Are Rule 59(E) Motions to Alter or Amend an Adverse Judgment in a Habeas Claim Permissible?
Are Rule 59(E) Motions to Alter or Amend an Adverse Judgment in a Habeas Claim Permissible?
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) imposed significant limitations on multiple habeas corpus petitions. The AEDPA generally prohibits the filing of successive or second habeas petitions. This means many inmates are entitled to only one full habeas petition. The question in this case is whether an inmate files an impermissible second or successive habeas petition when he files a motion to alter or amend the judgment under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 59(e). In other words, is the Rule 59(e) motion part of the first full habeas petition or some type of second or successive habeas claim or application?
Docket No. 18-6943
Argument Date: December 4, 2019
From: The Fifth Circuit
by David L. Hudson Jr.
Belmont Law School, Nashville, TN
Does a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend an adverse judgment in a habeas claim count as part of the first habeas claim or as part of a generally impermissible second or successive habeas claim?
Gregory Lee Banister (Petitioner) struck a bicyclist while operating his motor vehicle. The state contended that petitioner operated his vehicle recklessly while under the influence of cocaine. Petitioner countered that the bicyclist veered into his lane during windy conditions. A post-accident blood draw indicated that petitioner had benzoylecgonine in his system, a chemical byproduct of the body’s metabolization of cocaine.
The state initially charged petitioner with intoxicated manslaughter but later indicted him on aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Petitioner’s counsel urged him to take a plea deal, but Banister refused, saying that the charges were a “bunch of bullshit.” Petitioner’s trial counsel did not timely challenge the blood draw and, thus, forfeited the opportunity for a suppression hearing.
The case proceeded to a jury trial. Petitioner’s trial counsel failed to object to the jury instructions, which included a mention of petitioner’s prior conviction for cocaine trafficking. The jury found petitioner guilty of aggravated assault, and the trial court sentenced him to 30 years; Banister’s sentence was enhanced because of the prior drug conviction.
Petitioner lost on his direct appeal. He then filed for a writ of habeas corpus in state court, alleging various claims of ineffective assistance of counsel by both his trial and appellate counsel. The state trial court denied the petition, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals remanded for further fact-finding. On remand, the state trial court denied the application and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed.
Petitioner then filed a pro se petition for federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Most of the claims centered on ineffective assistance of counsel. The federal district court denied the habeas application and denied a certificate to appeal.
Petitioner then filed a “Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment” under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 59(e), asking the federal district court to correct errors of law and fact. Petitioner’s 59(e) motion did not present any new claims for relief from his earlier habeas petition.
The federal district court denied petitioner’s 59(e) motion. Petitioner then requested a certification of appealability within 30 days of the denial of the Rule 59 motion and also filed a notice of appeal.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied petitioner’s appeal. The Fifth Circuit reasoned that petitioner’s 59(e) motion was a second or successive application of the writ of habeas corpus, barred by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The AEDPA generally limits inmates to one full habeas petition.
The Fifth Circuit relied on its precedent that a Rule 59(e) motion that adds a new ground for relief or attacks the federal court’s previous adjudication of the habeas claim is considered a second or successive habeas petition. Petitioner then filed a petition of writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, which the Court granted.
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) provides inmates with one full and fair opportunity to pursue federal habeas relief. Section 2244(b) of the AEDPA generally prohibits inmates from filing subsequent or second habeas petitions.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide opportunities for individuals to challenge a previous ruling by a trial. These rules are detailed in Rule 59 titled “New Trial; Altering or Amending a Judgment” and Rule 60 titled “Relief from a Judgment or Order.”
The difficulty in this case is reconciling the text of the AEDPA with the language of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. One would not normally think of motions under Rule 59 or Rule 60 as a second petition. They are procedural mechanisms used to ask a court to review a previous judgment. However, when the text of the AEDPA and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure conflict, the text of the AEDPA prevails.
In this case, petitioner did not technically file a second habeas petition. Instead, he filed a post-judgment motion—styled as a Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. However, in his Rule 59 motion, petitioner did ask the district court to “revisit” or “reconsider” many of its previous rulings. The question, thus, becomes whether petitioner’s Rule 59(e) motion should be treated as a second or subsequent petition for habeas relief or merely the last part of the initial and first habeas petition.
The Supreme Court held in Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524 (2005), that a Rule 60(b) motion is considered a second or successive habeas petition if the Rule 60 motion to alter or amend the judgment attacks the substance of the district court’s ruling. The Court now seeks to determine whether a Rule 59(e) motion—a motion for a new trial; altering or amending a judgment—should be treated the same way as a Rule 60(b) motion.
Petitioner asserts that a timely Rule 59(e) motion is part of the first habeas proceeding. Petitioner contends that such a motion is “not like a collateral attack on a final judgment and is not in any way analogous to initiating a second civil action.” Similarly, the National Conference of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in its brief supporting petitioner, explains that Rule 59 motions “are part of petitioners’ one full opportunity to have their claims heard and decided accurately and fairly.”
Respondent contends that the rationale that the Court applied in Gonzalez to Rule 60(b) motions should apply with full force to Rule 59(e) motions. Respondent explains: “When a ‘prior application’ has been reduced to final judgment, a post-judgment motion presenting habeas ‘claims’ that were or could have been adjudicated is a ‘second or successive’ habeas ‘application.’” According to respondent, “Entry of final judgment is the dividing line between a first and a second application.”
Petitioner counters that there is a key difference between Rule 59 and Rule 60 motions. A Rule 59(e) motion must be filed within 28 days after the entry of the judgment, while a Rule 60(b) motion is often made at a much later date—up to a year in some circumstances. “Unlike the 28-day deadline for Rule 59(e) motions, Rule 60(b) motions may be filed long after a judgment is final,” petitioner explains. Petitioner, thus, points out that a Rule 59(e) motion is filed “before the first appeal,” while in Gonzalez, the petitioner filed his Rule 60(b) motion a year after his habeas claim had been closed.
Respondent counters that “[t]here is no reason to treat Rule 59(e) motions differently from Rule 60(b) motions. Both provide vehicles to assert habeas claims.” Both types of motions also ask a federal district court to reconsider its earlier ruling. To respondent, this means that both motions are, in essence, an impermissible second or successive habeas petition within the meaning of the AEDPA.
The decision gives the Court an opportunity to clarify a significant circuit split on how courts treat the interaction between the AEDPA and a Rule 59(e) motion. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers points out that Rule 59 motions give trial courts the opportunity to correct their own errors and, thus, should be considered part and parcel of a petitioner’s full and fair opportunity to present claims in federal district court. The group points out that a ruling against petitioner will harm many habeas petitioners, particularly those who are proceeding pro se without legal counsel.
However, Indiana and 14 other states, as amici in support of respondent, assert that the case is significant for a fundamentally different reason—states’ interests in “preserving the finality of both their own criminal judgments and of federal habeas corpus decisions.” The states contend that an adverse ruling against the government will enable state prisoners to circumvent and frustrate the purposes of the AEDPA.
The United States, as amicus in support of respondent, similarly argues that the decision will be significant not only for state prisoners but also for federal prisoners. “Similar limitations on second or successive collateral attacks generally apply in the context of postconviction review of federal judgments under 28 U.S.C. 2255,” the United States writes.
David L. Hudson Jr. is a visiting associate professor of legal practice at Belmont Law School in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the author, coauthor, or coeditor of more than 40 books, including a coeditor of The Encyclopedia of the Fourth Amendment (2013). He can be reached at davidlhudsonjr@ gmail.com.
PREVIEW of United States Supreme Court Cases 47, no. 3 (December 2, 2019): 23–25. © 2019 American Bar Association
In Support of Petitioner Gregory Dean Banister
In Support of Respondent Lorie Davis, Director TDCJ