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CHAVEZ-RIVAS v. OLSEN

April 1, 2002

VALENTIN CHAVEZ-RIVAS, PETITIONER,
V.
KEITH OLSEN, WARDEN; JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL; DIRECTOR, IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE, RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Orlofsky, District Judge

OPINION

Petitioner, Valentin Chavez-Rivas ("Chavez-Rivas"), seeks a writ of habeas corpus in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. The Respondents have moved to Dismiss the Petition, or alternatively, to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The Respondents' Motion presents this Court with the novel question of whether a District Court may continue to exercise jurisdiction over a habeas corpus petition filed by a petitioner in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") when the petitioner is transferred by the INS to another District and detained by a "custodian" over whom the original District Court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction. More precisely, this Court must decide whether in these circumstances the Attorney General of the United States can be deemed to be the petitioner's "custodian" in the transferee District.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Valentin Chavez-Rivas ("Chavez-Rivas") is a Mariel Cuban*fn1 under final order of deportation. Chavez-Rivas finds himself in these straits as a result of multiple criminal convictions since his arrival in the United States. He is currently under indefinite INS detention because his country of origin, Cuba, will not consent to his return.

On March 2, 2001, Chavez-Rivas, while confined at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fairton, New Jersey ("FCI Fairton"), filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus with this Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. The petition named as respondents Keith Olsen, the Warden of FCI Fairton; John Ashcroft, the Attorney General of the United States; and the Director of the INS (collectively "the Government"). In his petition, Chavez-Rivas claims that his continued and indefinite detention by the INS violates his rights under the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Id.

On April 16, 2001, the Government filed an Answer to Chavez-Rivas's habeas corpus petition. Chavez-Rivas filed a Traverse in response to the Government's Answer on May 14, 2001. On August 7, 2001, I appointed Richard Coughlin, Esq., Federal Public Defender, to represent Chavez-Rivas in this habeas action. On August 8, 2001, Chavez-Rivas was transferred from FCI Fairton to the Federal Correctional Institution at Memphis, Tennessee ("FCI Memphis").

In response to the relocation of Chavez-Rivas to FCI Memphis, the Government filed the present motion to dismiss Chavez-Rivas's petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241(a)*fn2 or, alternatively, to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1631.*fn3 The Government argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear Chavez-Rivas's petition because only a District Court that has personal jurisdiction over the petitioner's immediate custodian, i.e., the warden of the facility where the petitioner is being detained, may hear a habeas corpus petition. More specifically, the Government contends that the transfer of Chavez-Rivas to the Tennessee facility has divested this Court of jurisdiction to grant habeas relief in this case.

For the reasons set forth below, I find the Government's arguments to be without merit. Accordingly, I shall deny the Government's Motion to Dismiss Chavez-Rivas's petition, or alternatively, to transfer this case to the Western District of Tennessee.

DISCUSSION

Personal Jurisdiction Generally in § 2241 Habeas Corpus Petitions in the Third Circuit

Both the Supreme Court of the United States and the Third Circuit have held that the transfer of a habeas petitioner to another judicial district after the filing of a habeas corpus petition does not defeat the original District Court's jurisdiction to entertain the petition. See Ex Parte Mitsuye Endo, 323 U.S. 283, 304 (1944); Ex parte Catanzaro, 138 F.2d 100, 101 (3d Cir. 1943) (Goodrich, J.). In Endo, the Supreme Court considered the habeas corpus petition of a Japanese-American who had been placed in an internment camp and held that where a District Court originally acquires personal jurisdiction in a habeas case, the subsequent removal of the petitioner to another judicial district does not divest the original District Court of jurisdiction. 323 U.S. at 304. Moreover, just one year before the Endo decision, the Third Circuit stated unequivocally that the "passing about of the body from one custodian to another after a writ of habeas corpus has been applied for [cannot] defeat the jurisdiction of the Court" to hear a habeas petition. Catanzaro, 138 F.2d at 101. See also Caballero v. United States, 145 F. Supp.2d 550, 557 (D.N.J. 2001) (following Catanzaro to determine that transfer of Mariel Cuban, INS-detainee petitioner to Colorado facility did not affect District Court's jurisdiction); Fuller v. INS, 144 F. Supp.2d 72, 85-87 (D.Conn. 2000) (citing Catanzaro and holding that alien's deportation did not divest District Court of jurisdiction over habeas petition). The Catanzaro court reasoned that a habeas petitioner should not be adversely affected "by whatever may have been done to him between his application and the decision of his case on appeal." 138 F.2d at 101.

While the Third Circuit has not recently revisited the issue of the transfer of a habeas petitioner to another judicial district before his petition is heard in the original district, it has addressed some closely related issues. For example, the Third Circuit has decided that, as a general matter, a § 2241 habeas petitioner must file the petition in the district where he is confined. United States v. Kennedy, 851 F.2d 689, 690-91 (3d Cir. 1988); United States v. Jack, 774 F.2d 605, 607 n. 1 (3d Cir. 1985). This rule derives from the Supreme Court's decision in Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court, 410 U.S. 484 (1973), where the Court set forth guidelines regarding personal jurisdiction in cases involving § 2241 petitions. See United States v. Ferri, 686 F.2d 147, 158 (3d Cir. 1982) (citing Braden for principle that a § 2241 habeas petition "must be sought from a District Court with jurisdiction over the custodian of the prisoner"), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1211 (1983).

The Braden Court, however, explicitly refused to promulgate any hard and fast rule limiting the jurisdictional reach of District Courts to the place of the petitioner's confinement. Id. at 500-501. It established the principle that, as long as a court can reach the petitioner's custodian by service of process, it may entertain that petitioner's § 2241 habeas petition, even if the prisoner himself is confined outside that court's territorial jurisdiction. Id. at 495. Braden's flexible approach corresponds with the broad language of § 2241(a), which states merely that District Judges may entertain habeas petitions "within their respective jurisdictions." 28 U.S.C. at § 2241(a).

Thus, this Court has jurisdiction over a ยง 2241 petitioner such as Chavez-Rivas if and only if it has jurisdiction over the petitioner's "custodian." I must therefore determine who may be properly ...


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