Hill v. Streeval
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon on 6/9/2020. (Opinion mailed to Pro Se Party via US Mail)(slt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
NATHAN L. HILL,
Civil Action No. 7:20-cv-00309
By: Elizabeth K. Dillon
United States District Judge
Nathan L. Hill, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, filed this petition for writ of habeas
corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, alleging that his continued detention is unconstitutional.
He is currently serving a life sentence, which was imposed by the United States District Court
for the Northern District of Illinois in 1999. In his petition, Hill contends that the Bureau of
Prisons (BOP) is illegally holding him pursuant to that sentence. After review of the record, the
court concludes that his petition must be summarily dismissed.
Several months ago, the court dismissed a prior § 2241 petition by Hill, noting that
jurisdiction was lacking over it. Hill v. Warden of Lee Cty. U.S.P., No. 7:18-cv-00166, 2020 WL
908125 (W.D. Va. Feb. 25, 2020), appeal docketed, No. 20-6305 (4th Cir. Mar. 4, 2020). In its
memorandum opinion doing so, the court set forth in detail Hill’s extensive efforts to challenge
his conviction and/or sentence through various filings in different courts, including no less than
five § 2241 petitions. Id. at *1–3. As to the petition before it, the court concluded that Hill
failed to satisfy the requirements set forth in United States v. Wheeler, 886 F.3d 415 (4th Cir.
2018), for proceeding under § 2241. It accordingly dismissed his § 2241 petition for lack of
jurisdiction. Hill, 2020 WL 908125, at *7. Hill appealed, and his appeal remains pending.
Under Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts, which may
be applied to § 2241 cases under Rule 1(b), a court may summarily dismiss a petition when it is plain that the
petitioner is not entitled to relief.
In Hill’s current—and sixth—§ 2241 petition, he devotes many pages of his supporting
memorandum to arguing that he is not attacking his original conviction or sentence, but is instead
attacking the BOP’s authority to detain him. 2 He states repeatedly, albeit in general terms, that
he is challenging the “execution of his sentence.” (See, e.g., Mem. Supp. Pet. 7, Dkt. No. 1-1.)
He emphasizes that he is not asking that his conviction or sentence be vacated, but instead is
asking the court “to order the [BOP] to release him from illegal detention.” (Pet. 1, Dkt. No. 1.)
Hill likewise states that this is his first “original writ of habeas corpus” and not a
collateral attack on his conviction or sentence pursuant to either 28 U.S.C. § 2255 or pursuant to
§ 2241 and the savings clause in § 2255(e). Thus, he argues that he need not satisfy the tests of
Wheeler or In re Jones, 226 F.3d 328 (4th Cir. 2000), which set forth the requirements in the
Fourth Circuit for challenging, pursuant to § 2241, a sentence or conviction, respectively. He
further argues that because this is a “plenary proceeding,” he is entitled to rely on “relevant law,”
including Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013). (Mem. Supp. Pet. 14.)
In broad terms, Hill’s grounds for relief are: (1) his continuing detention is in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 4001(a) 3; (2) the warden is “illegally withholding Hill from his liberty interest” in
violation of due process; (3) his continued detention violates the Thirteenth Amendment and the
Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment; and (4) the warden is
violating 18 U.S.C. § 4007 and the Appropriations Clause by spending funds to detain Hill. All
Hill also points to his efforts at exhausting the administrative remedies available through the BOP,
attaching pertinent documents. (Dkt. No. 1-2.); Timms v. Johns, 627 F.3d 525, 531 (4th Cir. 2010) (discussing the
exhaustion requirement, which applies absent specified exceptional circumstances). The court is not relying on
exhaustion grounds to dismiss Hill’s petition.
Known as the Non-Detention Act, this provision states: “No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise
detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress.” 18 U.S.C. § 4001(a). The Non-Detention Act
is not an obstacle to detention pursuant to lower federal court judgments in a criminal case because Congress has
conferred jurisdiction on those courts. See 18 U.S.C. § 3231 (“The district courts of the United States shall have
original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the states, of all offenses against the laws of the United States.”); see
also Armstrong v. Guccione, 470 F.3d 89, 103 (2d Cir. 2006) (holding that the Judiciary Act of 1789, which created
lower federal courts, provides sufficient statutory authorization to detain persons pursuant to a district court’s
inherent contempt power).
of these arguments, though, rely on the underlying premise that aspects of his criminal
conviction or sentence are illegal, thus rendering his detention illegal. That premise is based, in
turn, on either Alleyne-related arguments or on his contention that an FBI agent on his
prosecution team labored under a conflict of interest that deprived Hill of due process of law,
arguments that Hill himself acknowledges he has raised on prior occasions. 4
Hill’s petition must be dismissed for the same reasons the court dismissed his last § 2241
petition. Specifically, despite his attempts to recharacterize his petition as a “traditional” habeas
petition, as opposed to one attacking his conviction or sentence, his petition is clearly yet another
attempt to challenge the conviction and sentence he is currently serving. As such, it cannot
proceed here unless he satisfies Wheeler or Jones, which he cannot do. 5 Put differently, his
argument that his detention is illegal is premised entirely on his conviction or sentence being
In a passing statement, Hill also states that he is at high risk to develop COVID-19 and argues that this
supports his release, although he says he is entitled to his liberty “even if there was no threat of COVID-19.” (Mem.
Supp. Pet. 17–18.) The court finds it unnecessary to reach the issue of whether § 2241 is an appropriate vehicle for
a convicted federal prisoner to seek release based on the risks posed by COVID-19. Compare, e.g., Wilson v.
Williams, No. 4:20-CV-00794, 2020 WL 1940882, at *5–6 (N.D. Ohio Apr. 22, 2020) (discussing the issue and
concluding that where prisoners confined in federal prison could use § 2241 where they sought not a commutation
of their sentences, but to serve the sentences in home confinement until the risk of the virus abated) with Seth v.
McDonough, No. 8:20-CV-01028-PX, 2020 WL 2571168, at *8 (D. Md. May 21, 2020) (concluding that challenges
based on possible exposure to COVID-19 could not be brought in § 2241 because they were not challenges to the
“fact or duration of confinement”), appeal docketed, No. 20-6776 (4th Cir. May 26, 2020); see also Coreas v.
Bounds, Civil Action No. TDC-20-0780, 2020 WL 1663133, at *6 (D. Md. Apr. 3, 2020) (reasoning that release
from confinement on the basis of COVID-19 risks could be sought by an immigration detainee pursuant to § 2241,
but suggesting that § 2241 would not be an avenue available to a convicted federal prisoner). Even if release were
available on that basis under § 2241—as opposed to seeking a modification of his sentence from the sentencing
court—Hill has not stated sufficient facts to entitle him to relief. For example, he does not offer details concerning
any medical risk particular to him as a result of COVID-19 or any facts concerning any alleged outbreak or failures
at his current place of incarceration. Instead, his statement that the coronavirus pandemic supports his release seems
to be a mere afterthought. Indeed, he mentions coronavirus only in one place and only in several lines of his 38page supporting memorandum, and he does not reference it at all in his listed grounds for relief. (See Pet. 4–5.) Nor
does he allege that he has exhausted his administrative remedies as to this issue.
His arguments based on Alleyne do not satisfy the Wheeler requirements for the reasons set forth in the
court’s memorandum opinion in his last § 2241 case. Hill, 2020 WL 908125, at *5–6. His claims concerning the
conflict of interest also fail to satisfy Jones or Alleyne. Among other reasons, he fails to identify any substantive law
that changed such that the conduct of which he was convicted is deemed not to be criminal, the second Jones
requirement. 226 F.3d at 333–34. Nor does he identify any settled substantive law that changed after his direct
appeal and first § 2255 and was deemed to apply retroactively on collateral review, the second Wheeler requirement.
886 F.3d at 429.
illegal, not on any independent action by the BOP—except its justified insistence that it must
detain him consistent with the valid criminal judgment against him. Indeed, he does not make
any arguments as to why the BOP’s “execution” of his sentence is otherwise unlawful. He
simply cites to the same grounds on which he has relied in one or more of his prior petitions, all
of which—in fact—rely on the invalidation of his conviction or sentence.
Hill attempts to piece together language from various cases to support his contention that
this is a viable strategy for obtaining release. And he relies on a number of cases that are
distinguishable or arise in other contexts. By way of example only, Hill relies on United States
v. Slade, No. 1:08CR00024-005, 2019 WL 3061200 (W.D. Va. July 12, 2019), to support his
contention that he can rely on Alleyne, despite its non-retroactivity on collateral review. In
Slade, the court was addressing, in its role as the sentencing court, a request for relief under the
First Step Act. The court reasoned that although Alleyne was not retroactive on collateral
review, the court had to separately address whether it was retroactive in the context of sentence
reductions. Id. at *3. Similarly, elsewhere in his supporting memorandum, Hill argues that his
situation is “analogous to a prisoner who files a [18 U.S.C. § 3582] motion,” (Mem. Supp. Pet.
14). He is incorrect.
Whether brought under § 3582 or the First Step Act, motions in which a convicted
prisoner requests a reduction in his sentence are filed with the sentencing court, not with the
court in the district where he is incarcerated. Moreover, those motions are direct challenges to
the prisoner’s sentence. Again, the circular nature of Hill’s reasoning is apparent in his reliance
on those cases. In an effort to avoid the Wheeler requirements that preclude his proceeding in
this court, he insists he is not attacking his sentence. But in his attempt to do an end-run around
the Wheeler requirements, he then relies on cases involving direct challenges to a sentence.
Those cases cannot help him. In short, Hill’s attempts to characterize his petition as a
“traditional” writ of habeas corpus that does not attack his criminal judgment fails, most
particularly because the only grounds he offers in support of his detention are grounds that
challenge the validity of his conviction or sentence. And none of those grounds satisfy Jones or
Wheeler so as to allow him to proceed under § 2241. See supra note 5.
For the foregoing reasons, Hill’s § 2241 petition will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
An appropriate order will be entered.
Entered: June 9, 2020.
/s/ Elizabeth K. Dillon
Elizabeth K. Dillon
United States District Judge
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