When a prisoner files a habeas corpus petition in federal court, he must first determine the court where the petition must be filed and then who the “respondent” will be. Typically the federal district court nearest the prison is the proper venue, and the person having custody of the prisoner (usually the warden) is the respondent. The Supreme Court has held as much in Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426 (2004).
But what happens when that prisoner gets transferred to another prison outside the district court’s geographical jurisdiction while the habeas petition is pending? Does the petition get transferred to the district court in the new federal jurisdiction, or does the case stay right where it all started in the original court? That was the question before the court in In re Hall, 988 F.3d 376 (7th Cir. 2021).
The Original Habeas Court Retained Jurisdiction
Kevin Hall, a federal prisoner who filed a classic habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. sec. 2241 invoking the “savings clause” of 28 U.S.C. sec. 2255(e) in the Southern Dist. of Indiana (SD Ind.), was moved to a federal prison in the Southern Dist. of Florida (SD Fla.). Thinking it had lost subject-matter jurisdiction over the case because Hall was transferred out of its district, meaning it lost the ability to decide the case, the SD Ind. transferred Hall’s petition to the SD Fla. district court.
Hall didn’t want his petition tranferred to the SD Fla. court because the courts in the Eleventh Circuit, where the SD Fla. sits, does not recognize the “savings clause” but in exceptionally rare circumstances. See McCarthan v. Dir. Goodwill Indus., 851 F.3d 1076 (11th Cir. 2017) (ena banc). Halls case was not one of those rare ones to fit that bill, but it would have been in the Seventh Circuit, where the SD Ind. sits. So, he filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for a writ of mandamus, requesting an order to the SD Id. to rescind its tranfer order and take the case back from the SD Fla. The court agreed and explained that Padilla dealt only with the proper “venue” for an intially-filed habeas petitoin, and not with continuing jurisdiction over that petition after a prisoner is transferred out of district.
Instead, the Court said that the Supreme Court’s decision in Ex parte Endo, 323 U.S. 283 (1944), answered the question Hall’s case presented. The Supreme Court held in that the transfer of a habeas petition to another federal district did not divest the original court of jurisdiction over the case, as long as the court still “may direct the writ [of habeas corpus] to any respondent within its jurisdiction who has legal authority to effectuate the prisoner’s release.” Because the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) still had custody of Hall and could “effectuate” his release if the petition were granted, the SD Ind. retained jurisdiction under Endo‘s reasoning, the Court concluded.
The remedy for an erroneous transfer of a habeas petition is very particular and must be followed exactly in order for a prisoner to have any chance of having his habeas case heard in the best forum. When a district court erroneously transfers a habeas petition, like in Hall’s case, the petitioner must immediately file for a writ of mandamus in the court of appeals over the original court that transferred the petitioner.