Mata, the petitioner, filed an untimely motion to reopen his removal proceedings. He argued that his motion was not time barred because his prior attorney had provided him with ineffective assistance of counsel, which should excuse the tardy filing of the motion to reopen. The Board of Immigration Appeals (Board) denied the motion, finding that it was untimely and that the filing deadline need not be equitably tolled because Mata had not demonstrated any prejudice from his prior counsel's alleged ineffective assistance. On appeal to the Fifth Circuit, the court construed any request for equitable tolling as a request for the Board's to exercise its sua sponte authority to reopen proceedings. As the circuit court had no jurisdiction to review the Board's decision not to exercise its sua sponte authority, the Fifth Circuit dismissed the appeal. The Fifth Circuit is the only circuit that has ruled that it lacks jurisdiction to review equitable tolling requests, and the Supreme Court accepted review of Mata's case in order to resolve the circuit split on the issue.
The Supreme Court reaffirmed that the corcuit courts have jurisdiction when a non-citizen appeals from the Board’s denial of a motion to reopen a removal proceeding. "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 [Board]’s denial makes no difference to the jurisdictional issue. Whether the [Board] rejects the alien’s motion to reopen because it comes too late or because it falls short in some other respect, the courts have jurisdiction to review that decision."
The Supreme Court noted that even if the Board additionally noted that it would not exercise its sua sponte authority to reopen a case, that did not deprive a federal court of its authority to review any other statutory ground invoked by a non-citizen when requesting reopening of his proceedings. The Supreme Court left open the question of whether a federal court could properly decline review on jurisdictional ground the Board's refusal to exercise its sua sponte authority to reopen proceedings.
The full text of Mata v. Lynch can be found here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-185_i4dk.pdf