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Seaton v. Director, Smith County Probation

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Tyler Division

May 30, 2018

HUBERT SEATON
v.
DIRECTOR, SMITH COUNTY PROBATION

          MEMORANDUM ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Ron Clark, United States District Judge

         The Petitioner Hubert Seaton, proceeding pro se, filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 complaining of the legality of a municipal court conviction. This Court referred the case to the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) & (3) and the Amended Order for the Adoption of Local Rules for the Assignment of Duties to United States Magistrate Judges. The Magistrate Judge issued a Report that noted that Mr. Seaton failed to show that he was “in custody” when he filed the petition, as required for habeas corpus jurisdiction, and recommended that the petition be dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust state remedies. Mr. Seaton filed objections.

         Upon considering the objections in light of a de novo review of the entire record, this court concludes that Mr. Seaton failed to show he exhausted his State remedies. Nor has he shown that he was in custody when he filed his petition or that a significant limit on his liberty has been imposed. Mr. Seaton's objections are overruled and, as recommended by the Magistrate Judge, the application for writ of habeas corpus is dismissed without prejudice.

         I. Mr. Seaton's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus

          Mr. Seaton used a standard federal form to file his petition pro se. Mr. Seaton complained of a municipal court conviction for what he describes as “an illegal dog vaccination ticket.” (Doc. # 1 at 6-7). He stated that he pleaded not guilty in “Tyler Municipal Court, Judge Richard B. Patterson” and had a jury trial. (Doc. #1 at 2-3). Mr. Seaton stated that he appealed his conviction in the “Municipal and District” courts, but received no relief. (Doc. #1 at 3). He asserted that “there has been no final judgment in this matter, the record will reflect this.” (Doc. #1 at 9).

         In his petition, Mr. Seaton stated the following grounds for relief: 1) an illegal trial was conducted in Tyler Municipal Court because the dog was only 3 months of age and the State had no legal jurisdiction until the dog was 4 months of age; 2) the State presented no evidence that the he owned the dog; 3) the jury ignored the jury instructions and presumed him guilty; 4) the judge and prosecution tried him knowing they had no proof he owned the dog or that the dog was four month of age; 5) the prosecutor suborned perjury from the animal control officer; and (6) the State court failed to inform him where to file an appeal and issued an illegal failure to appear arrest warrant. (Doc. # 1 at 6-7).

         II. The Report of the Magistrate Judge and the Petitioner's Objections

         After reviewing the pleadings, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation and noted that Mr. Seaton had failed to establish that he was in custody or subject to significant restriction upon his liberty when the petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed. (Doc. #8). The Magistrate Judge further recommended that the petition be dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust state remedies.

         Mr. Seaton responded by filing a letter in which he stated, “I hereby appeal the decision of the Magistrate Court.” (Doc. # 10). As Mr. Seaton is appearing pro se, this court will deem this “appeal” to be a timely objection to the Report and Recommendation. In paragraph 2 of the letter, Mr. Seaton stated the following, which the court considers as his objection: “The court has erred. All state remedies have been exhausted. Look at the Plea Deal as the Plaintiff informed the court earlier. You have overlooked the facts in this case. There are no State Remedies available.”

         III. Discussion

         a. Mr. Seaton Failed to Establish Jurisdiction

         In his objections, Mr. Seaton does not address the Magistrate Judge's statement that the court lacks jurisdiction. The proponent of federal court jurisdiction has the burden of establishing it. Physicians Hosps. of Am. v. Sebelius, 691 F.3d 649, 652 (5th Cir. 2012). In order for a federal court to have jurisdiction in a habeas case, the petitioner must be in custody when he files his petition. Pack v. Yusuff, 218 F.3d 448, 454 n.5 (5th Cir. 2000). This is because the sole purpose of habeas corpus is to grant relief from unlawful imprisonment or custody. Pierre v. United States, 525 F.2d 933, 935-36 (5th Cir. 1976). Physical custody is not always required, but there must at least be some significant restriction upon liberty. See Jones v. Cunningham, 371 U.S. 236, 240, 83 S.Ct. 373, 9 L.Ed.2d 285 (1963). Habeas corpus cannot be invoked to challenge a conviction which resulted in a cash fine only. Spring v. Caldwell, 692 F.2d 994, 996 (5th Cir. 1982).

         Like his petition, Mr. Seaton's objections do not indicate that he was in custody when he filed his petition. The Magistrate Judge noted that his petition does not state what punishment was imposed by the municipal court for this allegedly illegal “failure to vaccinate a dog” charge. (Doc. #8 at 2). Mr. Seaton's letter of appeal, which contains his objections, likewise gives no hint as to the punishment. As a general rule, a first time conviction for failure to vaccinate a dog is a Class C misdemeanor. See, e.g., Tex. Health & Safety Code § 826.022. Class C misdemeanors carry only fines as punishment. Tex. Penal Code § 12.23. Based on the petition (Doc. #1), the appeal letter (Doc. #10), and relevant Texas ...


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