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Guo v. Napolitano

September 2, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul G. Gardephe, U.S.D.J.


Petitioner Zhen Yi Guo ("Guo") filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, et. seq., challenging his detention by the Department of Homeland Security, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE"). For the reasons set forth below, this Court does not have jurisdiction over Guo's petition, and this action will be transferred to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Because this Court lacks jurisdiction, it cannot and does not reach the merits of Guo's claims. See, e.g., Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 577 (1999) (explaining that "[w]ithout jurisdiction the court cannot proceed at all in any cause") (quotations omitted).


Guo is a native and citizen of the People's Republic of China. (Resp. Ex. B) On February 27, 1991, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service served Guo with a notice of hearing before an Immigration Judge. (Resp. Ex. A) The notice alleged that Guo was not "clearly . . . entitled" to enter the United States because he was not in possession of valid immigration documents and because he "appear[ed] to have willfully misrepresented a material fact in order to gain admission into the United States." (Id.) On January 6, 1992, Guo was ordered deported from the United States. (Resp. Exs. B, E) Guo appealed the immigration judge's decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA"), but the BIA dismissed his appeal on January 12, 1994.*fn1 (Resp. Exs. C, E)

On March 6, 2009, Guo was taken into custody at York County Prison in York, Pennsylvania. (Resp. Ex. D) On March 13, 2009, the Field Office Director of ICE requested travel documents for Guo from the Chinese Consulate in New York, stating that Guo would be scheduled for departure from the United States upon receipt of those documents. (Resp. Ex. E) On March 27, 2009, while still detained in York County Prison, Guo filed this habeas corpus petition. (Pet. ¶ 1) On April 9, 2009, Guo was transferred to the Clinton County Correctional Facility in McElhattan, Pennsylvania, where he is currently detained. (Resp. Ex. D; Resp. Br. 2)


Guo claims that he has been detained longer than the 90-day removal period provided for in Title 8, United States Code, Section 1231(a), and that his continued detention violates his Due Process rights.*fn2 (Pet. ¶¶ 13-28) Respondents contend, however, that this Court lacks jurisdiction over Guo's petition because (1) he was detained in York County Prison in York, Pennsylvania when he filed his petition, and (2) jurisdiction over the challenge to his detention therefore lies only in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. This Court agrees with Respondents that it is without jurisdiction to hear this case.

I.The Reasoning of Rumsfeld v. Padilla

As the Supreme Court noted in Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 434 (2004), the question of whether a court has jurisdiction over a habeas petition "breaks down into two related subquestions. First, who is the proper respondent to that petition? And second, does [the court] have jurisdiction over him or her?" See also Liu v. Napolitano, No. 09 Civ. 1560 (BSJ) Order dated April 14, 2009 (quoting Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 434 (2004)); Nken v. Napolitano, 607 F. Supp. 2d 149, 153 (D.D.C. 2009). As to the first question, Guo argues that the proper respondents are the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security*fn3 (Pet. Reply Br. 1), while Respondents contend "that the only proper respondent . . . is the warden of York County Prison, located in York, Pennsylvania, where [Guo] was detained at the time he filed his habeas petition." (Resp. Br. 1 n.1)

In Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426 (2004), the Supreme Court considered a habeas petition filed by an alleged al Qaeda member who was detained as an "enemy combatant" in a Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina. Padilla's detention in Charleston resulted from an order of the President to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld designating Padilla as an enemy combatant and directing that he be detained in military custody. 524 U.S. at 431-32. Padilla then filed a habeas petition in the Southern District of New York under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, naming as respondents the President, Secretary Rumsfeld, and Commander Melanie Marr, the brig's commander. The Government moved to dismiss, arguing that (1) Commander Marr was the only proper respondent, because she was Padilla's immediate custodian, and (2) the court lacked jurisdiction because Commander Marr was located outside the Southern District. Id. at 432. The Supreme Court held that because Commander Marr was Padilla's custodian she was the only proper respondent to Padilla's habeas petition, and that the Southern District had no jurisdiction over her because she was located outside the District. Id. at 442, 451.

In reaching this result, the Court began its analysis by noting that the "federal habeas statute straightforwardly provides that the proper respondent to a habeas petition is "'the person who has custody over [the petitioner],'" id. at 434 quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2242, and that the "consistent use of the definite article in reference to the custodian indicates that there is generally only one proper respondent to a given prisoner's habeas petition." Id. at 434. Quoting with approval Wales v. Whitney, 114 U.S. 564, 574 (1885), the Court further stated that the habeas statute "'contemplates a proceeding against some person who has the immediate custody of the party detained, with the power to produce the body of such party before the court or judge, that he may be liberated if no sufficient reason is shown to the contrary. Id. at 435 quoting Wales v. Whitney, 114 U.S. 564, 574 (1885) (emphasis in Padilla). In accord with the "immediate custodian rule, longstanding practice confirms that in 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.

The Court, however, "left open the question of whether the Attorney General is a proper respondent to a habeas petition filed by an alien pending deportation." Id. at 435 n.8. In declining to resolve this issue -- which was not raised in Padilla -- the Court noted that "lower courts have divided on this question, with the majority applying the immediate custodian rule and holding that the Attorney General is not a proper respondent." Id. While the Supreme Court left open the question of whether the Attorney General and other "remote supervisory official[s]," id. at 435, are proper respondents in a habeas petition filed by an alien pending deportation who is challenging his "present physical confinement" -- i.e., raising a "core challenge" -- the reasoning of Padilla appears to give strong support to the majority view, which this Court adopts in this action. See Nken, 607 F. Supp. 2d at 155 ("Supreme Court precedent strongly suggests that application of the immediate custodian rule to habeas petitions by detained aliens is appropriate").

II.The Immediate Custodian Rule Applies to a Habeas Petition Brought by a Detained Alien Awaiting Deportation Who Challenges His Confinement

As an initial matter, Guo "concede[s] that [his] petition for [a] writ of habeas corpus is a core habeas action" (Pet. Reply. Br. 1), because he is challenging only his present physical confinement and "not challeng[ing] the underlying immigration decision." Shehnaz v. Ashcroft, No. 04 Civ. 2578 (DLC), 2004 WL 2378371, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 25, 2004); see also Deng v. Garcia, 352 F. Supp. 2d 373, 375 (E.D.N.Y. 2005) (explaining that Padilla "articulated a bright-line rule governing . . . 'core habeas petitions' -- those challenging the present physical confinement of the ...

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