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GAFFNEY-BEY v. FEDERAL BUR. OF PRISONS

January 15, 1987

Keith E. Gaffney-Bey, Plaintiff,
v.
Federal Bureau of Prisons, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

 Plaintiff was convicted of a variety of offenses under the District of Columbia Code. He was originally incarcerated in the District of Columbia Correctional Facility in Lorton, Virginia, and was transferred first to the federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana, and then to the penitenitary at Marion, Illinois, where he is now imprisoned. In this suit, plaintiff charges that his transfer from Lorton Reformatory to the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, was unlawful in that he did not receive a pre-transfer hearing. He has also filed a habeas corpus claim, alleging that his life is endangered in the federal prison system and asking for immediate return to Lorton.

 Before the Court is defendants' motion for dismissal of plaintiff's due process claim and for transfer of the remaining habeas corpus claim to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. The Court has had the benefit of oral argument on these questions and has also carefully considered the motion and the memoranda of law filed by both parties. In consequence, the Court must grant defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's due process claim and must also grant defendants' motion for change of venue.

 BECAUSE PLAINTIFF'S TRANSFER TO THE FEDERAL PRISON SYSTEM MET ALL LEGAL REQUIREMENTS, THE COURT MUST DISMISS HIS DUE PROCESS CLAIM.

 Plaintiff argues that his incarceration within the federal prison system is unlawful because he was transferred from the District of Columbia without a hearing. In essence, plaintiff claims that he was denied due process of law when he was not given a pre-transfer administrative hearing. This claim is without legal foundation.

 The Supreme Court has found that, where state law gives transferring officials full discretion to transfer a prisoner from one prison system to another, that official may act "for whatever reason or for no reason at all." Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 243, 75 L. Ed. 2d 813, 103 S. Ct. 1741 (1983). The Court clearly stated that no liberty interest was implicated in such a transfer. Id. at 248-51.

 Because the laws of the District of Columbia "explicitly commit prison transfer decisions to the discretion of the Attorney General," those convicted under the District of Columbia Code are not entitled to an administrative hearing before transfer from Lorton to federal custody. Smith v. Saxbe, 183 U.S. App. D.C. 210, 562 F.2d 729, 735 (D.C. Cir. 1977). The plaintiff in Smith, like plaintiff Gaffney-Bey, was convicted solely of offenses under the District of Columbia Code. Thus, there is no basis for distinguishing Smith from plaintiff's situation. As a result, the Court must grant defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's due process claim.

 THE COURT MUST TRANSFER THIS CASE TO THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS.

 Defendant has moved to transfer plaintiff's remaining habeas corpus claim to the Southern District of Illinois, the judicial district in which plaintiff now resides. Plaintiff has advanced several arguments against transfer. He stresses his special relationship with counsel, who has long represented plaintiff's family and who is representing plaintiff for a minimal fee. Moreover, plaintiff argues that his life is in danger in the federal correctional system and, in consequence, he would be harmed by any delay in consideration of his habeas corpus petition.

 Plaintiff's arguments cannot overcome settled law. Petitions for habeas corpus are properly brought only in the jurisdiction in which the plaintiff's custodian may be found. Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court, 410 U.S. 484, 495, 35 L. Ed. 2d 443, 93 S. Ct. 1123 (1973); In re United States Parole Commission, 253 U.S. App. D.C. 267, 793 F.2d 338, 341 (D.C. Cir. 1986); Starnes v. McGuire, 168 U.S. App. D.C. 4, 512 F.2d 918, 932 (D.C. Cir. 1974). That "custodian" is not the Federal Bureau of Prisons but the warden of the particular facility in which the petitioner is incarcerated. Guerra v. Meese, 252 U.S. App. D.C. 1, 786 F.2d 414, 416-17 (D.C. Cir. 1986). As such, the Southern District of Illinois, not this Court, is the proper forum for plaintiff's action.

 Even if it were possible for the Court to view plaintiff's suit as a form of action other than a habeas corpus petition, transfer to the Southern District of Illinois would be proper. Plaintiff argues against transfer by claiming that the general principles governing change of venue under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1404(a) value plaintiff's choice of forum and the convenience of parties and witnesses highly and demand no change of venue in this case. While these arguments may be correct with respect to other types of cases, this Circuit has adopted a different rule for evaluating the transfer of cases brought by prisoners incarcerated elsewhere.

 Although more than a decade old, the leading case in this Circuit remains Starnes v. McGuire. 168 U.S. App. D.C. 4, 512 F.2d 918 (D.C. Cir. 1974) (en banc). Starnes explicitly states that the proper question with respect to the transfer of prisoner cases is not the convenience of the parties but "whether any compelling reason requires the matter to be litigated here. If no such reason appears, transfer of the case to the district of confinement would be in order." Id. at 923.

 Plaintiff suggests that his good relationship with counsel is such a compelling reason. The Court has no wish to interrupt that relationship; indeed, the Court would like to express its gratitude to plaintiff's counsel for his decision to forgo his ordinary fees and undertake this case. But convenience of counsel is only one factor that the Court must consider. Under Starnes, the Court must also consider the difficulty of transferring the prisoner to the District of Columbia, the availability of witnesses and files, and the speed of final resolution. Id. at 929-32. In the case at bar, these factors dictate transfer of this action to the Southern District of Illinois, and plaintiff has not provided "compelling" justifications that mitigate against them.


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