Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom



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For a convicted felon serving a life sentence for murder, Francis Hannon has spent a lot of time moving around.

Hannon was convicted in 1978 in Pennsylvania, and spent the first 19 years of his sentence imprisoned in that state. Then, in 1997, he was transferred to a District of Columbia prison. In the following The Am Law Pro Bono 100years, he was transferred to two different Maryland prisons, back to Pennsylvania, and, in 2001, to Massachusetts.

Under the Interstate Corrections Compact, states are allowed to pay other jurisdictions to house their prisoners. But Hannon, who developed a reputation as the quintessential jailhouse lawyer—filing hundreds of lawsuits challenging the conditions of his confinement over the years—claims he was transferred in retaliation for his litigious ways. In 2003 he sued Jeffrey Beard, the head of Pennsylvania prisons, in Massachusetts federal district court, part of a broader complaint by prisoners challenging health conditions in Massachusetts prisons. The Pennsylvania officials challenged the suit on jurisdictional grounds, claiming that allowing the suit to move forward would open the gates to a flood of other suits by prisoners challenging their transfer. "The jurisdictional issue is not sexy, but is of incredible significance," says Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom partner Matthew Matule, who took the case pro bono on behalf of the prisoners in 2007.

Matule lost the first round. In 2007 Massachusetts federal district judge Rya Zobel dismissed Hannon's case against the Pennsylvania officials, agreeing with the defendants that Hannon couldn't file suit against Pennsylvania officials in Massachusetts federal court. Last year, though, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit overturned the ruling, finding that Beard need not be physically present in Massachusetts to have "transacted business" there, and thus be subject to the state's jurisdiction. (The court affirmed the dismissal of charges against the other Pennsylvania officials.) In December 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, which means that it will return to the district court. Matule says he expects a trial on the merits in October.

Matule will be there, but Hannon will be far away. He was transferred, again. He's now doing time in New Jersey.

—Ben Hallman | July 1, 2009

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