SCOTUS Opinion: Motion to Amend Judgment in Habeas Proceeding is Not a Separate Habeas Petition

After Gregory Banister was sentenced to 30 years in prison in Texas state court, and after he had exhausted his appeals in the Texas courts, he filed a petition for habeas relief under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, arguing, among other things, ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court denied the petition. Banister then filed a motion under Rule 59(e), requesting that the district court alter its judgment to fix “manifest errors of law and fact.” The district court denied the motion. Banister then appealed, but the Fifth Circuit dismissed the appeal as untimely, deciding that Banister’s Rule 59(e) motion was really a second habeas petition, making any appeal of the district court’s first habeas decision untimely.

Resolving a circuit split in Banister v. Davis, the Court, in a 7-2 opinion by Justice Kagan, reversed and remanded, holding that a Rule 59(e) motion does not count as a second habeas petition, and thus Banister’s original appeal was timely. The majority held that the motion to alter the district court’s judgment was not a collateral attack on that judgment, as a motion under Rule 60(b) would be. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas, dissented, arguing that Banister’s Rule 59(e) motion was no different in substance than a Rule 60(b) motion, and should have been deemed as initiating a separate habeas proceeding.

A link to the opinion is here: