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Pineda v. Whitaker

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 19, 2018



          Kevin MacMurray, Daniel W. Chin, and MacMurray & Associates on brief for petitioner.

          Chad A. Readler, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Linda S. Wernery, Assistant Director, and Lindsay B. Glauner, Senior Litigation Counsel, Office of Immigration Litigation, on brief for respondent.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Selya and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

          SELYA, Circuit Judge.

         We recently wrote that "[m]otions to reopen - especially untimely motions to reopen - are disfavored in immigration cases. Consequently, an alien who seeks to reopen removal proceedings out of time ordinarily faces a steep uphill climb." Sihotang v. Sessions, 900 F.3d 46, 48 (1st Cir. 2018). This case, in which the petitioner waited roughly four and one-half years before moving to reopen his removal proceedings, bears witness to the difficulty of the ascent. Concluding, as we do, that the petitioner has not shown a sufficient reason to excuse his delay, we uphold the rejection of his motion to reopen by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and deny his petition for judicial review.

         The petitioner, Geovanny Pineda, is a native and citizen of El Salvador. He entered the United States illegally in 1999. In 2001, he applied for temporary protected status (TPS) and employment authorization.[1] His TPS application was received (but not acted upon immediately) and his application for employment authorization was granted. On April 10, 2003, the petitioner's TPS application was denied. He unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration, but nonetheless remained in the United States.

         We fast-forward to May of 2010, at which time the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated removal proceedings against the petitioner. The DHS charged that the petitioner was removable as "[a]n alien present in the United States without being admitted or paroled." 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(A)(i). Approximately four months later, the petitioner appeared before an immigration judge (IJ) and, through counsel, conceded removability. At the same time, he indicated that he wanted to apply for withholding of removal and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). The IJ ordered a ten-month continuance until June 29, 2011, so that the petitioner could prepare his applications for these forms of relief from removal. A warning accompanied the continuance: the IJ admonished the petitioner that if he failed to file full-blown applications for relief within the specified period, his preliminary requests would be considered "abandon[ed]."

         On June 29, 2011, the petitioner failed to make the anticipated filings. His attorney sought a further continuance, telling the IJ that he had not been able to assemble the completed applications within the prescribed interval. The IJ denied a further continuance, found the petitioner's applications for withholding of removal and CAT protection to be abandoned, and ordered the petitioner removed to El Salvador. In his bench decision, the IJ observed that the ten-month continuance he had given the petitioner was "quite sufficient" and that the petitioner had been explicitly warned about the consequences of non-compliance with that deadline.

         The petitioner, acting pro se, filed a notice of appeal on July 28, 2011. He asserted that he did "not speak English" and insisted that he had not been made aware of the filing deadline. Rather, he had "relied on [his] lawyer to tell [him] what [he] needed to do to apply for asylum." Thereafter, the petitioner secured the services of a second attorney, who filed a brief in support of his appeal. In that brief, the petitioner argued that the IJ had abused his discretion in deeming the petitioner's requests for withholding of removal and CAT protection abandoned. His argument posited that applications for withholding of removal and CAT protection were requests for "mandatory" protection and, thus, a single procedural misstep was not enough to justify their summary denial.

         On December 28, 2012, the BIA affirmed the order of removal. In so doing, it upheld the IJ's determination that the petitioner had abandoned his requests for withholding of removal and CAT protection. The BIA noted, inter alia, that an application for relief that is not filed within the time limits set by the IJ is deemed waived. See 8 C.F.R. § 1003.31(c). Here, moreover, the IJ had "adequately apprised the [petitioner], through counsel, of the deadline for filing his application[s] . . . and that if he failed to timely submit his applications, they would be deemed abandoned." With respect to the petitioner's veiled suggestion that the missed deadline was attributable to the ineptitude of his first attorney, the BIA responded that more than a generalized assertion was needed to make out an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Citing Matter of Lozada, 19 I. & N. Dec. 637, 639 (B.I.A. 1988), the BIA proceeded to give the petitioner chapter and verse concerning the prerequisites for an alien's ineffective assistance of counsel claim.[2]

         The petitioner did not seek judicial review of the BIA's removal order, and the matter lay fallow for roughly four and one-half years. At that point, the petitioner - through yet a third attorney - filed a motion beseeching the BIA to vacate the 2012 removal order and reopen the removal proceedings. Along with his motion to reopen, the petitioner proffered applications for asylum, withholding of removal, and CAT protection. The motion was untimely, see 8 C.F.R. § 1003.2(c)(2), but the petitioner maintained that the ninety-day filing deadline should be equitably tolled due to ineffective assistance of counsel. Relatedly, he claimed to have learned only recently that his first attorney had been disbarred in October of 2012 for failing to represent his immigration clients appropriately and misrepresenting matters pertaining to them. The BIA found no basis for equitable tolling: in its view, the petitioner had not exercised due diligence during the four and one-half years after he was explicitly informed of the steps required to raise his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Consequently, the BIA refused to relax the time bar and denied the motion to reopen as untimely. See id. This petition for judicial review followed.[3] See 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(1), (b)(6).

         Motions to reopen removal proceedings run at cross-purposes with "the compelling public interests in finality and the expeditious processing of proceedings." Guerrero-Santana v. Gonzales, 499 F.3d 90, 92 (1st Cir. 2007) (quoting Raza v. Gonzales, 484 F.3d 125, 127 (1st Cir. 2007)). Such motions are, therefore, disfavored. See Sihotang, 900 F.3d at 48; Guerrero-Santana, 499 F.3d at 92. As a result, we review the BIA's denial of a motion to reopen under a highly deferential abuse-of-discretion standard. See Bbale v. Lynch, 840 F.3d 63, 66 (1st Cir. 2016). We will uphold the BIA's decision unless the petitioner can show that the BIA either committed a material error of law or exercised its authority arbitrarily, capriciously, or irrationally. See id.

         Some special constraints apply to motions to reopen removal proceedings. In particular, such motions are "limited both numerically and temporally." Meng Hua Wan v. Holder, 776 F.3d 52, 56 (1st Cir. 2015). As a general rule, a party may file only a single motion to reopen, which must be filed within ninety days of the issuance of the final administrative order. See 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C)(i); 8 C.F.R. § 1003.2(c)(2). Here, the petitioner filed only a single motion to reopen, but that motion was plainly out of time: he did not file it until more than four years after the entry of the BIA's final order of removal. To excuse this protracted delay, the petitioner seeks refuge in the equitable tolling doctrine. See, e.g., Neves v. Holder, 613 F.3d 30, 36 (1st Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (describing doctrine). Specifically, he avers that his first attorney's ineffective assistance, combined with the fact that he learned only recently that the attorney had been disbarred, entitles ...

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