Chatman-Bey v. Thornburgh

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Citation864 F.2d 804,274 U.S. App. D.C. 398
Docket NumberNo. 84-5901,A,CHATMAN-BE,84-5901
PartiesWiltonppellant v. Richard THORNBURGH, Attorney General of the United States, et al.
Decision Date23 December 1988

Page 804

864 F.2d 804
274 U.S.App.D.C. 398
Wilton CHATMAN-BEY, Appellant
Richard THORNBURGH, Attorney General of the United States, et al.
No. 84-5901.
United States Court of Appeals,
District of Columbia Circuit.
Argued Dec. 2, 1987.
Decided Dec. 23, 1988.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Civil Action No. 83-01140).

Wilton Chatman-Bey, pro se, was on the initial briefs for appellant.

Peter Buscemi, Washington, D.C., appointed by this court, was on the supplemental briefs for appellant.

Nathan Dodell, Washington, D.C., for appellee. Joseph E. diGenova, U.S. Atty. * , Michael W. Farrell, Thomas J. Tourish, Jr., John C. Martin and Ina Strichartz, Asst.

Page 805

U.S. Attys., Washington, D.C., were on the brief for appellee.


Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge STARR.

Concurrence in the judgment filed by Circuit Judge SPOTTSWOOD W. ROBINSON, III, with whom Circuit Judge MIKVA joins.

STARR, Circuit Judge:

We agreed to hear this case en banc to consider a recurring issue in the administration of justice in this district, namely whether a federal prisoner, incarcerated outside the jurisdictional limits of the District of Columbia, can properly maintain an action in this district challenging his or her parole eligibility date as determined by federal prison and parole officials. The issue was initially presented to us in In re United States Parole Comm'n, 793 F.2d 338, reh'g granted, 798 F.2d 1532 (D.C.Cir.1986), which was eventually dismissed as moot upon the prisoner's release on parole. Following supplemental briefing, the present case, involving a federal prisoner who had been sentenced both in federal court in Maryland and in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, was heard en banc.


The history of this litigation is described in our two earlier opinions. Chatman-Bey v. Meese, 797 F.2d 987 (D.C.Cir.1986) (Chatman-Bey II ); In re Chatman-Bey, 718 F.2d 484 (D.C.Cir.1983) (Chatman-Bey I ). To recap (and update) briefly, Chatman-Bey is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institute in Petersburg, Virginia, following a transfer from the FCI at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where the pertinent events for our purposes transpired. Shortly after his arrival at Lewisburg, Chatman-Bey was informed of his parole eligibility date by federal prison authorities. By virtue of Chatman-Bey's two convictions, prison authorities calculated his parole eligibility date to be October 1999. Chatman-Bey objected to this determination, appealing to his prison case worker at Lewisburg, the warden at Lewisburg, the Bureau of Prisons Federal Regional Director in Philadelphia, and finally the BOP General Counsel in Washington. The gravamen of Chatman-Bey's objection was that federal authorities had improperly failed to aggregate his federal and D.C. sentences for purposes of determining his parole eligibility date. Under Chatman-Bey's analysis, his eligibility date would be June 3, 1991. Unsuccessful in his administrative efforts, Chatman-Bey filed a pro se complaint in federal court in the District of Columbia. The complaint was styled as a petition for habeas corpus or mandamus.

Prior to service of the petition, the District Court transferred the case, sua sponte, to the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the district (at the time) of petitioner's incarceration. Petitioner thereupon challenged the sua sponte transfer order in this court. In Chatman-Bey I, we vacated the order and remanded the case to the District Court. Our decision was specifically predicated on the view that petitioner's action need not be brought in habeas corpus. Chatman-Bey I, 718 F.2d at 487 n. 7.

On remand, the District Court held that Chatman-Bey's claim was cognizable in either habeas or mandamus and that venue was also proper in this District. Chatman-Bey v. Smith, 594 F.Supp. 718, 721 (D.D.C.1984). The District Court went on, however, to reject petitioner's substantive claim that his parole eligibility date had been incorrectly calculated. Id. at 722-24. The case then came to us again. In Chatman-Bey II, we reversed and held that

Page 806

petitioner's parole eligibility date had been incorrectly determined. Chatman-Bey II, 797 F.2d at 993-94. In so concluding, the Chatman-Bey II panel followed the position stated and developed in In re United States Parole Comm'n, supra, that petitioner was not required to resort to habeas corpus and that venue was proper in this district. Chatman-Bey II, 797 F.2d at 990-91. Although Chatman-Bey II 's merits determination was approved by the court en banc, Chatman-Bey II, 797 F.2d at 994 n. 10, see Irons v. Diamond, 670 F.2d 265, 268 n. 11 (D.C.Cir.1981), the procedural issue whether Chatman-Bey's petition sounds in habeas and, if it does, whether jurisdiction and venue appropriately lie in the District of Columbia rather than in the district of incarceration (the Middle District of Pennsylvania) 1 was placed before the full court. This case thus presents the recurring question whether federal parole eligibility cases can properly be litigated in this jurisdiction when the federal prisoner is incarcerated at one of the approximately 40 federal prisons situated across the country, and none of which is located in the District of Columbia. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that Chatman-Bey's complaint sounds in habeas corpus and must be maintained as such. We further conclude that, because the government waived the defenses of venue and personal jurisdiction, this case was appropriately before the District Court of the District of Columbia.

Chatman-Bey styled his pro se complaint as a habeas petition or, in the alternative, a petition for mandamus. Because (for reasons that follow) habeas is an available and potentially efficacious remedy, it is clear beyond reasonable dispute that mandamus will not appropriately lie. 2 We turn, then, to an explanation of why habeas is the Congressionally ordained remedy for parole eligibility cases.


The modern history of habeas corpus is a story of steady expansion of the Great Writ beyond the more limited office that it served at common law. Justice Blackmun aptly captured the point in his concurring opinion in Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court of Kentucky, 410 U.S. 484, 93 S.Ct. 1123, 35 L.Ed.2d 443 (1973), a case that will loom large in the latter part of our analysis: "[W]e have come a long way from the traditional notions of the Great Writ. The common-law scholars of the past hardly would recognize what the [Supreme] Court has developed...." 410 U.S. at 501, 93 S.Ct. at 1133.

The essence of modern habeas corpus is to safeguard the individual against unlawful custody. As Justice Brennan put it for the Court in the watershed case of Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 438, 83 S.Ct. 822, 848, 96 L.Ed.2d 837 (1963), habeas' role is to serve "as an effective and imperative remedy for detentions contrary to fundamental law...." Habeas gets at custody or detention of an individual. Its function is to test the power of the state to deprive an individual of liberty in the most elemental sense. This ancient role is evident in the language of the habeas statute itself, deriving from the venerable Judiciary Act of 1789. The statute provides for issuance of writs on behalf of persons who are "in custody." 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241 (1982).

Page 807

In construing the federal statutes that, over the years, have codified the Great Writ, the Supreme Court has steadily eliminated many of the traditional limitations on the availability of habeas corpus. Especially germane for our purposes is the Court's emphatic rejection, in Peyton v. Rowe, 391 U.S. 54, 88 S.Ct. 1549, 20 L.Ed.2d 426 (1968), of the proposition that habeas would not lie if the relief granted would not result in the prisoner's immediate release. Habeas is broad, the Peyton Court emphasized; "the statute does not deny the federal courts power to fashion appropriate relief other than immediate release." Id. at 66, 88 S.Ct. at 1556. Looking to history, the Court went on: "Since 1874, the habeas corpus statute has directed the courts to determine the facts and dispose of the case summarily, 'as law and justice require.' " Id. at 66-67, 88 S.Ct. at 1556. Thus it was that in Peyton the habeas petitioner was permitted to maintain a challenge to a state criminal conviction even though he was serving a lengthy sentence for another, separate conviction. Habeas relief obviously would have done the prisoner no good in terms of securing his release from confinement either immediately or in the near future. Indeed, the first sentence (which the prisoner was serving and did not challenge) was enormously long (30 years). Id. at 55, 88 S.Ct. at 1550. Yet, the Supreme Court permitted the challenge to the second conviction and in the process overruled one of its prior decisions, McNally v. Hill, 293 U.S. 131, 55 S.Ct. 24, 79 L.Ed. 238 (1934), which had held that the habeas statute did not authorize attacks upon future consecutive sentences. In doing so, the Supreme Court, speaking through Justice Brennan, vindicated then-Chief Judge Haynsworth's opinion for the Fourth Circuit which had predicted High Court overruling of McNally:

Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Judge Haynsworth reasoned that this Court would no longer follow McNally, which in his view represented a "doctrinaire approach" based on an "old jurisdictional concept" which had been "thoroughly rejected by the Supreme Court in recent cases."

Peyton v. Rowe, 391 U.S. at 57, 88 S.Ct. at 1551.

Like such seminal habeas cases as Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 73 S.Ct. 397, 97 L.Ed. 469 (1953), and Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 83 S.Ct. 822, 9 L.Ed.2d 837 (1963), Peyton signaled strong High Court disapproval of formalistic analysis in the context...

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