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Tenth Circuit: No Section 2241 Jurisdiction for BOP Supermax Challenge; Claims Must be Brought as Bivens Action

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held on May 1, 2012 that a federal prisoner's transfer to supermax custody must be brought as a Bivens action rather than as a federal habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.

Jesus Hector Palma-Salazar, a Mexican citizen, was indicted on drug charges by a California federal court in December 1995.

Mexican authorities arrested Palma-Salazar in June 2002 and extradited him to the United States five years later. He pleaded guilty in February 2008 and was sentenced to 16 years in prison plus a five-year term of supervised release.

Between January 2007 and June 2008, Palma-Salazar resided in three U.S. prisons without incident. On June 18, 2008, however, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) notified him of his pending transfer to the Administrative Maximum Prison (ADX), a supermax facility in Florence, Colorado.

The notice alleged that Palma-Salazar's leadership in the Sinaloa Cartel and his previous involvement in serious cartel-related crimes created a threat to prison security.

At his June 24, 2008 transfer hearing, Palma-Salazar "claimed there was no evidence to support the allegations made in the notice." Nevertheless, the next day he received a BOP report that concluded he satisfied ADX placement criteria and recommended his transfer. The BOP's Regional Director accepted the recommendation on June 27, 2008, but Palma-Salazar did not receive notice of that decision. He was transferred to ADX almost a month later.

After Palma-Salazar's appeal of the transfer decision was denied on March 26, 2009, he filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, alleging that his ADX confinement violated the U.S. Constitution and an extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico.

The district court denied his petition, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction under § 2241 to consider his constitutional claims and holding that those claims must be brought under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). The court reached the merits of Palma-Salazar's treaty claim but held that his ADX confinement did not violate the treaty.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Palma-Salazar's § 2241 petition, concurring that "his challenge is properly construed as a challenge to the conditions of his confinement and must be brought pursuant to Bivens."

The Court of Appeals also concluded that the district court lacked jurisdiction under § 2241 to consider Palma-Salazar's treaty violation claim. "Like his [constitutional] claims, Palma-Salazar's claim that his confinement at ADX violates the extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico is properly construed as a challenge to the conditions of his confinement," the Tenth Circuit held. That claim "must be brought pursuant to Bivens." See: Palma-Salazar v. Davis, 677 F.3d 1031 (10th Cir. 2012).

Following remand, the district court dutifully dismissed Palma-Salazar's § 2241 petition for lack of jurisdiction.

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Related legal case

Palma-Salazar v. Davis