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Prather v. Gilmore

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 25, 2018

JONOTHAN E. PRATHER, Petitioner,
v.
SUPERINTENDANT ROBERT GILMORE; and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, Respondents.

          Honorable Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MAUREEN P. KELLY CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         It is respectfully recommended that the Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus By a Person In State Custody (“the Petition”) be transferred forthwith to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania because that is the District wherein Petitioner's state court conviction was obtained, and, as such, it is the more convenient forum for litigation of the underlying allegations of the Petition.

         II. REPORT

         Jonothan E. Prather (“Petitioner”) is currently incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution at Greene (“SCI-Greene”), which is located in Greene County, Pennsylvania, which is within the territorial boundaries of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. 28 U.S.C. § 118(c). In the Petition, he challenges the validity of his conviction, which was obtained in the Court of Common Pleas of Potter County, which is located within the territorial boundaries of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. ECF No. 3 ¶ 1(a). Because that conviction arose out of Potter County, the interests of justice weigh in favor of transferring this case to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

         A. Applicable Legal Principles and Discussion

         The power of this Court to grant the writ is founded upon 28 U.S.C. § 2241(a) which provides that the “[w]rits of habeas corpus may be granted by the Supreme Court, any justice thereof, the district courts and any circuit judge within their respective jurisdictions.” (emphasis added).

         At the time of the commencement of this action, Petitioner was in prison at SCI-Greene. Consequently, both the Western District and the Middle District have “jurisdiction” to entertain this petition. See 28 U.S.C. § 2241(d).[1] See also Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 443 (2004) (“§ 2241(d) provides that when a petitioner is serving a state criminal sentence in a State that contains more than one federal district, he may file a habeas petition not only ‘in the district court for the district wherein [he] is in custody, ' but also ‘in the district court for the district within which the State court was held which convicted and sentenced him'; and ‘each of such district courts shall have concurrent jurisdiction to entertain the application.'”); Dunne v. Henman, 875 F.2d 244, 248-50 (9th Cir. 1989) (“The fact that a prisoner is outside the territorial limits of a federal district court does not deprive it of subject matter jurisdiction. A district court has subject matter jurisdiction over a habeas petition alleging a violation of federal law under federal question jurisdiction.”) (citations omitted); Irving v. Breazeale, 265 F.Supp. 116, 120 n.9 (S.D.Miss. 1967) (even though petitioner was incarcerated in the Northern District of Mississippi, the Southern District of Mississippi, in which the petitioner's state trial was conducted, had jurisdiction over his habeas petition filed there), affd, 400 F.2d 231 (5th Cir. 1968). Although this Court possesses subject matter jurisdiction to entertain this Petition, it is not required to exercise such jurisdiction if the interests of justice counsel otherwise.

         1. Venue[2]

         Venue in habeas corpus related cases filed by state prisoners challenging their convictions, is proper in either the federal district in which the state conviction was obtained or the federal district in which the petitioner was incarcerated at the time of filing the habeas petition. See Walker v. Lockhart 620 F.2d 683, 684 n.1 (8th Cir. 1980) (although petitioner was confined in the Eastern District of Arkansas, he filed his habeas petition in the Western District wherein his state trial was held, the court held that “venue was properly laid in the Western District. 28 U.S.C. § 2241(d).”).

         In this case, either this Court or the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, has jurisdiction to hear this petition and venue is proper in either District. However, this Court must exercise its discretion and determine whether transferring this case to the Middle District would be “in furtherance of justice.” 28 U.S.C. § 2241(d). In performing this venue analysis, courts may rely upon traditional venue considerations. See Braden v. 30th Judicial District, 410 U.S. 484, 493 (1973); Garcia v. Pugh, 948 F.Supp. 20, 23 (E.D. Pa. 1996). These considerations include: 1) the location where the underlying material events took place; 2) the location where records and witnesses pertinent to the claim are likely to be found; 3) the convenience of the forum for the petitioner and the respondent; and 4) the familiarity of the court with the applicable laws. Roman v. Ashcroft, 162 F.Supp.2d 755, 765 (N.D. Oh. 2001).

         Application of those traditional venue considerations to the facts of this case reveals that this case should be transferred to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. First, the underlying material event, which was Petitioner's criminal trial and conviction took place in Potter County, Pennsylvania in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Second, all of the records and most of the participants are presumably located in Potter County. Third, in terms of convenience of the forum, if a hearing is held, it will be more convenient for most of the witnesses and the District Attorney of Potter County to litigate this Petition in the Middle District. Presumably, Petitioner would be temporarily transferred to a Department of Corrections facility near Potter County were a hearing to be required. Fourth, the factor of the familiarity of the court with the applicable laws is evenly balanced as both this Court and the Middle District Court are familiar with the law of Pennsylvania. Considering these four factors in the context of this action, the factors weigh heavily in favor of transferring this case to the Middle District where the state trial was held.

         Moreover, it has been the general practice of the United States District Courts in Pennsylvania to transfer habeas corpus petitions to the federal district where the Common Pleas Court is located that conducted the underlying criminal trial of the petitioner. Ortiz v. Pennsylvania, No. 3:10cv028, 2010 WL 936448, at *1 (M.D. Pa. March 15, 2010) (action transferred from the “district (where petitioner is in custody) to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (where petitioner was convicted) in keeping with agreed practice of the United States District Courts for the Middle, Eastern, and Western Districts of Pennsylvania.”); Nightingale v. Vincent, No. Civ.A. 08-95J, 2008 WL 1943427, at *2 (W.D. Pa. May 2, 2008) (“Moreover, the federal district courts in the three separate districts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania all follow the uniform practice of transferring habeas ...


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