Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (SP-215-01) (Hon. Eugene N. Hamilton, Motions Judge)
Before Schwelb and Glickman, Associate Judges, and King, Senior Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glickman, Associate Judge
This is one of several pending appeals from denials of habeas corpus petitions filed under D.C. Code § 16-1901 (2001) by prisoners convicted of D.C. Code offenses who are serving their sentences in state or federal institutions outside the District of Columbia and who seek to challenge decisions of the United States Parole Commission denying them parole. In some of these cases, motions judges have denied the petitions for lack of jurisdiction, while in others, such as the instant case, the judges have denied the petitions on their merits. The government argues that all such petitions should be dismissed for want of personal jurisdiction over the petitioners' custodians. We hold that the only proper respondent in a habeas corpus action brought by an incarcerated petitioner is the petitioner's custodian. Usually, and in this case, that custodian is the warden of the institution in which the prisoner is incarcerated. Because the Superior Court did not have personal jurisdiction over Taylor's custodian, we remand for that court to dismiss Taylor's petition without reaching the merits.
Appellant Allen R. Taylor has been incarcerated since his 1976 conviction for first degree murder and related crimes. In January 2001, seeking his immediate release on parole, Taylor filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Taylor named as respondents Odie Washington, the Director of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections, along with the Chairman of the United States Parole Commission and the Attorney General of the United States. Although Taylor was incarcerated in the Sussex II State Prison in Waverly, Virginia, he did not name the warden of Sussex II as a respondent.
In his petition, Taylor challenged the United States Parole Commission's December 1999 decision denying him parole - a decision that came after the District of Columbia Board of Parole had denied him parole in 1995 and 1997. *fn1 Taylor contended that the Commission violated his right to due process by acting vindictively and relying on misinformation about his criminal history contained in Board of Parole records. The motions judge directed the respondents to show cause why he should not grant Taylor's petition.
In a brief submission, the District of Columbia asked the court to dismiss the petition as to the Director of the Department of Corrections because Taylor was challenging the actions of the United States Parole Commission, and the District of Columbia could not provide him any relief. The court granted the District's request. Thereafter, the federal respondents answered and asked the court to dismiss the petition for lack of personal jurisdiction over the only proper respondent, namely, the warden of Sussex II State Prison, who was Taylor's immediate custodian. In the alternative, the federal respondents asked the court to deny Taylor's petition on its merits because the Parole Commission did not abuse its discretion in denying Taylor his release on parole. The court denied the petition on the merits as to the federal defendants without addressing the jurisdictional question. In his pro se appeal, Taylor challenges both the dismissal of the District respondent and the denial on its merits of his petition as to the federal respondents.
The authority of the Superior Court to grant a writ of habeas corpus is set forth in D.C. Code § 16-1901. Although the government does not raise this point in this appeal, under the statute, the Superior Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain a habeas corpus petition directed against the federal respondents. D.C. Code § 16-1901 (b) specifies that "[p]etitions for writs directed to Federal officers and employees shall be filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia." The only remaining issue is whether Taylor properly named the Director of the D.C. Department of Corrections as a respondent. We hold that he did not because the only proper respondent in a habeas corpus action is "the officer or other person in whose custody or keeping" the petitioner is detained. D.C. Code § 16-1901 (a).
A petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenges the lawfulness of the government's asserted right to detain an individual. See Chatman-Bey v. Thornburgh, 274 U.S. App. D.C. 398, 400, 864 F.2d 804, 806 (1988). "The writ of habeas corpus does not act upon the prisoner who seeks relief, but upon the person who holds him in what is alleged to be unlawful custody." Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court, 410 U.S. 484, 494-95 (1973). "The important fact to be observed in regard to the mode of procedure upon this writ is, that it is directed to, and served upon, not the person confined, but his jailer." Id. at 495 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Thus, it is "well settled that the appropriate defendant in a habeas action is the custodian of the prisoner." Chatman-Bey, 274 U.S. App. D.C. at 404, 864 F.2d at 810. The court therefore "may not grant [habeas corpus] relief unless it has personal jurisdiction over the custodian of the prisoner." Alston v. United States, 590 A.2d 511, 515 (D.C. 1991); see also Braden, 410 U.S. at 495; Chatman-Bey, 274 U.S. App. D.C. at 404, 864 F.2d at 810.
In the habeas context, the term "custodian" ordinarily means the warden of the institution in which the petitioner is imprisoned - the person "having a day-to-day control over the prisoner" and "who can directly produce 'the body' of the petitioner" if required to do so by the court. Guerra v. Meese, 252 U.S. App. D.C. 1, 3, 786 F.2d 414, 416 (1986) (citation omitted). *fn2 In general, therefore, "only courts having jurisdiction over the warden of a penitentiary can grant a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of any of its inmates." Sanders v. Bennett, 80 U.S. App. D.C. 32, 33, 148 F.2d 19, 20 (1945); cf. Alston, 590 A.2d at 514-15 (noting that under D.C. Code § 16-1901, courts in the District of Columbia ordinarily may grant habeas corpus relief to prisoners only if they are incarcerated within the District or in the District's correctional facilities).
In some cases, courts have deemed the Director of the Department of Corrections, though he is not the warden of any institution, to be the custodian for habeas corpus purposes of prisoners incarcerated in correctional facilities that are, or were, managed by the Department of Corrections pursuant to D.C. Code § 24-211.02 (2001) - namely, the Washington Asylum and Jail in the District and, formerly, the Occoquan Workhouse and the Lorton Reformatory in Virginia. *fn3 See, e.g., Poole v. Kelly, 293 U.S. App. D.C. 329, 331 n.3, 954 F.2d 760, 762 n.3 (1992) (calling Director of the Department of Corrections thecustodian of Lorton Reformatory inmates). The statutory justification for treating the Director as the custodian of such prisoners is that the Department of Corrections is "responsible for the safekeeping, care, protection, instruction, and discipline of all persons committed to such institutions," and (subject to the approval of the Council of the District of Columbia) is authorized "to promulgate rules and regulations for the government of such institutions and to establish and conduct industries, farms, and other activities, to classify the inmates, and to provide for their proper treatment, care, rehabilitation, and reformation." D.C. Code § 24-211.02 (2001). *fn4 This justification has no application here, however. Sussex II State Prison is not a District-run facility - it is owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Unlike with District prison facilities, the Director of the D.C. Department of Corrections has no supervisory authority over the day-to-day operations of a Virginia prison such as Sussex II. Absent such authority, it is difficult to see how the Director can be considered Taylor's custodian as that term is employed in the habeas corpus context.
We appreciate that prior to the Revitalization Act the D.C. Department of Corrections may have contracted with Virginia for Taylor's placement in Sussex II pursuant to the Interstate Corrections Compact, D.C. Code § 24-1001 (2001), under which the "receiving state" (here, Virginia) acts "solely as agent for the sending state" (here, the District), which retains "jurisdiction" over the transferred inmate (here, Taylor) and may remove the inmate for any proper purpose. Id., Art. IV (a), (c). While there is authority suggesting otherwise, see Fest v. Bartee, 804 F.2d 559, 560 (9th Cir. 1986) (holding that the sending state has "constructive custody" of the transferred prisoner for habeas corpus purposes), in our view the ...