United States District Court, D. Hawaii
ORDER GRANTING RESPONDENTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AND
TRANSFERRING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
A. Otake, United States District Judge
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
“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
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. 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
American Samoa's Judicial System
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.” Id. at 376; see also
Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 302.
Constitution of American Samoa, which the Secretary approved,
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
Petitioner's § 2241 Habeas Petition
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
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.
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. ¶
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.
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