throbber
(Slip Opinion)
`
`
`
` OCTOBER TERM, 2014
`
`
`Syllabus
`
`1
`
` NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is
`
`
`
` being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.
`
`
`
` The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been
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` prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
`
` See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.
`
`
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`
`
` Syllabus
`
` REYES MATA v. LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL
`
`CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
`
`THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
` No. 14–185. Argued April 29, 2015—Decided June 15, 2015
`
`After petitioner Noel Reyes Mata, an unlawful resident alien, was con-
`
`victed 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. See 8 U. S. C. §1229a(c)(7)(A). Acknowledging that he had
`missed the 90-day deadline for such motions, see §1229a(c)(7)(C)(i),
`
`
`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. See 8 CFR
`§1003.2(a). 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.
`
`Held: The Fifth Circuit erred in declining to take jurisdiction over
`
`Mata’s appeal. A court of appeals has jurisdiction to review the BIA’s
`
`rejection of an alien’s motion to reopen. Kucana v. Holder, 558 U. S.
`233, 253. Nothing about that jurisdiction changes where the Board
`rejects a motion as untimely, or when it rejects a motion requesting
`
`equitable tolling of the time limit. That jurisdiction likewise remains
`unchanged if the BIA’s denial also contains a separate decision not to
`
`exercise its sua sponte authority. So even assuming the Fifth Circuit
`is correct that courts of appeals lack jurisdiction to review BIA deci-
`sions not to reopen cases sua sponte, that lack of jurisdiction does not
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`2
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`
`
`
`REYES MATA v. LYNCH
`
`
`Syllabus
`affect jurisdiction over the decision on the alien’s motion to reopen. It
`thus follows that the Fifth Circuit had jurisdiction over this case.
`
`
`
`The Fifth Circuit’s contrary decision rested on its construing
`Mata’s motion as an invitation for the Board to exercise its sua sponte
`discretion. Court-appointed amicus asserts that the Fifth Circuit’s
`recharacterization was based on the premise that equitable tolling in
`Mata’s situation is categorically forbidden. In amicus’s view, the
`court’s construal was therefore an example of the ordinary practice of
`
`
`recharacterizing a doomed request as one for relief that may be
`available. But even if equitable tolling is prohibited, the Fifth Cir-
`
`cuit’s action was not justified. If Mata is not entitled to relief on the
`merits, then the correct disposition is to take jurisdiction and affirm
`
`the BIA’s denial of his motion. For a court retains jurisdiction even if
`
`a litigant’s request for relief lacks merit, see Steel Co. v. Citizens for
`Better Environment, 523 U. S. 83, 89, and a federal court has a “vir-
`tually unflagging obligation,” Colorado River Water Conservation
`
`
`Dist. v. United States, 424 U. S. 800, 817, to assert jurisdiction where
`it has that authority. Nor can the established practice of recharacter-
`izing pleadings so as to offer the possibility of relief justify an ap-
`proach that, as here, renders relief impossible and sidesteps the judi-
`
`cial obligation to assert jurisdiction. Pp. 4–8.
`558 Fed. Appx. 366, reversed and remanded.
`KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,
`
`C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, ALITO, and SO-
`TOMAYOR, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`
`
` Cite as: 576 U. S. ____ (2015)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`
`1
`
`
` NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the
`
`
`
` preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to
`
` notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash-
`
` ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order
`
`
` that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
`
`
`
`
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`
`
`_________________
`
` No. 14–185
`_________________
` NOEL REYES MATA, PETITIONER v. LORETTA E.
`
`
` LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL
`
`ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
`
`
`APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
`
`[June 15, 2015]
`
` JUSTICE KAGAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
`An alien ordered to leave the country has a statutory
`
`right to file a motion to reopen his removal proceedings.
`See 8 U. S. C. §1229a(c)(7)(A). If immigration officials
`deny that motion, a federal court of appeals has jurisdic-
`tion to consider a petition to review their decision. See
`
`Kucana v. Holder, 558 U. S. 233, 242, 253 (2010). Not-
`withstanding that rule, the court below declined to take
`jurisdiction over such an appeal because the motion to
`reopen had been denied as untimely. We hold that was
`error.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`I
`
`The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 66 Stat.
`163, as amended, 8 U. S. C. §1101 et seq., and its imple-
`menting regulations set out the process for removing
`aliens from the country. An immigration judge (IJ) con-
`ducts the initial proceedings; if he orders removal, the
`
`alien has the opportunity to appeal that decision to
`the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA or Board).
`§§1229a(a)(1), (c)(5). “[E]very alien ordered removed” also
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

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`
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`
`
`2
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`
` REYES MATA v. LYNCH
`
`Opinion of the Court
`“has a right to file one motion” with the IJ or Board
`to “reopen his or her removal proceedings.” Dada v.
`Mukasey, 554 U. S. 1, 4–5 (2008); see §1229a(c)(7)(A).
`Subject to exceptions not relevant here, that motion to
`reopen “shall be filed within 90 days” of the final removal
`order. §1229a(c)(7)(C)(i). Finally, the BIA’s regulations
`
`provide that, separate and apart from acting on the alien’s
`
`
`motion, the BIA may reopen removal proceedings “on its
`own motion”—or, in Latin, sua sponte—at any time. 8
`CFR §1003.2(a) (2015).
`Petitioner Noel Reyes Mata is a Mexican citizen who
`
`entered the United States unlawfully almost 15 years ago.
`In 2010, he was convicted of assault under the Texas
`Penal Code. The federal Department of Homeland Secu-
`rity (DHS) immediately initiated removal proceedings
`against him, and in August 2011 an IJ ordered him re-
`moved. See App. 6–13. Mata’s lawyer then filed a notice
`of appeal with the BIA, indicating that he would soon
`submit a written brief stating grounds for reversing the
`IJ’s decision. But the attorney never filed the brief, and
`the BIA dismissed the appeal in September 2012. See
`App. 4–5.
`
`More than a hundred days later, Mata (by then repre-
`
`sented by new counsel) filed a motion with the Board to
`
`reopen his case. DHS opposed the motion, arguing in part
`that Mata had failed to file it, as the INA requires, within
`90 days of the Board’s decision. Mata responded that the
`motion was “not time barred” because his first lawyer’s
`“ineffective assistance” counted as an “exceptional circum-
`stance[]” excusing his lateness. Certified Administrative
`Record in No. 13–60253 (CA5, Aug. 2, 2013), p. 69. In
`addressing those arguments, the Board reaffirmed prior
`decisions holding that it had authority to equitably toll the
`90-day period in certain cases involving ineffective repre-
`sentation. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 7; see also, e.g., In re
`
`Santa Celenia Diaz, 2009 WL 2981747 (BIA, Aug. 21,
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`Cite as: 576 U. S. ____ (2015)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`2009). But the Board went on to determine that Mata was
`not entitled to equitable tolling because he could not show
`prejudice from his attorney’s deficient performance; ac-
`cordingly, the Board found Mata’s motion untimely. See
`
`App. to Pet. for Cert. 7–8. And in closing, the Board de-
`cided as well that Mata’s case was not one “that would
`warrant reopening as an exercise of” its sua sponte author-
`
`ity. Id., at 9 (stating that “the power to reopen on our own
`motion is not meant to be used as a general cure for filing
`defects” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
`
`Mata petitioned the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Cir-
`cuit to review the BIA’s denial of his motion to reopen,
`arguing that he was entitled to equitable tolling. The
`Fifth Circuit, however, declined to “address the merits
`of Mata’s equitable-tolling . . . claim[].” Reyes Mata v.
`Holder, 558 Fed. Appx. 366, 367 (2014) (per curiam). It
`stated instead that “[i]n this circuit, an alien’s request [to
`the BIA] for equitable tolling on the basis of ineffective
`assistance of counsel is construed as an invitation for the
`BIA to exercise its discretion to reopen the removal pro-
`ceeding sua sponte.” Ibid. And circuit precedent held that
`courts have no jurisdiction to review the BIA’s refusal to
`exercise its sua sponte power to reopen cases. See ibid.
`The Court of Appeals thus dismissed Mata’s appeal for
`lack of jurisdiction.
`
`Every other Circuit that reviews removal orders has
`affirmed its jurisdiction to decide an appeal, like Mata’s,
`
`that seeks equitable tolling of the statutory time limit to
`file a motion to reopen a removal proceeding.1 We granted
`
`——————
` 1See, e.g., Da Silva Neves v. Holder, 613 F. 3d 30, 33 (CA1 2010) (per
`
`curiam) (exercising jurisdiction over such a petition); Iavorski v. INS,
` 232 F. 3d 124, 129–134 (CA2 2000) (same); Borges v. Gonzales, 402 F.
`
`
` 3d 398, 406 (CA3 2005) (same); Kuusk v. Holder, 732 F. 3d 302, 305–
` 306 (CA4 2013) (same); Barry v. Mukasey, 524 F. 3d 721, 724–725 (CA6
`
`
`
` 2008) (same); Pervaiz v. Gonzales, 405 F. 3d 488, 490 (CA7 2005)
` (same); Hernandez-Moran v. Gonzales, 408 F. 3d 496, 499–500 (CA8
`
`
`
`
`
`3
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`4
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`REYES MATA v. LYNCH
`
`Opinion of the Court
`certiorari to resolve this conflict. 574 U. S. ___ (2015).
`And because the Federal Government agrees with Mata
`that the Fifth Circuit had jurisdiction over his appeal, we
`appointed an amicus curiae to defend the judgment be-
`low.2 We now reverse.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`II
`
`As we held in Kucana v. Holder, circuit courts have
`
`jurisdiction when an alien appeals from the Board’s denial
`of a motion to reopen a removal proceeding. See 558 U. S.,
`at 242, 253. The INA, in combination with a statute cross-
`referenced there, gives the courts of appeals jurisdiction to
`review “final order[s] of removal.” 8 U. S. C. §1252(a)(1);
`28 U. S. C. §2342. That jurisdiction, as the INA expressly
`contemplates, encompasses review of decisions refusing
`to reopen or reconsider such orders. See 8 U. S. C.
`§1252(b)(6) (“[A]ny review sought of a motion to reopen or
`reconsider [a removal order] shall be consolidated with the
`review of the [underlying] order”). Indeed, as we ex-
`plained in Kucana, courts have reviewed those decisions
`for nearly a hundred years; and even as Congress cur-
`tailed other aspects of courts’ jurisdiction over BIA rul-
`ings, it left that authority in place. See 558 U. S., at
`242–251.
`Nothing changes when the Board denies a motion to
`
`reopen because it is untimely—nor when, in doing so, the
`Board rejects a request for equitable tolling. Under the
`INA, as under our century-old practice, the reason for the
`——————
` 2005) (same); Valeriano v. Gonzales, 474 F. 3d 669, 673 (CA9 2007)
`
`(same); Riley v. INS, 310 F. 3d 1253, 1257–1258 (CA10 2002) (same);
`
` Avila-Santoyo v. United States Atty. Gen., 713 F. 3d 1357, 1359, 1362–
` 1364 (CA11 2013) (per curiam) (same). Except for Da Silva Neves,
`
`
` which did not resolve the issue, all those decisions also held, on the
`merits, that the INA allows equitable tolling in certain circumstances.
`
` See infra, at 7–8.
`2We appointed William R. Peterson to brief and argue the case, 574
`
` U. S. ___ (2015), and he has ably discharged his responsibilities.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
` Cite as: 576 U. S. ____ (2015)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`BIA’s denial makes no difference to the jurisdictional
`issue. Whether the BIA rejects the alien’s motion to re-
`
`open because it comes too late or because it falls short in
`some other respect, the courts have jurisdiction to review
`that decision.
`
`Similarly, that jurisdiction remains unchanged if the
`Board, in addition to denying the alien’s statutorily au-
`thorized motion, states that it will not exercise its sepa-
`rate sua sponte authority to reopen the case. See supra, at
`
`
`1–2. In Kucana, we declined to decide whether courts
`have jurisdiction to review the BIA’s use of that discre-
`tionary power. See 558 U. S., at 251, n. 18. Courts of
`Appeals, including the Fifth Circuit, have held that they
`generally lack such authority.
`See, e.g., Enriquez-
`
`Alvarado v. Ashcroft, 371 F. 3d 246, 249–250 (CA5 2004);
`
`
`
`Tamenut v. Mukasey, 521 F. 3d 1000, 1003–1004 (CA8
`2008) (en banc) (per curiam) (citing other decisions).
`Assuming arguendo that is right, it means only that judi-
`cial review ends after the court has evaluated the Board’s
`ruling on the alien’s motion. That courts lack jurisdiction
`over one matter (the sua sponte decision) does not affect
`their jurisdiction over another (the decision on the alien’s
`request).
`
`It follows, as the night the day, that the Court of Ap-
`peals had jurisdiction over this case. Recall: As authorized
`by the INA, Mata filed a motion with the Board to reopen
`his removal proceeding. The Board declined to grant Mata
`his proposed relief, thus conferring jurisdiction on an
`
`appellate court under Kucana. The Board did so for time-
`liness reasons, holding that Mata had filed his motion
`after 90 days had elapsed and that he was not entitled to
`equitable tolling. But as just explained, the reason the
`Board gave makes no difference: Whenever the Board
`denies an alien’s statutory motion to reopen a removal
`case, courts have jurisdiction to review its decision. In
`addition, the Board determined not to exercise its sua
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`5
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`REYES MATA v. LYNCH
`
`Opinion of the Court
`sponte authority to reopen. But once again, that extra
`
`ruling does not matter. The Court of Appeals did not lose
`jurisdiction over the Board’s denial of Mata’s motion just
`because the Board also declined to reopen his case sua
`sponte.
`
`Nonetheless, the Fifth Circuit dismissed Mata’s appeal
`for lack of jurisdiction. That decision, as described earlier,
`hinged on “constru[ing]” Mata’s motion as something it
`was not: “an invitation for the BIA to exercise” its
`sua sponte authority. 558 Fed. Appx., at 367; supra, at 3.
`Amicus’s defense of that approach centrally relies on a
`merits-based premise: that the INA forbids equitable
`tolling of the 90-day filing period in any case, no matter
`how exceptional the circumstances. See Brief for Amicus
`Curiae by Invitation of the Court 14–35. Given that is so,
`
`
`amicus continues, the court acted permissibly in “rechar-
`acteriz[ing]” Mata’s pleadings. Id., at 36. After all, courts
`often treat a request for “categorically unavailable” relief
`as instead “seeking relief [that] may be available.” Id., at
`35, 38. And here (amicus concludes) that meant constru-
`ing Mata’s request for equitable tolling as a request for
`
`sua sponte reopening—even though that caused the Fifth
`Circuit to lose its jurisdiction.
`
`But that conclusion is wrong even on the assumption—
`and it is only an assumption—that its core premise about
`equitable tolling is true.3 If the INA precludes Mata from
`——————
`3We express no opinion as to whether or when the INA allows the
`Board to equitably toll the 90-day period to file a motion to reopen.
`
`Moreover, we are not certain what the Fifth Circuit itself thinks about
`
`
` that question. Perhaps, as amicus asserts, the court believes the INA
` categorically precludes equitable tolling: It is hard to come up with any
`
`
`other reason why the court construes every argument for tolling as one
`
`
` for sua sponte relief. See Brief for Amicus Curiae by Invitation of the
`
` Court 2, 10, 14, n. 2. But the Fifth Circuit has stated that position in
`
`only a single sentence in a single unpublished opinion, which (according
`to the Circuit) has no precedential force. See Lin v. Mukasey, 286 Fed.
`Appx. 148, 150 (2008) (per curiam); Rule 47.5.4 (2015). And another
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`6
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`Cite as: 576 U. S. ____ (2015)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`getting the relief he seeks, then the right course on appeal
`is to take jurisdiction over the case, explain why that is so,
`and affirm the BIA’s decision not to reopen. The jurisdic-
`tional question (whether the court has power to decide if
`tolling is proper) is of course distinct from the merits
`question (whether tolling is proper). See Steel Co. v. Citi-
`
`zens for Better Environment, 523 U. S. 83, 89 (1998)
`(“[T]he absence of a valid . . . cause of action does not
`
`implicate subject-matter jurisdiction”). The Fifth Circuit
`thus retains jurisdiction even if Mata’s appeal lacks merit.
`
`And when a federal court has jurisdiction, it also has a
`
`“virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise” that au-
`thority. Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v.
`United States, 424 U. S. 800, 817 (1976). Accordingly,
`
`the Court of Appeals should have asserted jurisdiction
`
`over Mata’s appeal and addressed the equitable tolling
`question.
`
` Contrary to amicus’s view, the practice of recharacteriz-
`
`
`
`ing pleadings so as to offer the possibility of relief cannot
`
`justify the Court of Appeals’ alternative approach. True
`
`enough (and a good thing too) that courts sometimes
`construe one kind of filing as another: If a litigant mis-
`brands a motion, but could get relief under a different
`label, a court will often make the requisite change. See,
`
`e.g., 12 J. Moore, Moore’s Federal Practice, §59.11[4] (3 ed.
`2015) (explaining how courts treat untimely Rule 59 mo-
`tions as Rule 60 motions because the latter have no time
`limit). But that established practice does not entail side-
`stepping the judicial obligation to exercise jurisdiction.
`And it results in identifying a route to relief, not in render-
`ing relief impossible. That makes all the difference be-
`——————
`unpublished decision cuts in the opposite direction, “hold[ing] that the
`doctrine of equitable tolling applies” when exceptional circumstances
`excuse an alien’s failure to meet the 90-day reopening deadline. See
`Torabi v. Gonzales, 165 Fed. Appx. 326, 331 (CA5 2006) (per curiam).
`
`So, in the end, it is hard to say.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`7
`
`

`
`8
`
`
`
`
`
` REYES MATA v. LYNCH
`
`Opinion of the Court
`tween a court’s generously reading pleadings and a court’s
`
`construing away adjudicative authority.
`And if, as amicus argues, that construal rests on an
`
`underlying merits decision—that the INA precludes any
`equitable tolling—then the Court of Appeals has effectively
`insulated a circuit split from our review. Putting the
`
`Fifth Circuit to the side, all appellate courts to have ad-
`dressed the matter have held that the Board may some-
`times equitably toll the time limit for an alien’s motion to
`reopen. See n. 1, supra. Assuming the Fifth Circuit
`thinks otherwise, that creates the kind of split of authority
`we typically think we need to resolve. See this Court’s
`Rule 10(a). But the Fifth Circuit’s practice of recharacter-
`
`izing appeals like Mata’s as challenges to the Board’s
`sua sponte decisions and then declining to exercise juris-
`
`diction over them prevents that split from coming to light.
`Of course, the Court of Appeals may reach whatever con-
`clusion it thinks best as to the availability of equitable
`tolling; we express no opinion on that matter. See n. 3,
`supra. What the Fifth Circuit may not do is to wrap such
`a merits decision in jurisdictional garb so that we cannot
`address a possible division between that court and every
`other.
`
`For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the judgment of
`the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further
`
` proceedings consistent with this opinion.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
` It is so ordered.
`
`

`
`
`
`
`
`1
`
` Cite as: 576 U. S. ____ (2015)
`
` THOMAS, J., dissenting
`
`
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`
`
`_________________
`
` No. 14–185
`_________________
` NOEL REYES MATA, PETITIONER v. LORETTA E.
`
`
` LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL
`
`ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
`
`
`APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
`
`[June 15, 2015]
`
`JUSTICE THOMAS, dissenting.
`The Court’s opinion in this case elides an important
`
`distinction between construing a court filing and recharac-
`terizing it. See Castro v. United States, 540 U. S. 375, 386
`(2003) (SCALIA, J., concurring in part and concurring in
`judgment) (discussing this distinction). Courts routinely
`construe ambiguous filings to make sense out of them, as
`parties—both counseled and uncounseled—sometimes
`submit documents lacking even rudimentary clarity. See,
`e.g., Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, 989
`
`F. Supp. 2d 1227, 1287 (MD Ala. 2013) (“The filings and
`arguments made by the plaintiffs on these claims were
`mystifying at best”). Recharacterization is something very
`different: It occurs when a court treats an unambiguous
`filing as something it is not. That practice is an unusual
`one, and should be used, if at all, with caution. See Cas-
`tro, 540 U. S., at 385–386 (opinion of SCALIA, J.). Courts
`should not approach recharacterization with a freewheel-
`ing attitude, but with “regard to the exceptional nature of
`recharacterization within an adversarial system.” Ibid.
`Recharacterization has, for example, been used “deliber-
`ately to override a pro se litigant’s choice of a procedural
`
`vehicle.” Id., at 386 (disapproving of the practice). But it
`is not the role of courts to “create a ‘better correspondence’
`between the substance of a claim and its underlying pro-
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`2
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
` REYES MATA v. LYNCH
`
` THOMAS, J., dissenting
`
`cedural basis.” Ibid.
`
`In my view, then, it makes all the difference whether
`the Court of Appeals here properly construed an ambigu-
`
`ous motion or recharacterized an unambiguous motion
`contrary to Mata’s stated choice of procedural vehicle.
`Although the majority’s opinion does not address this
`point, Mata’s motion to reopen does not expressly state
`
`whether he was invoking statutory relief under 8 U. S. C.
`§1229a(c)(7)(A) or instead requesting sua sponte reopening
`under the Board of Immigration Appeals’ asserted inher-
`ent authority. Had the Court of Appeals engaged in the
`discretionary action of construing that ambiguous filing, it
`might not have abused its discretion by concluding that
`Mata really meant to ask for sua sponte reopening rather
`than equitable tolling of the statutory time bar.
`
`The Court of Appeals, however, did not purport to con-
`strue an ambiguous motion. Instead, it applied what
`appears to be a categorical rule that all motions to reopen
`
`that would be untimely under §1229a(c)(7)(A) must be
`construed as motions for sua sponte reopening of the pro-
`ceedings. See 558 Fed. Appx. 366, 367 (CA5 2014) (per
`curiam) (“In this circuit, an alien’s request for equitable
`
`tolling on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel is
`construed as an invitation for the BIA to exercise its dis-
`cretion to reopen the removal proceeding sua sponte”).
`That rule would appear to foreclose a litigant from ever
`filing an untimely statutory motion to reopen removal
`proceedings seeking equitable tolling, as well as to invite
`improper recharacterization in the event any such a mo-
`tion is filed. The Court of Appeals should have assessed
`Mata’s motion on its own terms. It erred in not doing so.
`
`The reason it erred, though, has nothing to do with its
`fidelity to our precedents discussing “the judicial obliga-
`tion to exercise jurisdiction,” ante, at 7. That obligation
`does not allow evasion of constitutional and statutory
`jurisdictional prerequisites. It is true that “when a federal
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`3
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
` Cite as: 576 U. S. ____ (2015)
`
` THOMAS, J., dissenting
`
`
`court has jurisdiction, it also has a ‘virtually unflagging
`
`obligation to . . . exercise’ that authority.” Ibid. (quoting
`Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States,
`424 U. S. 800, 817 (1976)). But that “unflagging obliga-
`tion” arises only if a court actually has jurisdiction. Fed-
`eral courts have no obligation to seek out jurisdiction, nor
`should they misconstrue filings to satisfy jurisdictional
`requirements. Rather, federal courts should “presume
`that [they] lack jurisdiction unless the contrary appears
`affirmatively from the record.” See DaimlerChrysler Corp.
`v. Cuno, 547 U. S. 332, 342, n. 3 (2006). And they should
`apply the ordinary rule that the party asserting federal
`jurisdiction bears the burden of proving that jurisdictional
`prerequisites are met. Ibid. The practice of construing
`
`filings does not alter the usual rules of establishing juris-
`diction in federal court.
`
`I would vacate and remand for the Court of Appeals to
`
`consider the BIA’s judgment without the burden of what
`appears to be a categorical rule demanding that Mata’s
`motion be construed (or recharacterized) as a request for
`
` sua sponte reopening. Because the majority does more
`than this by reversing the judgment below, I respectfully
`dissent.

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