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WONG v. WARDEN

April 9, 1998

CHEONG WAI WONG, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, FCI RAYBROOK, Respondent.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HURD

 Cheong Wai Wong ("Wong" or "petitioner") filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus on April 2, 1996, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Wong alleges that he was denied a transfer to Canada on the basis of his race and national origin, in retaliation for exercise of constitutional rights, and that the denial was arbitrary, capricious and whimsical, in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Respondent denies that the decision regarding Wong's transfer was based upon his race and national origin, or that it was retaliatory. Respondent further argues that review is precluded by the Administrative Procedure Act and that Wong has no protected liberty interest in a discretionary transfer.

 I. BACKGROUND

 On June 6, 1991, Wong was sentenced to 19 years and 6 months (235 months) incarceration after being found guilty of conspiracy to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Wong's base offense level of 36 was increased by two for obstruction of justice. His offense involved approximately 85 pounds of heroin. Wong is currently serving his sentence in the Federal Correctional Institution at Ray Brook, New York ("Ray Brook").

 Wong, who ancestry is Chinese, is a citizen of both Hong Kong and Canada. On September 18, 1992, Wong submitted an Application for Transfer to Canada. See Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, Mar. 21, 1983, T.I.A.S. No. 10824, 22 I.L.M. 530 (entered into force July 1, 1985)(hereinafter "Convention on Transfer"). The Solicitor General of Canada approved Wong's application on November 4, 1994, and formally requested his transfer. On March 22, 1995, the United States Department of Justice denied the transfer request.

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. Convention on Transfer

 The Convention on Transfer provides for transfer of sentenced persons to the countries of their citizenship in order to "further the ends of justice and the social rehabilitation of sentenced persons." Both the transferor state and the transferee state must approve the transfer. See Convention on Transfer Art. 3. Congress has authorized the Attorney General to transfer sentenced persons to the foreign country of which they are citizens or nationals. 18 U.S.C. § 4102(3). The Attorney General may delegate this authority to the Department of Justice, § 4102(11), and has done so, 28 C.F.R. §§ 0.64-2, 0.96b. Regulations governing international transfers prohibit transfer in certain specified circumstances, inapplicable here, but otherwise direct review and determination of the appropriateness of transfer without providing guidelines for such determination. See 28 C.F.R. §§ 0.64.2, 527.40-.44; Bagguley v. Bush, 293 U.S. App. D.C. 264, 953 F.2d 660, 662 (D.C. Cir. 1991)(transfer decision under treaty discretionary), cert. denied, 503 U.S. 995, 118 L. Ed. 2d 408, 112 S. Ct. 1698 (1992); Scalise v. Thornburgh, 891 F.2d 640, 649 (7th Cir. 1989)(same), cert. denied, 494 U.S. 1083, 108 L. Ed. 2d 945, 110 S. Ct. 1815 (1990).

 B. Propriety of Review--Administrative Procedure Act

 Respondent argues that the appropriate section of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701 (a)(2), precludes judicial review of a discretionary agency final decision, such as denial of a transfer request. While § 701(a)(2) does preclude judicial review of discretionary agency decisions, respondent's argument must fail because petitioner's claim is grounded in the constitution. When the allegation is of a constitutional violation, judicial review is available despite the general preclusion from review of discretionary decisions. Webster v. Doe, 486 U.S. 592, 603-05, 100 L. Ed. 2d 632, 108 S. Ct. 2047 (1988)(colorable claim that discretionary agency decision violated the Constitution is reviewable by district court despite § 701 of the Administrative Procedure Act); Argabright v. United States, 35 F.3d 472, 476 (9th Cir. 1994)(citing Horton Homes, Inc. v. United States, 936 F.2d 548, 554 (11th Cir. 1991)); see also Buckeye Cablevision, Inc. v. United States, 438 F.2d 948, 951-52 (6th Cir. 1971 )(court reviews constitutional challenge to final, nonreviewable agency decision); cf. Brawer v. Levi, 435 F. Supp. 534, 537-38 (S.D.N.Y. 1977)(if pro se complaint, styled as an action for review of agency decision under the Administrative Procedure Act, were read liberally to be an action under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, court could reach constitutional question; however, as a Bivens suit for constitutional deprivation it must be dismissed based upon prosecutorial immunity). Accordingly, the decision denying Wong's transfer request is reviewable to determine if the decision was based upon unconstitutional grounds.

 C. Liberty Interest Protected by Due Process

 Respondent argues that there could be no due process violation because petitioner has no liberty interest in transfer pursuant to the Convention on Transfer due to the discretionary nature of the transfer decision. Ordinarily where a decision is discretionary, it is held that no protected liberty interest exists. See Bagguley, 953 F.2d at 662; Scalise, 891 F.2d at 649. That is so because the liberty interest at stake is not grounded in the Constitution, but rather would have been created by the delimiting nature of statutes or regulations, see, e.g., Kentucky Dep't of Corrections v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 462, 104 L. Ed. 2d 506, 109 S. Ct. 1904 (1989); Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 249, 75 L. Ed. 2d 813, 103 S. Ct. 1741 (1983); Bagguley, 953 F.2d at 662; Scalise, 891 F.2d at 649.

 Liberty, as protected by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, is "not confined to mere freedom from bodily restraint," but "extends to the full range of conduct which the individual is free to pursue." Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497, 499, 98 L. Ed. 884, 74 S. Ct. 693 (1954). Discrimination based upon race is so unjustifiable that it violates the broad liberty interest protected by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, similar to the ...


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