Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.
Christopher Wills is housed at the Federal Bureau of Prisons penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. In 2019 and 2020, he filed requests under the First Step Act, for a transfer to a facility within 500 miles of his family in Virginia. The BOP denied his requests. Wills then filed a habeas application which argued the BOP didn’t give a detailed, reviewable or valid explanation for the denials and asked the district court to order a transfer to a BOP facility closer to his family “pursuant to the 500 mile law and rule of the First Step Act.”
The magistrate judge recommended dismissal of the application without prejudice for lack of jurisdiction and reasoned that Wills challenged the conditions of his confinement which isn’t a cognizable habeas claim. Wills submitted an untimely objection to the assignment of the magistrate judge to his case which was accepted. The district court overruled the objection, adopted the recommendation and dismissed the application.
In a post-judgment motion, Wills alleged that he never received a copy of the recommendation — only the order of reference to the magistrate judge. The district court reopened the case and allowed him to file objections. He did so and reframed his claims as a challenge to the process and procedure of the BOP, not the decision denying a transfer. Following the change, the magistrate judge withdrew his earlier recommendation and issued a new one allowing the claim to proceed.
The district court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction on two grounds. First, it held that Wills’ challenge related to his place or conditions of confinement, and habeas relief is only appropriate for a prisoner to challenge the fact or duration of confinement. Second, it held that federal courts don’t have jurisdiction to review the BOP’s placement decisions. Wills filed a timely appeal.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Wills’ application for lack of jurisdiction.