Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Barlow v. Sunia

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

November 12, 2019

JAMES GLENN BARLOW, Petitioner,
v.
TAUESE VA'AOMALA SUNIA, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER GRANTING RESPONDENTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AND TRANSFERRING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          Jill A. Otake, United States District Judge

         Petitioner James Glenn Barlow (“Petitioner”) filed a habeas corpus petition, arguing his detention in American Samoa is unlawful because it stems from a conviction in the High Court of American Samoa that violated his rights under the United States Constitution. Respondents Tauese Va'aomala Sunia (“Sunia”) and Soliali'i Falepo (“Falepo”) (collectively, “Respondents”) move to dismiss the petition, arguing that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction, and that the District of Hawaii is an improper venue. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS the motion, DISMISSES Respondents, and TRANSFERS the petition to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

         I. BACKGROUND

         To resolve Respondents' motion, the Court must address how procedural rules governing habeas corpus relief in federal district court apply to a petitioner incarcerated in American Samoa, an unincorporated territory without Article III courts whose judicial system is de jure overseen by the Secretary of the Department of the Interior. The question appears to be one of first impression across all federal courts despite American Samoa's status as a United States territory for over a century.[1] At this stage, where jurisdiction and venue are at issue, a robust discussion of the judicial system in American Samoa will help frame the issues, and a brief discussion of Petitioner's claims on the merits will suffice.

         A. Facts

         1. American Samoa's Judicial System

         American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States. See 48 U.S.C. § 1661. It has no district court and is not part of the District of Hawaii. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 81-144. Instead, in relation to American Samoa, Congress directed:

Until Congress shall provide for the government of such islands, all civil, judicial, and military powers shall be vested in such person or persons and shall be exercised in such manner as the President of the United States shall direct; and the President shall have power to remove said officers and fill the vacancies so occasioned.

48 U.S.C. § 1661(c). Originally under the control of the Navy, the President eventually delegated this authority to the Secretary of the Interior (the “Secretary”) pursuant to an Executive Order. See Exec. Order No. 10, 264, 16 Fed. Reg. 6, 417 (June 29, 1951). The Executive Order broadly authorizes the Secretary to “take such action as may be necessary and appropriate, and in harmony with applicable law, for the administration of civil government in American Samoa.” Id. The budget for the territory, and all laws passed by the territorial legislature-including those relating to the organization of the courts-must be submitted to the Secretary for approval. See Corp. of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints v. Hodel, 830 F.2d 374, 376-77 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (“Hodel II”), aff'g 637 F.Supp. 1398 (D.D.C. 1986) (“Hodel I”). “The Secretary of the Interior, therefore, possesses plenary authority over the judicial system of American Samoa.”[2] Id. at 376; see also Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 302.

         The Constitution of American Samoa, which the Secretary approved, [3]provides: “The judicial power shall be vested in the High Court, the District Courts, and such other courts as may from time to time be created by law.” Rev. Const. Am. Sam. art. III, § 1. The Secretary appoints the Chief Justice of American Samoa and the Associate Justices of the High Court. See Id. art. III, § 3. “The High Court also includes Associate Judges who are appointed by the territorial Governor and confirmed by the territorial Senate” who “are typically traditional Samoan leaders with knowledge of local customs.” Hodel II, 830 F.2d at 377 (footnote and citation omitted).

         As relevant here, the trial division of the High Court has jurisdiction over felony criminal cases, and the Appellate Division of the High Court can review those decisions on appeal. See Am. Samoa Code §§ 3.0208(a)(2), (c); id. § 3.0221; id. § 46.2402; id. § 46.2403. “Section 3.0220 of the American Samoa Code provides that ordinarily appeals to the High Court ‘shall be held before 3 justices and 2 associate judges,' but if there is a difference of opinion among the members of the panel, ‘the opinion of 2 of the justices shall prevail.'” Hodel II, 830 F.2d at 386 (quoting Am. Samoa Code §§ 3.0220, 3.0221).

         The Constitution of American Samoa also provides for the writ of habeas corpus, specifically that it “shall be granted without delay and free of costs” and that it “shall not be suspended except by the Governor and then only when the public safety requires it in case of war, rebellion, insurrection or invasion.” Rev. Const. Am. Sam. art. I, § 7.

         There is no right to appeal a conviction from a court in American Samoa to an Article III court. See United States v. Lee, 159 F.Supp.2d 1241, 1245 (D. Haw. 2001); Hodel II, 830 F.2d at 387 (holding that lack of right of direct appeal to Article III court in civil matter did not violate due process). Individuals convicted in the American Samoa High Court have, however, sought redress against the Secretary in Article III courts. See, e.g., King v. Morton, 520 F.2d 1140 (D.C. Cir. 1975); King v. Andrus, 452 F.Supp. 11 (D.D.C. 1977). In King v. Morton, the plaintiff argued he was denied the right to trial by jury after being convicted of tax evasion in American Samoa. 520 F.2d at 1142-43. Upon remand in King v. Andrus, the district court agreed, enjoining the Secretary of the Interior from: (1) enforcing the provisions of the American Samoa Code that denied the right to a jury trial in criminal cases, and (2) enforcing any criminal conviction against the plaintiff obtained without giving him the right to a jury trial. 452 F.Supp. at 17.

         Federal courts have interpreted King v. Morton as “necessarily stand[ing] for the proposition that the Secretary has the authority to review decisions of the High Court to assure they comply with any standards of the United States Constitution found to apply to American Samoa.” Hodel I, 637 F.Supp. at 1413 n.29 (citations omitted). The Secretary has likewise acknowledged his or her power to intervene and review decisions of the High Court-even if he or she chooses not to exercise this power. See Hodel II, 830 F.2d at 376, 378-79.

         2. Petitioner's § 2241 Habeas Petition

         With this background in mind, the Court turns to Petitioner's request for federal habeas relief. Petitioner is an American citizen currently incarcerated in the American Samoa Territorial Correctional Facility. ECF No. 1 (“Petition”) ¶ 4(a). Respondent Sunia is the Warden of that facility (the “Warden”). Id. ¶ 4(b)(i). Petitioner also named Respondent Falepo (the “Director”), alleging he is the Director of the American Samoa Government Office in Hawai‘i, which is the “liason (sic.) for all ASG business in the Aloha State.” ECF No. 15 at 6 (alteration in original) (emphasis and footnote omitted).[4]

         Petitioner was convicted after a bench trial in the High Court of American Samoa of various charges, including sodomy with a minor, deviate sexual assault in the first degree with a minor, sexual abuse in the first degree with a minor, furnishing pornographic materials to a minor, aiding a minor to possess or consume alcohol, endangering the welfare of a minor, driving under the influence of alcohol, and careless driving. Petition ¶ 2(a). He received a term of 24 years of imprisonment. Id. After his motion for reconsideration was denied, ECF No. 14-2, Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division of the High Court of American Samoa, which affirmed his conviction and denied his motion for a rehearing. Petition ¶ 2(b); ECF No. 14-3. Petitioner did not ask the Secretary to intervene, nor did he seek territorial habeas relief.

         Instead, Petitioner seeks federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, arguing various components of his trial violated his rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. He first argues the prosecution failed to disclose critical exculpatory evidence and that the trial court improperly restricted his right to cross examination and access to critical documents. Petition ¶ 6(a). He next argues he was denied the right to jury trial because, although his lawyer informed him he should waive his right to a jury trial, any such waiver was not knowing and voluntary. Id. ¶ 6(b). He also raises an ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on his counsel's failure to object at trial and on appeal to the denial of his right to a jury trial, further claiming his right to a speedy trial was violated. Id. ¶ 6(c), (d).

         B. Procedural History

         Petitioner was convicted in the High Court of American Samoa in July 2014. Id. ¶ 2(a). The Appellate Division of the High Court of American Samoa affirmed his conviction in November 2017 and denied his motion for rehearing in January 2018. Id. ¶ 2(b). In October 2018, Petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in the District of Hawaii. ECF No. 1.

         The Court issued an Order to Show Cause directing Respondents to show cause why the petition should not be granted and ordering Respondents to file either an Answer or a dispositive motion. ECF No. 12. Respondents filed a motion to dismiss the petition for lack of personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction, and on the grounds that the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.