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Mendez-Rodriguez v. Lowe

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 13, 2015



TIMOTHY J. SAVAGE, District Judge.

The respondents move to transfer this habeas action brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 by Miguel Angel Mendez-Rodriguez to the Middle District of Pennsylvania where he is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") pending removal. Rodriguez opposes transfer, arguing that his petition is not a "core habeas" petition subject to Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426 (2004), which held that jurisdiction lies in the district of confinement. We conclude that the Middle District has exclusive jurisdiction over the petition. Therefore, we shall grant the motion to transfer.


Miguel Angel Mendez-Rodriguez, a national and citizen of Mexico, is currently detained at the Pike County Correctional Facility in the Middle District of Pennsylvania pending his removal to Mexico or an appellate ruling reversing the order of removal. Rodriguez seeks release pending a decision or a hearing requiring the government to demonstrate that continued detention is justified.[1]

Rodriguez entered the United States in 1995 at the age of five.[2] On March 12, 2008, he became a legal permanent resident.[3] Later, he was convicted on two separate occasions in state court.[4]

Based on these convictions, ICE initiated removal proceedings on June 18, 2012.[5] On February 10, 2014, Immigration Judge Andrew Arthur ordered that Rodriguez is removable because he had been convicted of two separate crimes involving moral turpitude pursuant to Section 237(a)(2)(A)(i)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA.")[6] The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the removal order on March 11, 2014. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay on August 13, 2014, pending its ruling in Mahn v. Attorney General, and its application to Rodriguez's case.[7] Although the Third Circuit has decided the Mahn case, it has not yet ruled on Rodriguez's case.[8]

Rodriguez filed his petition for a writ of habeas corpus in this court on October 16, 2014. In his petition, he contends that, in light of the Mahn ruling, his continued detention is "manifestly unjust" and violates his rights under the INA, the Fifth and Eighth Amendments, and international law.[9] On December 5, 2014, the government moved to transfer the petition to the Middle District of Pennsylvania.[10]


In Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426 (2004), the Supreme Court held that the proper defendant in core habeas proceedings is the warden of the facility where the prisoner is held, and jurisdiction lies only in the district of confinement. Id. at 443, 446-47; Yakubova v. Gonzalez, Civ. A. No. 06-4184, 2006 WL 3407988, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 24, 2006) (interpreting Rumsfeld v. Padilla ). There are no exceptions to these rules, even when "exceptional, special or unusual" circumstances exist. Padilla, 542 U.S. at 448-50.

A core habeas petition is one where the petitioner challenges his present physical custody. Padilla, 542 U.S. at 435. A habeas corpus petition is the vehicle a prisoner may use to challenge the execution of his sentence or validity of his confinement. Leamer v. Fauver, 288 F.3d 532, 542 (3d Cir. 2002); Jennings v. Holt, 326 F.Appx. 628, 630 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Padilla, 542 U.S. at 443). A petition that does not relate to either is not a core habeas claim. Santos v. Ebbert, Civ. A. No. 10-1746, 2010 WL 5019061, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 23, 2010).

Rodriguez contends that Padilla does not apply because he is a detained alien. He cites Farez-Espinoza v. Chertoff, 600 F.Supp.2d 488, 492-95 (S.D.N.Y. 2009), a district court case which held that habeas proceedings involving aliens detained pending removal are not core habeas proceedings. Instead of applying the Padilla rule, the Farez-Espinoza court relied on traditional venue principles to determine whether the case should be transferred. Farez-Espinoza, 600 F.Supp.2d at 495-96. This holding, which has no precedential value, is at odds with Third Circuit precedent.

The Padilla court noted that it did not address whether its holding extended to habeas petitions filed by aliens awaiting deportation. Padilla, 542 U.S. at 435 n.8. However, the Third Circuit has held that habeas petitions filed by aliens awaiting deportation must be filed in the district of confinement. Yi v. Maugans, 24 F.3d 500, 503, 507 (3d Cir. 1994); Meyers v. Warden of Allenwood USP, 553 F.Appx. 257, 257-58 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Padilla, 542 U.S. at 443); U.S. v. Banks, 372 F.Appx. 237, 239-40 (3d Cir. 2010). Therefore, a petition seeking release from continued detention by immigration authorities is subject to the Padilla jurisdiction rule.[11]

Rodriguez also argues that Padilla is not controlling because it applies only to core habeas petitions and his is not a core habeas petition.[12] He contends that he is not only challenging his present physical confinement, but also ICE's authority to continue to detain him.[13] Invoking venue standards, he claims venue is appropriate in this district because this is where a substantial part of the events giving rise to his claim occurred and where one of the defendants, Thomas Decker, the Philadelphia Field Office Director of ICE, resides.[14]

No matter how Rodriguez characterizes his petition, it is a core habeas petition. Just as Padilla did, Rodriguez challenges his "physical custody imposed by the Executive - the traditional core of the Great Writ." Padilla, 542 U.S. at 441. Specifically citing 28 U.S.C. § 2241 as the basis for his cause of action, Rodriguez challenges his detention by ICE at the Pike County Correctional Facility.[15] His additional contention that ICE lacks authority to detain him "in any fashion" does not transform his claim into anything other than a core habeas petition.[16] Because he seeks relief pursuant to the habeas statute and challenges his present confinement, Rodriguez's claim is a core habeas petition subject to the Padilla jurisdictional rule.

The only district where jurisdiction lies in this core habeas action is the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the district where Rodriguez is confined and his custodian is located. E.g. Donahue v. Schultz, Civ. A. No. 06-3248, 2007 WL 172334, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 22, 2007). Therefore, we shall grant the respondents' motion to transfer the action to the Middle District of Pennsylvania.[17]

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