United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Tyler Division
MEMORANDUM ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE AND ENTERING FINAL
CLARK, SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE
Petitioner Dusty Seaton, proceeding pro se, filed
this application for the writ of habeas corpus under 28
U.S.C. §2254 complaining of the legality of prison
disciplinary action taken against him during his confinement
in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional
Institutions Division. This Court ordered that the matter be
referred to the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. §636(b)(1) and (3) and the Amended Order for the
Adoption of Local Rules for the Assignment of Duties to
United States Magistrate Judges.
was convicted of the disciplinary offense of possession of a
weapon on July 2, 2015, receiving punishments of 45 days of
cell, commissary, and telephone restrictions, reduction in
classification status from State Approved Trusty III to Line
Class I, and the loss of 30 days of good time credits. The
evidence showed that a weapon consisting of a six-inch piece
of flat metal sharpened to a point was discovered in his cell
while Seaton was in the dayroom.
federal habeas corpus petition, Seaton argued that he was
denied due process because his cellmate, Darius Williams,
would not admit to the weapon and he, Seaton, was not in his
cell where the weapon was found but was in the dayroom. He
also contended that he was subjected to cruel and unusual
punishment because he was punished as a result of a false
Respondent has filed an answer arguing that Seaton's
cruel and unusual punishment claim was not exhausted because
Seaton did not raise it in his grievances. The Respondent
also maintained that Seaton received the process he was due,
sufficient evidence was offered to support the finding of
guilt including Officer Rentala's testimony at the
hearing, and Seaton failed to show that the punishment was
cruel and unusual.
filed a response contending that Officer Rentala was not
present at the hearing and that it was Officer Mares who
testified at his hearing, saying that he, Mares, had found
the weapon. However, according to Seaton, Williams was also
charged with possession of the weapon and Officer Rentala
testified at Williams' hearing that he, Rentala, had
found the weapon. Seaton also argued that the weapon was
found underneath the cell bars, an area which was accessible
to almost 190 other inmates, so all of these other inmates
should have been charged as well.
The Report of the Magistrate Judge
Magistrate Judge summarized the facts and the arguments of
the parties and reviewed the recording of the disciplinary
hearing. This recording showed that Officer Rentala testified
at Seaton' disciplinary hearing and stated that he,
Rentala, was involved in a search of 1 Row when Officer Mares
discovered the weapon. The weapon was not accessible from
outside the cell although a person standing on the run could
touch it. Seaton testified and said that he was in the
dayroom and not within 100 feet of the weapon, and Williams
testified that Seaton had no knowledge of the weapon and that
Seaton had been in the dayroom.
Magistrate Judge determined that the fact that the weapon had
been found in Seaton's cell, in a place where a person on
the run could not access it, was sufficient evidence upon
which to base a finding of guilt under the doctrine of
constructive possession, citing Santiago v. Nash,
224 Fed.Appx. 175, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 6886, 2007 WL 869031
(3rd Cir., March 23, 2007), as well as McClung v.
Hollingsworth, slip op. no. 06-6699, 2007 U.S. App.
LEXIS 9558, 2007 WL 1225946 (4th Cir., April 26, 2007)
and Menefee v. Director, TDCJ-CID, civil action no.
6:07cv314, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44263, 2008 WL 2359970
(E.D.Tex., June 5, 2008). Because some evidence supported the
disciplinary conviction, the Magistrate Judge concluded that
Seaton's challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence
lacked merit, citing Hudson v. Johnson, 242 F.3d
534, 536-37 (5th Cir. 2001).
Magistrate Judge also determined that Seaton's claim of
cruel and unusual punishment was in effect a claim of actual
innocence, which is not a free-standing ground for federal
habeas corpus relief. Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S.
390, 404, 113 S.Ct. 853, 122 L.Ed.2d 203 (1993); Reed v.
Stephens, 739 F.3d 753, 765 (5th Cir. 2014). The
Magistrate Judge therefore recommended that Seaton's
petition for habeas corpus relief be denied and that Seaton
be denied a certificate of appealability sua sponte.
Seaton's Objections to the Report
objections, Seaton argues that in the offense report, he was
charged with being in his cell in possession of a weapon, but
this is not possible because he was in the dayroom. The
offense report charged him with possession of a weapon and
said nothing about Seaton being in the cell with the weapon.
As the Magistrate Judge correctly determined, the finding of
the weapon in Seaton's living area, in a place where it
could not be accessed from the run, is sufficient to satisfy
the “some evidence” standard applicable to prison
disciplinary cases. Flannagan v. Tamez, 368
Fed.Appx. 586, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 4772, 2010 WL 759159 (5th
Cir., March 5, 2010). This objection is without merit.
next contends that Officer Rentala was not involved in his
hearing in any way, but that Officer Mares was called on the
phone and testified. This is incorrect, as a review of the
recording of the hearing ...