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Seventh Circuit: District Court Retains Jurisdiction When Habeas Petitioner Moves to Prison Outside of District

While at a federal prison in the Southern District of Indiana (“SD Ind.”), Kevin Hall filed a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, known as the “savings clause.” As that petition was pending in the court, Hall was moved to a federal prison in Florida. The original court then transferred his § 2241 case to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida (“MD Fla.”), saying that it lost jurisdiction to hear the case once Hall was transferred because his custodian was now in Florida. Hall then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Seventh Circuit, requesting an order to the SD Ind. to rescind its transfer order and take the case back. The Court agreed and explained its rationale.

While the Supreme Court decision in Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426 (2004), is often cited for naming the proper respondent in a petitioner’s habeas petition, that case did not deal with the issue of jurisdiction when a prisoner is transferred to a new prison with a new custodian, the Court explained. At first, it may seem that a new custodian in another district would mean the original district court loses jurisdiction, but that’s not the case. “Padilla dealt with a different question: How to identify at the outset the proper venue” for habeas corpus, not for continuing jurisdiction, the Seventh Circuit clarified.

Instead, the Supreme Court’s holding in Ex parte Endo, 323 U.S. 283 (1944), is more on-point with Hall’s case, according to the Court. In that case, the Supreme Court concluded that the removal of the habeas petitioner from the district court’s jurisdiction did not cause it to lose jurisdiction, as long as the court still “may direct the writ to any respondent within its jurisdiction who has legal authority to effectuate the prisoner’s release,” the Supreme Court ruled.

The federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) still had custody of Hall after his transfer and the BOP still had a respondent within the SD Ind. Therefore, Hall’s move did not deprive the original court of jurisdiction over his petition, the Seventh Circuit held, and the transfer to the MD Fla. was an error. [Note that when a district court transfers a habeas petition to the court of appeals as second or successive, the usual method to challenge that status and get the petition back before the original district court would be a similar motion or request to the court of appeals (in the original circuit where the petition was filed) and not to the new court of appeals considering the transferred petition.]

The Court also took a moment to address three arguments that the Government made, but the Court rejected. First, Hall didn’t have to wait until the MD Fla. denied his petition in order to appeal. Instead, mandamus to the Seventh Circuit was the correct vehicle to challenge the transfer, and an appeal challenging venue would have been meaningless by that point.

Second, Hall has a pending § 2255 motion that the Government said could have negated the need for the savings clause petition. But that was “mixing apples and oranges,” the Court said. The merits of the petition weren’t before the Court, only his request for mandamus relief. The SD. Ind. could resolve whether his petition should be handled in his § 2255 motion. [Note that the circuits are not all in agreement on when a petition filed during a pending habeas petition is a new petition or simply an amendment to the original petition.]

Third, the fact that the MD Fla. could handle the petition didn’t matter. “There are often subtle, or non-so-subtle, differences in the law of the various circuits,” the Court said in reminding that the Eleventh Circuit (in which the MD Fla. is located) differs from every other circuit in foreclosing almost all relief under the savings clause. McCarthan v. Dir. Goodwill Indus., 851 F.3d 1076 (11th Cir. 2017). And Hall did not need to show that he was prejudiced by the erroneous transfer, the Court said.

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Related legal case

In re Hall



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