In Bannister v. Davis, No. 18-6943 (June 1, 2020), the Supreme Court today held that a motion to alter or amend a judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) is not a “second or successive” petition for habeas corpus purposes. The vote was 7–2, with only Justices Alito and Thomas dissenting.
Justice Kagan’s opinion for the Court begins this way:
A state prisoner is entitled to one fair opportunity to seek federal habeas relief from his conviction. But he may not usually make a “second or successive habeas corpus application.” 28 U.S.C. §2244(b). The question here is whether a motion brought under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) to alter or amend a habeas court’s judgment qualifies as such a successive petition. We hold it does not. A Rule 59(e) motion is instead part and parcel of the first habeas proceeding.
And the Court’s opinion concludes as follows:
Our holding means that the Court of Appeals should not have dismissed Banister’s appeal as untimely. Banister properly brought a Rule 59(e) motion in the District Court. As noted earlier, the 30-day appeals clock runs from the disposition of such a motion, rather than from the initial entry of judgment. See supra, at 3. And Banister filed his notice of appeal within that time. The Fifth Circuit reached a contrary conclusion because it thought that Banister’s motion was really a second or successive habeas application, and so did not reset the appeals clock. For all the reasons we have given, that understanding of a Rule 59(e) motion is wrong. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Banister may excite only habeas/civil procedure nerds, but it represents a significant—and rare—procedural victory for federal and state prisoners seeking habeas relief.