, filed an application for withholding of removal. The case came for a merits hearing on January 17, 2002. The Immigration Judge ("IJ") denied Gonzalez Hernandez's application for withholding of removal and ordered him removed to El Salvador. Gonzalez Hernandez hired counsel and appealed to the BIA. His appeal was filed after the filing deadline passed. The IJ also noted that Gonzalez Hernandez may have waived his right to appeal. The record evidences that the attorney who filed the appeal late was later disbarred and suspended from practicing in front of the Immigration Courts for five years.

After completing his incarceration, Gonzalez Hernandez was removed to El Salvador, where he still resides today. On April 17, 2018, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Sessions v. Dimaya. 138 S.Ct. 1204. In Dimaya, the Supreme Court held that 18 U.S.C. § 16(b) as incorporated into 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(F) is unconstitutionally vague. 138 S.Ct. at 1223. Therefore, the Supreme Court found the term "crime of violence" as defined in § 16(b) is so vague that it violates an alien's right to due process. Id.

Also on April 17, 2018, Gonzalez Hernandez's brother Daniel told him about the Dimaya case, reached out to an immigration attorney, and contacted the nonprofit Immigrant Defense Project. The Immigrant Defense Project assigned Gonzalez Hernandez pro bono counsel on June 21, 2018. On July 12, 2018, pro bono counsel filed what Gonzalez Hernandez calls on appeal a motion to reconsider and terminate, or in the alternative, reopen (the motion). When filed, the motion was entitled "Respondent's Motion to Reconsider and Terminate in Light of Sessions v. Dimaya." In a lone, un-argued sentence the motion requests reopening as well as reconsideration. The government did not file a response to the motion.

The IJ denied the motion on August 31, 2018. As a threshold matter, the IJ found that the motion was untimely because it was not filed within 30 days of the final administrative order of removal. The IJ then determined that April 17, 2018 was the date that Gonzalez Hernandez learned about Dimaya. The IJ based this conclusion on affidavits Gonzalez Hernandez submitted regarding when Daniel told him about the case. Assuming that Gonzalez Hernandez was entitled to equitable tolling, the IJ concluded that the motion was untimely because it was not filed within 30 days of the date Gonzalez Hernandez learned of the change in the law that the motion was based on.

On September 27, 2018, Gonzalez Hernandez appealed the IJ's decision to the BIA. The BIA dismissed the appeal on March 27, 2019. The BIA found that the filing period for Gonzalez Hernandez's Dimaya-based claim could be equitably tolled until April 17, 2018, the date he learned of the potential impact of that case on his claim. Then, the BIA found that Gonzalez Hernandez was required to file the motion within 30 days. Importantly, the BIA found that the 90-day deadline for motions to reopen could not apply, as a change in the law could not form the basis of a motion to reopen. Because Gonzalez Hernandez failed to file the motion within 30 days of learning of Dimaya, the BIA dismissed the appeal. Gonzalez Hernandez filed a timely petition for review.

DISCUSSION

This court reviews the decision of the BIA and will only consider the IJ's underlying decision if it influenced the BIA's determination. Wang v. Holder, 569 F.3d 531, 536 (5th Cir. 2009). Here, the BIA affirmed the IJ's decision based on the IJ's reasoning. Accordingly, this court can review the IJ's decision. See Efe v. Ashcroft, 293 F.3d 899, 903 (5th Cir. 2002). The BIA's legal conclusions are reviewed de novo. Orellana-Monson v. Holder, 685 F.3d 511, 517 (5th Cir. 2012). The BIA's factual findings are reviewed for substantial evidence. Id. at 517-18.

Where the BIA has applied the correct law, this court reviews the denial of motions to reopen and for reconsideration under a highly deferential abuse-of-discretion standard. Zhao v. Gonzales, 404 F.3d 295, 301 (5th Cir. 2005); see also Hernandez-Castillo v. Sessions, 875 F.3d 199, 203-04 (5th Cir. 2017). This court will affirm the BIA's decision unless it is "capricious, racially invidious, utterly without foundation in the evidence, or otherwise so irrational that it is arbitrary rather than the result of any perceptible rational approach." Zhao, 404 F.3d at 304 (internal citation omitted).

I. The BIA did not err by denying Gonzalez Hernandez's motion to reconsider as time barred

Gonzalez Hernandez argues that there is no legal requirement that a motion to reconsider must be filed within 30 days of the discovery of a change in law to seek reconsideration. He contends that the imposition of such a requirement is inconsistent with the doctrine of equitable tolling. Gonzalez Hernandez further argues that the BIA erred by measuring his diligence from the date he learned of the Dimaya case rather than from the date his counsel advised him that Dimaya rendered his removal unlawful. He asserts that he was first advised by counsel on June 21, 2018, and that the motion was filed less than 30 days later. Thus, Gonzalez Hernandez argues that he filed the motion within 30 days of the discovery that his removal was unlawful.

The government argues that the BIA did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion as untimely, as the BIA must determine the extent to which equitable tolling applies and then apply the statutorily prescribed time limit for filing motions to reconsider set forth in 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(6)(B). Essentially, the government argues that the proper statutory filing deadline begins to run on the date that the BIA determines that the hardship preventing timely filing ends. The government further contends that the BIA applied the statutorily prescribed time limit set forth in § 1229a(c)(6)(B) after determining when equitable tolling stopped.

An alien may file only one motion to reconsider and must do so "within 30 days of the date of entry of a final administrative order of removal." § 1229a(c)(6)(A)-(B). The motion to reconsider must "specify the errors of law or fact in the previous order and . . . be supported by pertinent authority." § 1229a(c)(6)(C). Likewise, an alien may file a motion to reopen only once. See Mejia v. Whitaker, 913 F.3d 482, 486 (5th Cir. 2019). Motions to reopen must set forth evidence that is both material and was not available at the time of the underlying proceedings. Ogbemudia v. I.N.S., 988 F.2d 595, 599-600 (5th Cir. 1993). To qualify as material, evidence "must be likely to change the result of the alien's underlying claim for relief." Qorane v. Barr, 919 F.3d 904, 912 (5th Cir. 2019), cert. denied, 140 S.Ct. 907 (2020). A motion to reopen must be filed within 90 days after the date of entry of the final order of removal. § 1229a(c)(7)(C)(i).

In Lugo-Resendez v. Lynch, this court found that in some circumstances, equitable tolling of the filing deadline may be appropriate. 831 F.3d 337, 344 (5th Cir. 2016). An alien is entitled to equitable tolling of a statute of limitations only if: (1) he has been pursuing his rights diligently and (2) some extraordinary circumstance has stood in his way and...

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