Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Romero v. Evans

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

November 17, 2017

CRISTIAN FLORES ROMERO, etal, Petitioners,
YVONNE EVANS, etal.. Respondents.


          Leonie M. Brinkema United States District Judge

         Before the Court are petitioners' Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 24] and respondents' Motion to Dismiss in Part [Dkt. No. 27] and Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 28]. The motions have been fully briefed, oral argument has been heard, and for the reasons discussed in this Memorandum Opinion, respondents' Motion to Dismiss in Part will be granted and petitioner Maria Angelica Guzman Chavez will be dismissed from this civil action. In addition, respondents' Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied, petitioners' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted, and respondents will be directed to provide petitioners with individualized bond hearings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioners Maria Angelica Guzman Chavez ("Guzman Chavez"), Jose Alfonso Serrano Colocho ("Serrano Colocho"), Danis Faustino Castro Castro ("Castro Castro"), and Cristian Flores Romero ("Flores Romero") (collectively, "petitioners")[1] are currently detained under the authority of respondents Mary Yvonne Evans ("Evans"), the Field Office Director of the Washington Field Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE"); Thomas D. Homan ("Homan"), the Acting Director of ICE; Brenda Cook ("Cook"), the Court Administrator of the Executive Office for Immigration Review ("EOIR"), Baltimore Immigration Court; and Jefferson B. Sessions III ("Sessions"), the Attorney General of the United States (collectively, "respondents").[2] In this action, petitioners seek a writ of habeas corpus (Count 1) and a declaratory judgment (Count 2) stating that petitioners are detained under 8 U.S.C. § 1226(a), not 8 U.S.C. § 1231, and ordering respondents to either release petitioners or grant them bond hearings, along with miscellaneous associated relief.[3]

         The material facts in this action are clear and uncontroverted. All four petitioners are natives and citizens of either Guatemala or El Salvador. See Resp. Mem. [Dkt. No. 29] Ex. 1, at 2; id Ex. 3, at 2; Id. Ex. 4, at 2; id Ex. 5, at 1, 4. At various times between 1999 and 2013, all four entered or attempted to enter the United States without being admitted by an immigration officer. Id. Ex. 1, at 2; id Ex. 3, at 2; id Ex. 4, at 2; id Ex. 5, at 3, 6. All were arrested and placed in removal proceedings, ordered removed, and removed to their native countries. Id. Ex. 1, at 2; id Ex. 3, at 2; id Ex. 4, at 2; Id. Ex. 5, at 5, 6. After removal, all four reentered the United States without receiving permission from the appropriate authorities, and their removal orders were reinstated. Id. Ex. 1, at 2-3; id Ex. 3, at 3; Id. Ex. 4, at 2-3; id Ex. 5, at 7.[4] Each petitioner expressed a fear of removal back to his or her home country and was referred to a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") officer for a reasonable fear interview. Id. Ex. 1, at 3; Id. Ex. 3, at 3; id Ex. 4, at 2-3; id Ex. 5, at 7. In each case, the USCIS asylum officer determined that the petitioner expressed a reasonable fear of persecution or torture and referred the matter to the Immigration Court, which is conducting withholding-only proceedings. Id. Ex. 1, at 3-4; id Ex. 3, at 3; id Ex. 4, at 2-3; Id. Ex. 5, at 7, 9-10. Each petitioner remains detained pending resolution of those proceedings. Id. Ex. 1, at 3-4; Id. Ex. 3, at 3; id Ex. 4, at 2-3; id Ex. 5, at7.[5]

         Flores Romero originally brought a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, naming Evans and the EOIR as respondents. [Dkt. No. 1], but later filed an amended petition adding the other petitioners and new respondents, dropping the EOIR as a respondent, and including class action claims [Dkt. No. 5]. The core argument in the habeas petition is that petitioners are detained under 28 U.S.C. § 1226(a) and, as such, are entitled to bond hearings.


         A. Standard of Review

         A party is entitled to summary judgment if the party can show "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). In general, bare allegations or assertions by the nonmoving party are not sufficient to generate a genuine dispute; instead, the nonmoving party must produce "significantly probative" evidence to avoid summary judgment. Abcor Corp. v. AM IntT, Inc., 916 F.2d 924, 929-30 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Anderson. 477 U.S. at 242). That being said, in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court should accept the evidence of the nonmovant, and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in her favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         B. Motion to Dismiss in Part for Lack of Jurisdiction

         Respondents first argue that Guzman Chavez's claims should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Resp. Mem. 13-14. According to respondents, in general the "proper respondent for a writ of habeas corpus" is the "immediate custodian" of the petitioner-the "warden of the facility where the petitioner is confined." Id. at 13 (citing Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426 (2004)). Unlike the other petitioners, Guzman Chavez was detained in Florida, not in Virginia, when this action was filed; as such, respondents argue that her claims should be dismissed because the Court lacks jurisdiction over the warden of the Florida detention facility, who is the only proper respondent. Id. at 14.

         In response, Guzman Chavez argues that the rule from Padilla should not be applied in the immigration context because "the individuals who can provide relief in a habeas petition to an immigrant detainee ... [are] the Attorney General and the Director of ICE, " not the warden of the detention facility where the petitioner is held. Guzman Chavez Opp. [Dkt. No. 34] 2. Guzman Chavez supports this argument by pointing to a circuit split on this question, which the Fourth Circuit has not addressed, and by emphasizing that, as a matter of law, the warden of a detention facility cannot order a bond hearing. See Id. at 3-7.[6] In addition, Guzman Chavez appears to argue that any concerns that a rule allowing immigrant detainees to sue the Attorney General rather than the warden would incentivize forum shopping can be limited by a set of venue rules, [7] such as requiring that the action be filed in the district where the immigration proceedings are ongoing. See Id. at 7-9.

         As both parties recognize, the seminal case addressing who constitutes a proper habeas respondent is Padilla. which involved an American citizen detained pursuant to President Bush's determination that he was an "enemy combatant." Padilla brought a habeas petition naming as respondents President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Melanie Marr ("Marr"), the Commander of the Naval Brig where Padilla was being held. See Padilla, 542 U.S. at 432. Padilla had originally been arrested in Chicago by federal agents executing a material witness warrant issued by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. See id. at 430-31. He was transferred to New York, where he was held on federal criminal charges for approximately one month before he was designated an enemy combatant, transferred to Department of Defense custody, and moved to a brig in Charleston, South Carolina. See Id. at 431-32. After he was moved to South Carolina, Padilla filed his habeas petition in the Southern District of New York. Id. at 432. The government moved to dismiss, arguing that the court did not have jurisdiction over Marr, the immediate custodian and only proper respondent. See id On that preliminary question, the district court held that Rumsfeld's "personal involvement" in Padilla's custody rendered him a proper respondent; the Second Circuit agreed, finding in addition that on the "unique" facts of the case, Rumsfeld's exercise of the "legal reality of control" over Padilla made him an appropriate respondent. Id. at 432-33.

         The Supreme Court reversed the Second Circuit after finding that Marr was the only proper respondent. According to the Court, the "question whether the Southern District has jurisdiction over Padilla's habeas petition breaks down into two related subquestions. First, who is the proper respondent to that petition? And second, does the Southern District have jurisdiction over him or her?" Id. at 434. The Court addressed each question in turn.

         Beginning with the first question-the proper respondent-the Court started its analysis with the text of the habeas statute, which "straightforwardly provides that the proper respondent" is "the person who has custody over" the petitioner. Id. at 434 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2242). The statute's "consistent use of the definite article" suggested to the Court that "there is generally only one proper respondent" for a given petitioner and that this proper respondent is the person "with the ability to produce the prisoner's body before the habeas court." Id. at 434-35. As the Court explained, this language provides the basis for the general rule that has been "confirm[ed]" by "longstanding practice": "[I]n habeas challenges to present physical confinement-'core challenges'-the default rule is that the proper respondent is the warden of the facility where the prisoner is being held, not the Attorney General or some other remote supervisory official." Id. at 435.[8]

         Padilla relied on three cases-Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court, 410 U.S. 484 (1973); Strait v. Laird. 406 U.S. 341 (1972); and Ex parte Endo. 323 U.S. 283 (1944)-to argue that there should be an exception to this general rule that would enable prisoners who are not detained under criminal charges to sue the individual with legal, rather than physical, control over the prisoner. The Court rejected that reliance by pointing out that the petitioners in Braden and Strait were not challenging their immediate physical custody; therefore, "the immediate custodian rule did not apply because there was no immediate physical custodian with respect to the 'custody' being challenged." Padilla. 542 U.S. at 439.[9] Moreover, the Court determined Endo to be inapplicable, as it read that case to stand for "the important but limited proposition" that if the government moves a habeas petitioner after the petition is properly filed, the district court retains jurisdiction over the petition. Id. at 441. The Court held that none of those cases established a broad exception to the general rule governing habeas petitions that, like Padilla's, challenged the petitioner's present physical confinement. Id. at 441-42.

         Having determined that Marr was the proper respondent, the Padilla Court moved on to the second question: whether the district court had jurisdiction over Marr. See Id. at 442.[10] The Court first observed that the longstanding interpretation of habeas jurisdiction was that jurisdiction was available only in the district of confinement, an interpretation supported by various provisions of the habeas statutes and implicitly confirmed by Congress. See Id. at 442-43. Then, the Court rejected Padilla's argument that Braden and Strait stand for the proposition that "jurisdiction will lie in any district in which the respondent is amenable to service of process." Id. at 443. As the Court explained, the Braden petitioner, who was detained in Alabama, was challenging his future confinement in Kentucky and he sued the future custodian in the Western District of Kentucky, where that custodian was located. Id. at 444-45. The Court held that the Western District had jurisdiction because the custodian was properly served "in that district." Id. at 445 (quoting Braden, 410 U.S. at 500). According to the Padilla Court, this decision "does not derogate from the traditional district of confinement rule for core habeas petitions challenging present physical custody" and, in fact, Braden cites favorably to a case "squarely holding that the custodian's absence from the territorial jurisdiction of the district court is fatal to habeas jurisdiction." Id. at 445.

         In Strait, the petitioner was an Army reserve officer who was physically located in California. Id. He brought a habeas action against the commanding officer of the Army records center, who was located in Indiana, asking the court to require the Army to process his discharge as a conscientious objector. Id. The respondent objected to the filing of the action in California, as he was not physically present in that state. See id As the Padilla Court explained, the Strait Court was confined by the then-existing Ahrens rule, which "required that both the petitioner and his custodian be present" in the district of suit. Id. at 446. To fit Strait's habeas petition into the confines of this rule, the Strait Court "invoke[d] concepts of personal jurisdiction to hold that the custodian was 'present' in California through the actions of his agents." Id. Because the Padilla Court had already held that Marr was the proper respondent and both Marr and Padilla were physically present in South Carolina, the Court found "no occasion" to engage in designation of nominal custodians or other such work-arounds. Id.

         Therefore, the Court held that the "proviso that district courts may issue the writ only 'within their respective jurisdictions' forms an important corollary to the immediate custodian rule in challenges to present physical custody under § 2241" and the two rules together "compose a simple rule": "Whenever a § 2241 habeas petitioner seeks to challenge his present physical custody within the United States, he should name his warden as respondent and file the petition in the district of confinement." Id. at 447.

         Although Padilla has some initial force, ultimately it fails to account for a key difference between this action and Padilla. In Padilla, the petitioner was challenging his physical detention. Although the Secretary of Defense exercised legal control over that detention and would have been able to order Padilla's release, the commander of the brig where Padilla was held also exercised control over his detention and could release him. Therefore, the Padilla Court's holding is more properly viewed as applying to situations where there are multiple officials- some lower-level, such as the warden, and some higher-level, such as the Secretary of Defense- in the chain of custody, all of whom have the capacity to order the requested relief: the release of the prisoner. In such a context, Padilla holds that the petitioner cannot have his pick of officials to sue; instead, he must sue his immediate custodian.

         The present action does not fit into this context. Although there are a variety of officials-including the Attorney General and the warden of the Florida facility-who could order Guzman Chavez's release, she is not actually seeking release. Instead, she is seeking an individualized bond hearing, relief which the warden is unable to provide. Therefore, forcing her to sue the warden would be an act of futility. Even if she won a judgment requiring that a bond hearing be held, the warden would not have any ability to provide the relief obtained. Guzman Chavez Opp. 4. The more logical rule is that an immigrant habeas petitioner must sue the warden if and only if the warden can provide the requested relief. If the warden is unable to provide the relief, the immigrant detainee may name as respondent any official who is legally authorized to provide the relief requested.[11]

         In addition to conforming to the underlying logic of Padilla. this result accords with the conclusion reached by the one in-circuit district court opinion to have fully considered the question. See Jarpa v. Mumford. 211 F.Supp.3d 706 (D. Md. 2016) (Xinis, J.), appeal filed. No. 16-7665 (4th Cir. Dec. 2, 2016). In Jarpa, the petitioner named as respondents both the warden of the facility where he was detained as well as various higher-level officials, including the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General. Id. at 708. The government moved to dismiss all of the respondents except the warden, citing the immediate custodian rule. Id. at 723. The court declined to apply the immediate custodian rule and dismiss the higher-level officials because "the relief sought can only practically be delivered by the head of the agency in charge of interpreting and executing the immigration laws, " Id. at 724; however, because the petitioner sued the warden along with the higher-level officials, the court did not have to decide whether a petitioner can properly name only higher-level officials and not the appropriate warden.[12]

         The second question identified in Padilla-whether the Court has jurisdiction over the appropriate respondent(s)-involves determining whether the court should use traditional "service of process" principles to analyze jurisdiction or whether, as in Padilla, a more limited locational analysis is appropriate. If the former, the Court has jurisdiction over respondents. If the latter, the Court likely does not have jurisdiction over respondents, as neither Guzman Chavez nor any proper respondent is apparently located in this district.[13] Based on the principles laid out in PadiUa, a locational analysis is appropriate: the Padilla Court explicitly rejected the "service of process" test and all of the cases it cites involved petitions filed in districts with some locational nexus to the petitioner or a respondent. The hard question presented in some of those cases arises when the proper respondent and the petitioner are located in different districts, as in Braden and Strait; however, even in those cases, the courts have limited themselves to finding jurisdiction appropriate either where the petitioner resides (in Strait) or where the respondent is ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.