United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ARTHUR A. BURNHAM, Plaintiff,
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, et al., Defendants.
TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN, DISTRICT JUDGE
reasons stated below, the Court dismisses this action based
on Younger abstention.
the Court is the complaint of pro se litigant Arthur
Burnham. Burnham, a pretrial detainee, brings this action
under the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)
and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that state officials at
the Worcester Superior Court, where his criminal case is
proceeding, are retaliating against him for having filed
various civil actions and opposing acts that violate the ADA.
He claims that the defendants “did subject [him] to
irrational disability discrimination, pervasive unequal
treatment including systematic deprivation of fundimental
rights under the first, fourth, sixth and fourteenth
amendments by systematically excluding [him] of his
fundimental right to be present at all critical states of his
trial [sic].” Compl. at 1-2. Burnham further asserts
that he has been denied of the right to have a meaningful
opportunity to be heard on substantive issues and that the
prosecution and his “unloyal” defense counsel
“were deliberately interfering with compulsory process
to conceal vital medical records” of various conditions
from which the plaintiff suffers. Id. at 2. He
characterizes the conduct of the defendants as being
“analogous to a 16th century star chamber proceeding[,
] an ‘arbitrary arm of royal power' in the days of
the Tudor and Stuart kings.” Id.
does not seek damages. See Id. at 161. He asked that
the state criminal prosecution be enjoined and that he be
allowed to argue his defense “in front of a federal
neutral party.” Id.
Burnham knows from this Court's earlier opinions in some
of his other cases, “federal courts have long
recognized ‘the fundamental policy against federal
interference with state criminal proceedings.'”
In re Justices of Superior Ct. Dep't of Mass. Trial
Ct., 218 F.3d 11, 16 (1st Cir. 2000) (quoting
Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 46 (1971)). Congress
has long expressed its policy that “the state courts be
allowed to conduct state proceedings free from interference
by the federal courts.” Id. at 16. This policy
against “federal interference with state judicial
proceedings is premised on ‘a proper respect for state
functions, a recognition of the fact that the entire country
is made up of a Union of separate state governments, and a
continuance of the belief that the National Government will
fare best if the States and their institutions are left free
to perform their separate functions in their separate
ways.'” Id. (quoting Younger, 401
U.S. at 44). “Except in the most extraordinary cases, a
federal court must presume that state courts, consistent with
the imperatives of the Supremacy Clause, see U.S.
Const. art. VI, are fully competent to adjudicate federal
constitutional and statutory claims properly presented by the
parties.” Casa Marie, Inc. v. Super. Ct., 988
F.2d 252, 262 (1st Cir.1993) (footnote omitted).
the principles of Younger abstention, “a
federal court must abstain from hearing a case if doing so
would ‘needlessly inject' the federal court into
ongoing state proceedings.” Coggeshall v. Mass. Bd.
of Registration of Psychologists, 604 F.3d 658, 664 (1st
Cir. 2010) (quoting Brooks v. N.H. Supreme Ct., 80
F.3d 633, 637 (1st Cir. 1996)). Younger abstention
is even appropriate where litigants “claim violations
of important federal rights, ” In re Justices of
Superior Ct., 218 F.3d at 17, as long as the federal
claims can be “raised and resolved somewhere
in the state process” Maymó-Meléndez
v. Álvarez-Ramírez, 364 F.3d 27, 36 (1st
Cir. 2004) (emphasis added).
Younger abstention is appropriate. Adjudicating this
action would not only interfere with the criminal prosecution
in state court, it would completely end the prosecution were
the Court to grant the relief Burnham seeks. The Court
recognizes that Burnham appears to have spent enormous effort
not only carefully drafting this lengthy complaint but also
acquiring an understanding of the law to do so. The Court
also acknowledges Burnham's position that
Younger abstention does not apply because he has
allegedly been prevented from having a meaningful opportunity
to present his arguments in state court. He also represents
that his attempts to receive relief from a Single Justice of
the Supreme Judicial Court have also been successful.
the application of Younger abstention does not turn
on a litigant's success in obtaining relief in the state
court proceeding, only his ability to do so. Although Burnham
has been unsuccessful thus far in obtaining relief in the
state court in the manner that he desires, there is no
indication that he is foreclosed from pursuing a direct
appeal or postconviction relief in the event of a conviction.
See, e.g., Haff v. Firman, 646 F.3d Appx.
604, 606 (10th Cir. 2016) (application of Younger
abstention appropriate even though highest state court had
rejected pretrial detainee's motion for interlocutory
relief; state court had not foreclosed a direct appeal or
light of the foregoing, this action is DISMISSED WITHOUT
PREJUDICE on Younger abstention grounds. No filing
fee shall be assessed.