Chapman v. Bureau of Prisons: Stopping the Venue Merry-Go-Round
96 Denver L. Rev. Online 9 (2018)
7 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2018 Last revised: 4 Mar 2019
Date Written: August 1, 2018
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is in a unique position to frustrate the federal venue statute. In contrast to most state departments of corrections, the BOP bears the unilateral power to transfer prisoners in its custody to prisons across federal judicial districts. At times, the agency exercises this power over prisoners involved in active litigation against the BOP itself. In many of these instances, once the BOP has moved the prisoner-plaintiff outside the judicial district in which the plaintiff brought his claim, the BOP seeks to transfer the claim to the prisoner’s “new” venue. Increasingly, prisoners’ rights advocates are witnessing efforts by the BOP to secure judicial sanctioning of this conduct.
This practice is problematic and should be resisted so that the BOP is not permitted to situate federal prisoners on a “venue merry-go-round” and virtually evade judicial review of claims challenging the agency’s conduct. In one such case, Chapman v. Bureau of Prisons, the BOP attempted to do just that—evade judicial review of its conduct—by moving the plaintiff from a prison in Colorado to one in Indiana. The agency then sought transfer, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), of the plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claim against it from the District of Colorado, the venue in which the plaintiff brought the claim, to the Southern District of Indiana, the venue to which the agency moved the plaintiff. The transferee court declined to sanction the practice, citing the plain language of Section 1404 and the statute’s purpose. Courts facing similar questions should reach the same conclusion.
Keywords: civil procedure, prisoners' rights, venue, bureau of prisons, transfer
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