ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT Court Below: 403 Fed. Appx. 335
In 1987, petitioner Patrick Wood was convicted of murder and other crimes by a Colorado court and sentenced to life imprisonment. Wood filed a federal habeas petition in 2008. After receiving Wood's petition, the U. S. District Court asked the State if it planned to argue that the petition was untimely. In response, the State twice informed the District Court that it would "not challenge, but [was] not conceding," the timeliness of Wood's petition. Thereafter, the District Court rejected Wood's claims on the merits. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit ordered the parties to brief both the merits and the timeliness of Wood's petition. After briefing, the court held the petition time barred, concluding that the court had authority to raise timeliness on its own motion, and that the State had not taken the issue off the table by declining to raise a statute of limitations defense in the District Court.
1. Courts of appeals, like district courts, have the authority-- though not the obligation--to raise a forfeited timeliness defense on their own initiative in exceptional cases. Pp. 4-9.
(a) "Ordinarily in civil litigation, a statutory time limitation is forfeited if not raised in a defendant's answer or in an amendment thereto." Day v. McDonough, 547 U. S. 198, 202. An affirmative defense, once forfeited, is excluded from the case and, as a rule, cannot be asserted on appeal.
In Granberry v. Greer, 481 U. S. 129, 133, this Court recognized a modest exception to the rule that a federal court will not consider a forfeited defense. There, the Seventh Circuit addressed a nonexhaustion defense the State raised for the first time on appeal. The exhaustion doctrine, this Court noted, is founded on concerns broader than those of the parties; in particular, the doctrine fosters respectful, harmonious relations between the state and federal judiciaries. Id., at 133-135. With that comity interest in mind, the Court held that federal appellate courts have discretion to consider a nonexhaustion argument inadvertently overlooked by the State in the district court. Id. at 132, 134.
In Day, the Court affirmed a federal district court's authority to consider a forfeited habeas defense when extraordinary circumstances so warrant. 547 U. S., at 201. The State in Day, having miscalculated a time span, erroneously informed the District Court that Day's habeas petition was timely. Apprised of the error by a Magistrate Judge, the District Court, sua sponte, dismissed the petition as untimely. This Court affirmed, holding that "district courts are permitted, but not obliged, to consider, sua sponte, the timeliness of a state prisoner's habeas petition." Id., at 209. Such leeway was appropriate, the Court again reasoned, because AEDPA's statute of limitations, like the exhaustion doctrine, "implicat[es] values beyond the concerns of the parties." Id., at 205.
The Court clarified, however, that a federal court does not have carte blanche to depart from the principle of party presentation. See Greenlaw v. United States,
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Ginsburg
This case concerns the authority of a federal court to raise, on its own motion, a statute of limitations defense to a habeas corpus petition. After state prisoner Patrick Wood filed a federal habeas corpus petition, the State twice informed the U. S. District Court that it "[would] not challenge, but [is] not conceding, the timeliness of Wood's habeas petition." App. 70a; see id., at 87a. Thereafter, the District Court rejected Wood's claims on the merits. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit directed the parties to brief the question whether Wood's federal petition was timely. Post-briefing, the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of Wood's petition, but solely on the ground that it was untimely.
Our precedent establishes that a court may consider a statute of limitations or other threshold bar the State failed to raise in answering a habeas petition. Granberry v. Greer, 481 U. S. 129, 134 (1987) (exhaustion defense); Day v. McDonough, 547 U. S. 198, 202 (2006) (statute of limitations defense). Does court discretion to take up timeliness hold when a State is aware of a limitations defense, and intelligently chooses not to rely on it in the court of first instance? The answer Day instructs is "no": A court is not at liberty, we have cautioned, to bypass, override, or excuse a State's deliberate waiver of a limitations defense. Id., at 202, 210, n. 11. The Tenth ...