406 U.S. 341 (1972), 71-83, Strait v. Laird

Docket Nº:No. 71-83
Citation:406 U.S. 341, 92 S.Ct. 1693, 32 L.Ed.2d 141
Party Name:Strait v. Laird
Case Date:May 22, 1972
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 341

406 U.S. 341 (1972)

92 S.Ct. 1693, 32 L.Ed.2d 141




No. 71-83

United States Supreme Court

May 22, 1972

Argued March 22, 1972




District Court for the Northern District of California has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(1) to hear and determine the habeas corpus application of petitioner, who was on unattached, inactive Army reserve duty while domiciled in California, where military authorities processed his application for conscientious objector discharge, though he was under the nominal command of the commanding officer of the Reserve Officer Components Personnel Center in Indiana. Schlanger v. Seamans, 401 U.S. 487, distinguished. Pp. 342-346.

445 F.2d 843, reversed.

DOUGLAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in Part I of which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN and POWELL, JJ., joined, post, p. 346.

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner is an Army Reserve officer not on active duty. His active duty obligations were deferred while

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he went to law school after graduating from college. During the period of deferment and at the time this action was commenced, his military records were kept at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. His nominal commanding officer was the Commanding Officer of the Reserve Officer Components Personnel Center at Fort Benjamin Harrison. Petitioner was, however, at all times domiciled in California, and was never in Indiana or assigned there. On finishing law school, he took the California Bar examination, and, on March 5, 1970, he was ordered to report for active duty at Fort Gordon, Georgia, beginning April 13, 1970. Before that time, however, he had filed an application for discharge as a conscientious objector. That application was processed at Fort Ord, California, where hearings were held. Fort Ord recommended his discharge, and review of that recommendation was had in Indiana. The result was disapproval of the application.

Petitioner thereupon filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in California. The District Court denied a motion to dismiss, holding that it had jurisdiction (3 S.S.L.R. 3152), but ruled against petitioner on the merits. On appeal, the Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court as to jurisdiction, but disagreed with it on the merits and granted the writ. 3 S.S.L.R. 3784. Shortly thereafter, our decision in Schlanger v. Seamans, 401 U.S. 487, was announced. Thereupon, the Court of Appeals granted a petition for rehearing and dismissed the action, holding that the District Court had no jurisdiction under the habeas corpus statutes. 445 F.2d 843. The case is here on a petition for certiorari, which we granted. We reverse the judgment below.

In Schlanger, the serviceman -- on active duty in the Air Force -- was studying in Arizona on assignment from Ohio. There was no officer in Arizona who was his

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custodian or one in his chain of command, or one to whom he was to report. While the Habeas Corpus Act extends to those "in custody under or by color of the authority of the United States," 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c) (1), we held in Schlanger that the presence of the "custodian" within the territorial jurisdiction of the District Court was a sinequa non. In Schlanger, the only "custodian" of the serviceman was in Moody AFB, Georgia. While there were army officers in Arizona, there was none to whom the serviceman was reporting and none who was supervising his work there, though he was on active duty. Moreover, the serviceman in that case was in Arizona only temporarily for an educational project.

In the present case, California is Strait's home. He was commissioned in California. Up to the controversy in the present case, he was on reserve duty, never on active duty, and, while he had gone east for graduate work in law, California had always been his home. Fort Ord in California was where his application for conscientious objector discharge was processed, and where hearings were held. It was in California where he had had his only meaningful contact with the Army, and his superiors there recommended his discharge as a conscientious objector.

Thus, the contention in the dissent that we "abandon Schlanger" by the approach we take today is incorrect. Sergeant Schlanger was on permissive temporary duty. While his stay in Arizona was thus not charged to his leave time, it was primarily for his own benefit,1 he paid

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his own expenses, and he was as much on his own as any serviceman on leave. We held in Schlanger that, while an active duty serviceman in such a status light be in military "custody," see Donigian v. Laird, 308 F.Supp. 449 (Md.1969), his custodian may not be deemed present wherever the serviceman has persuaded the service to let him go. The jurisdictional defect in Schlanger, however, was not merely the physical absence of the Commander of Moody AFB from the District of Arizona, but the total lack of formal contacts between Schlanger and the military in that district.

Strait's situation is far different. His nominal custodian, unlike Schlanger's, has enlisted the aid and directed the activities of armed forces personnel in California in his dealings with Strait. Indeed, in the course of Strait's enlistment, virtually every face-to-face contact between him and the military has taken place in California. In the face of this record, to say that Strait's custodian is amenable to process only in Indiana -- or wherever the Army chooses to locate its recordkeeping center, see n. 3, infra -- would be to exalt fiction over reality.

In a closely parallel case, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that an unattached reserve officer who lived in New York and whose application for discharge as a conscientious objector was processed in New York could properly file for habeas corpus in New York, even though the commanding officer of the reservists was in Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. Arlen v. Laird, 451 F.2d 684. The court held that the only contacts the serviceman had had with his commanding officer were through the officers he dealt with in New York. Those contacts, it concluded, were sufficient to give the

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commanding officer "presence" in New York. It concluded:

Quite unlike a commanding officer who is responsible for the day to day control of his subordinates, the commanding officer of the Center is the head of a basically administrative organization that merely keeps the records of unattached reservists. To give the commanding officer of the Center "custody" of the thousands of reservists throughout the United States, and to hold at the same time that the commanding officer is present for habeas corpus purposes only within one small geographical area, is to ignore reality.

Id. at 687.

We agree with that view. Strait's commanding officer is "present" in California through the officers in the hierarchy of the command who processed this serviceman's application for discharge.2 To require him to go to Indiana, where he never has been or assigned to be, would entail needless expense and inconvenience. It "would result in a...

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