Romero v. Evans

Decision Date17 November 2017
Docket NumberNo. 1:17–cv–754 (LMB/JFA),1:17–cv–754 (LMB/JFA)
Parties Cristian Flores ROMERO, et al., Petitioners, v. Yvonne EVANS, et al., Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia

Ivan Yacub, Yacub Law Office, Woodbridge, VA, Nicholas Cooper Marritz, Legal Aid Justice Center, Falls Church, VA, Simon Yehuda Sandoval–Moshenberg, Simon Sandoval Moshenburg, Falls Church, VA, Rachel Colleen McFarland, Legal Aid Justice Center, Charlottesville, VA, Mark Alastair Stevens, Murray Osorio PLLC, Fairfax, VA, for Cristian Flores Romero, et al., Petitioners.

R. Trent McCotter, US Attorney's Office (Alexandria–NA), Alexandria, VA, for Yvonne Evans, et al., Respondents.


Leonie M. Brinkema, United States District Judge

Before the Court are petitioners' Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 24] and respondents' Motion to Dismiss in Part [Dkt. No. 27] and Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 28]. The motions have been fully briefed, oral argument has been heard, and for the reasons discussed in this Memorandum Opinion, respondents' Motion to Dismiss in Part will be granted and petitioner Maria Angelica Guzman Chavez will be dismissed from this civil action. In addition, respondents' Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied, petitioners' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted, and respondents will be directed to provide petitioners with individualized bond hearings.


Petitioners Maria Angelica Guzman Chavez ("Guzman Chavez"), Jose Alfonso Serrano Colocho ("Serrano Colocho"), Danis Faustino Castro Castro ("Castro Castro"), and Cristian Flores Romero ("Flores Romero") (collectively, "petitioners")1 are currently detained under the authority of respondents Mary Yvonne Evans ("Evans"), the Field Office Director of the Washington Field Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE"); Thomas D. Homan ("Homan"), the Acting Director of ICE; Brenda Cook ("Cook"), the Court Administrator of the Executive Office for Immigration Review ("EOIR"), Baltimore Immigration Court; and Jefferson B. Sessions III ("Sessions"), the Attorney General of the United States (collectively, "respondents").2 In this action, petitioners seek a writ of habeas corpus (Count 1) and a declaratory judgment (Count 2) stating that petitioners are detained under 8 U.S.C. § 1226(a), not 8 U.S.C. § 1231, and ordering respondents to either release petitioners or grant them bond hearings, along with miscellaneous associated relief.3

The material facts in this action are clear and uncontroverted. All four petitioners are natives and citizens of either Guatemala or El Salvador. See Resp. Mem. [Dkt. No. 29] Ex. 1, at 2; id. Ex. 3, at 2; id. Ex. 4, at 2; id. Ex. 5, at 1, 4. At various times between 1999 and 2013, all four entered or attempted to enter the United States without being admitted by an immigration officer. Id. Ex. 1, at 2; id. Ex. 3, at 2; id. Ex. 4, at 2; id. Ex. 5, at 3, 6. All were arrested and placed in removal proceedings, ordered removed, and removed to their native countries. Id. Ex. 1, at 2; id. Ex. 3, at 2; id. Ex. 4, at 2; id. Ex. 5, at 5, 6. After removal, all four reentered the United States without receiving permission from the appropriate authorities, and their removal orders were reinstated. Id. Ex. 1, at 2–3; id. Ex. 3, at 3; id. Ex. 4, at 2–3; id. Ex. 5, at 7.4 Each petitioner expressed a fear of removal back to his or her home country and was referred to a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") officer for a reasonable fear interview. Id. Ex. 1, at 3; id. Ex. 3, at 3; id. Ex. 4, at 2–3; id. Ex. 5, at 7. In each case, the USCIS asylum officer determined that the petitioner expressed a reasonable fear of persecution or torture and referred the matter to the Immigration Court, which is conducting withholding-only proceedings. Id. Ex. 1, at 3–4; id. Ex. 3, at 3; id. Ex. 4, at 2–3; id. Ex. 5, at 7, 9–10. Each petitioner remains detained pending resolution of those proceedings. Id. Ex. 1, at 3–4; id. Ex. 3, at 3; id. Ex. 4, at 2–3; id. Ex. 5, at 7.5

Flores Romero originally brought a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, naming Evans and the EOIR as respondents. [Dkt. No. 1], but later filed an amended petition adding the other petitioners and new respondents, dropping the EOIR as a respondent, and including class action claims [Dkt. No. 5]. The core argument in the habeas petition is that petitioners are detained under 28 U.S.C. § 1226(a) and, as such, are entitled to bond hearings.

A. Standard of Review

A party is entitled to summary judgment if the party can show "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In general, bare allegations or assertions by the nonmoving party are not sufficient to generate a genuine dispute; instead, the nonmoving party must produce "significantly probative" evidence to avoid summary judgment. Abcor Corp. v. AM Int'l, Inc., 916 F.2d 924, 929–30 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505 ). That being said, in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court should accept the evidence of the nonmovant, and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in her favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

B. Motion to Dismiss in Part for Lack of Jurisdiction

Respondents first argue that Guzman Chavez's claims should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Resp. Mem. 13–14. According to respondents, in general the "proper respondent for a writ of habeas corpus" is the "immediate custodian" of the petitioner—the "warden of the facility where the petitioner is confined." Id. at 13 (citing Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 124 S.Ct. 2711, 159 L.Ed.2d 513 (2004) ). Unlike the other petitioners, Guzman Chavez was detained in Florida, not in Virginia, when this action was filed; as such, respondents argue that her claims should be dismissed because the Court lacks jurisdiction over the warden of the Florida detention facility, who is the only proper respondent. Id. at 14.

In response, Guzman Chavez argues that the rule from Padilla should not be applied in the immigration context because "the individuals who can provide relief in a habeas petition to an immigrant detainee ... [are] the Attorney General and the Director of ICE," not the warden of the detention facility where the petitioner is held. Guzman Chavez Opp. [Dkt. No. 34] 2. Guzman Chavez supports this argument by pointing to a circuit split on this question, which the Fourth Circuit has not addressed, and by emphasizing that, as a matter of law, the warden of a detention facility cannot order a bond hearing. See id. at 3–7.6 In addition, Guzman Chavez appears to argue that any concerns that a rule allowing immigrant detainees to sue the Attorney General rather than the warden would incentivize forum shopping can be limited by a set of venue rules,7 such as requiring that the action be filed in the district where the immigration proceedings are ongoing. See id. at 7–9.

As both parties recognize, the seminal case addressing who constitutes a proper habeas respondent is Padilla, which involved an American citizen detained pursuant to President Bush's determination that he was an "enemy combatant." Padilla brought a habeas petition naming as respondents President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Melanie Marr ("Marr"), the Commander of the Naval Brig where Padilla was being held. See Padilla, 542 U.S. at 432, 124 S.Ct. 2711. Padilla had originally been arrested in Chicago by federal agents executing a material witness warrant issued by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. See id. at 430–31, 124 S.Ct. 2711. He was transferred to New York, where he was held on federal criminal charges for approximately one month before he was designated an enemy combatant, transferred to Department of Defense custody, and moved to a brig in Charleston, South Carolina. See id. at 431–32, 124 S.Ct. 2711. After he was moved to South Carolina, Padilla filed his habeas petition in the Southern District of New York. Id. at 432, 124 S.Ct. 2711. The government moved to dismiss, arguing that the court did not have jurisdiction over Marr, the immediate custodian and only proper respondent. See id. On that preliminary question, the district court held that Rumsfeld's "personal involvement" in Padilla's custody rendered him a proper respondent; the Second Circuit agreed, finding in addition that on the "unique" facts of the case, Rumsfeld's exercise of the "legal reality of control" over Padilla made him an appropriate respondent. Id. at 432–33, 124 S.Ct. 2711.

The Supreme Court reversed the Second Circuit after finding that Marr was the only proper respondent. According to the Court, the "question whether the Southern District has jurisdiction over Padilla's habeas petition breaks down into two related subquestions. First, who is the proper respondent to that petition? And second, does the Southern District have jurisdiction over him or her?" Id. at 434, 124 S.Ct. 2711. The Court addressed each question in turn.

Beginning with the first question—the proper respondent—the Court started its analysis with the text of the habeas statute, which "straightforwardly provides that the proper respondent" is "the person who has custody over" the petitioner. Id. at 434, 124 S.Ct. 2711 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2242 ). The statute's "consistent use of the definite article" suggested to the Court that "there is generally only one proper respondent" for a given petitioner and that this proper respondent is the person "with the ability to produce the prisoner's body before...

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  • Guzman Chavez v. Hott, 18-6086
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • October 10, 2019 from having that order executed to a particular country by initiating a withholding-only proceeding." Romero v. Evans , 280 F. Supp. 3d 835, 843 (E.D. Va. 2017) ; see Fernandez-Vargas v. Gonzales , 548 U.S. 30, 35 n.4, 126 S.Ct. 2422, 165 L.Ed.2d 323 (2006) ("[E]ven an alien subj......
  • Fernando-Mateo v. Prim
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • December 2, 2020
    ...suchfears, such statements trigger a screening process to determine whether the alien may apply for withholding of removal. See Romero, 280 F. Supp. 3d at 844. As part of this process, the alien first must appear before a DHS officer for a reasonable-fear determination. 8 C.F.R. § 208.31(b)......
  • Martinez v. Larose
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • July 27, 2020
    ...that problematic because "it is obvious that withholding-only proceedings take substantially longer than 90 days," Romero v. Evans , 280 F. Supp. 3d 835, 847 (E.D. Va. 2017), and did not believe that Congress intended § 1231(a)(6), the provision allowing detention beyond the removal period,......
  • Johnson v. Chavez
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • June 29, 2021
    ...the District Court entered summary judgment in favor of respondents, concluding that § 1226 governs their detention. See Romero v. Evans , 280 F.Supp.3d 835, 849 (2017) ; Diaz v. Hott , 297 F.Supp.3d 618, 623, 628 (2018). The Government appealed both decisions, and the Fourth Circuit affirm......
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