NIZ-CHAVEZ v. GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Sixth Circuit

No. 19–863. Argued November 9, 2020—Decided April 29, 2021

Nonpermanent resident aliens ordered removed from the United States under federal immigration law may be eligible for discretionary relief if, among other things, they can establish their continuous presence in the country for at least 10 years. 8 U. S. C. §1229b(b)(1). But the so-called stop-time rule included in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) provides that the period of continuous presence “shall be deemed to end . . . when the alien is served a notice to appear” in a removal proceeding under §1229a. §1229b(d)(1). The term “notice to appear” is defined as “written notice . . . specifying” certain information, such as the charges against the alien and the time and place at which the removal proceedings will be held. §1229(a)(1). A notice that omits any of this statutorily required information does not trigger the stop-time rule. See Pereira v. Sessions, 585 U. S. ___. Here, the government ordered the removal of petitioner Agusto Niz-Chavez and sent him a document containing the charges against him. Two months later, it sent a second document, providing Mr. Niz-Chavez with the time and place of his hearing. The government contends that because the two documents collectively specified all statutorily required information for “a notice to appear,” Mr. Niz-Chavez’s continuous presence in the country stopped when he was served with the second document.

Held: A notice to appear sufficient to trigger the IIRIRA’s stop-time rule is a single document containing all the information about an individual’s removal hearing specified in §1229(a)(1). Pp. 4–12.

 (a) Section 1229b(d)(1) states that the stop-time rule is triggered by serving “a notice,” and §1229(a)(1) explains that “written notice” is “referred to as a ‘notice to appear.’ ” Congress’s decision to use the indefinite article “a” suggests it envisioned “a” single notice provided at a discrete time rather than a series of notices that collectively provide the required information. While the indefinite article “a” can sometimes be read to permit multiple installments (such as “a manuscript” delivered over months), that is not true for words like “notice” that can refer to either a countable object (“a notice”) or a noncountable abstraction (“sufficient notice”). The inclusion of an indefinite article suggests Congress used “notice” in its countable sense. More broadly, Congress has used indefinite articles to describe other case-initiating pleadings—such as an indictment, an information, or a civil complaint, see, e.g., Fed. Rules Crim. Proc. 7(a), (c)(1), (e); Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 3—and none suggest those documents might be delivered by installment. Nor does the Dictionary Act aid the government, as that provision merely tells readers of the U. S. Code to assume “words importing the singular include and apply to several persons, parties, or things.” 1 U. S. C. §1. That provision means only that terms describing a single thing (“a notice”) can apply to more than one of that thing (“ten notices”). While it certainly allows the government to send multiple notices to appear to multiple people, it does not mean a notice to appear can consist of multiple documents. Pp. 4–9.

 (b) The IIRIRA’s structure and history support requiring the government to issue a single notice containing all the required information. Two related provisions, §§1229(e)(1) and 1229a(b)(7), both use a definite article with a singular noun (“the notice”) when referring to the government’s charging document—a combination that again suggests a discrete document. Another provision, §1229(a)(2)(A), requires “a written notice” when the government wishes to change an alien’s hearing date. The government does not argue that this provision contemplates providing “the new time or place of the proceedings” and the “consequences . . . of failing . . . to attend such proceedings” in separate documents. Yet the government fails to explain why “a notice to appear” should operate differently. Finally, the predecessor to today’s “notice to appear” required the government to specify the place and time for the alien’s hearing “in the order to show cause or otherwise.” §1252(a)(2)(A). The phrase “or otherwise” has since disappeared, further suggesting that the required details must be included upfront to invoke the stop-time rule. Indeed, that is how the government itself initially read the statute. The year after Congress adopted IIRIRA, in the preamble to a proposed rule implementing these provisions, the government acknowledged that “the language of the amended Act indicat[es] that the time and place of the hearing must be on the Notice to Appear.” 62 Fed. Reg. 449 (1997). Pp. 9–13.

 (c) The government claims that not knowing hearing officers’ availability when it initiates removal proceedings makes it difficult to pro duce compliant notices. It also claims that it makes little sense to require time and place information in a notice to appear when that information may be later changed. Besides, the government stresses, its own administrative regulations have always authorized its current practice. But on the government’s account, it would be free to send a person who is not from this country—someone who may be unfamiliar with English and the habits of American bureaucracies—a series of letters over the course of weeks, months, maybe years, each containing a new morsel of vital information. Congress could reasonably have wished to foreclose that possibility. And ultimately, pleas of administrative inconvenience never “justify departing from the statute’s clear text.” Pereira, 585 U. S., at ___. The modest threshold Congress provided to invoke the stop-time rule is clear from the text and must be complied with here. Pp. 13–16.

789 Fed. Appx. 523, reversed.

 Gorsuch, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Barrett, JJ., joined. Kavanaugh, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Roberts, C. J., and Alito, J., joined.