Preiser v. Rodriguez

LOCATION: Allegheny County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 71-1369
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 411 US 475 (1973)
ARGUED: Jan 09, 1973
DECIDED: May 07, 1973

Herman Schwartz - for respondents
Lillian Zeisel Cohen -
Lillian Z. Cohen - for petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for Preiser v. Rodriguez

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 09, 1973 in Preiser v. Rodriguez

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in 71-1369, Preiser against Rodriguez.

Mrs. Cohen, you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

Lillian Zeisel Cohen:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The question presented by these cases, is whether state prisoners complaining about the matter of their confinement should be able to obtain equitable relief under the Civil Rights Act given the applicability of the federal habeas corpus statute.

When these actions were commenced, each of the respondents was confined in a state prison.

Each was in custody pursuant to a valid state court judgment of conviction.

Each have been deprived of good-conduct-time-credits by the Department of Correction as a result of a disciplinary action of each and each immediately proceeded to the Federal District Court with a combined petition for a writ of habeas corpus and civil rights complaint.

In each case, the District Court held a hearing and granted relief on the merits rejecting the State’s argument that the actions were in the nature of habeas corpus applications.

Each of the respondents was released from physical confinement as a result of the District Court’s decision.

Individual panels of the Second Circuit heard appeals by the State taken in all three cases.

The panels which reviewed Rodriguez and Katzoff reversed the District Court on the ground that the applications were in the nature of habeas corpus petitions and there had been a failure to exhaust state court remedies.

Before Kritsky was decided, a motion to en banc Rodriguez and Katzoff was granted and Kritsky was ordered included in the en banc consideration.

Counsel were directed to brief and be prepare to argue two specific questions unrelated to the merits of these cases.

The first was the applicability of the doctrine of abstention and the second was the need to exhaust state court remedies.

After this Court’s decision in Wilwording against Swenson, the Circuit Court reversed the panel decisions in Rodriguez and Katzoff and affirmed the District Court in all three cases.

It is evident from the eight opinions that were written by the court below that until this Court decided Wilwording.

The second Circuit was evenly divided in considering this case by vote of 66 on the question of whether the claims raised should first have been presented to the state courts.

And what’s even more interesting is aside form the diverse opinion -- the division of opinion between the members of the Court is the fact that even among those who were very firm in their belief that the state should first have considered these claims.

There was no agreement as to whether exhaustion of remedies was required under the habeas corpus statute or whether exhaustion of remedy should be required under the Civil Rights Act.

Judges Friendly, Mansfield and Mulligan believe that these are all habeas corpus petitions and that the exhaustion requirement of Section 2254 is applicable.

Judges Lumbard, Moore, and Hayes believe that these might be considered as civil right actions but that in any event, despite the earlier decisions of this Court exhaustion of state judicial remedies was an order.

After Wilwording, a majority of the court below felt that they were bound to accept the inmate’s choice of remedy.

And based upon these earlier decisions of this Court, held that exhaustion of state judicial remedies was not required in these cases.

Petitioner seek reversal of the decision below on the ground that choice of remedy should not lay with the inmate as it presently does because any claim that he may raise regarding the legality of his custody is essentially in the nature of habeas corpus.

Custody is at the heart of the habeas corpus statute.

Section 2241 says, “The writ of habeas corpus shall not extend to a prisoner unless he is in custody in violation of the constitution.”

Section 2254 says, “That a Federal Court shall not entertain an application for writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court conviction only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the constitution.

The decisions of this Court which we cite in our brief make it clear that custody as it is used in the statute refers not simply to the reason -- the inmate is being confined, but to all the incidents of confinement as well Wilwording against Swenson reaffirmed this in the context of the Eighth Amendment claims that were there raised.

Actually, the respondents in this case do not deny the validity of this classification.

So much as they fear the application of the exhaustion requirement of Section 2254 and the arguments which they raised in reply to the question which the state has presented to the court and which is really not so much the invention of the state in this case as it is the concern of the Circuit Court which en banc these cases relate to the exhaustion requirement and whether or not there is any detriment to the inmate.