United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
DOUGLAS P. WOODLOCK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
with an adverse ruling from the Supreme Judicial Court of
Massachusetts regarding a federal constitutional claim,
Plaintiff did not seek review in the Supreme Court of the
United States. Rather, she filed this suit against the
justices of the Commonwealth's highest court and the
Attorney General of Massachusetts in an
“inferior” court of the federal judicial system.
alleges that the state court decisions violate her rights
under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United
States Constitution by forcing her to be involved over an
extended period of time in family court proceedings with
Jamie Melendez, a man who impregnated her when she was
fourteen. Melendez pled guilty to four counts of statutory
rape arising from the relationship. Plaintiff requests that I
declare the Supreme Judicial Court's decision
unconstitutional and forbid all courts in the Commonwealth
from granting persons convicted of rape parental rights over
any children born as a result of their criminal acts.
legal doctrine governing the respective roles of the state
and the federal judicial systems compels me to dismiss
Plaintiff's complaint. The complaint cannot pass over the
threshold for addressing her claims in this court. The
Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents
consideration because they present a dispute brought by an
unsuccessful litigant in the state courts seeking to have a
lower federal court review and reject a state court judgment
rendered before the federal litigation
commenced. See generally Exxon Mobil Corp. v.
Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280 (2005).
recite as background the facts as alleged in Plaintiff's
complaint and in public judicial records of which I take
note. Plaintiff became pregnant in 2009 at age fourteen and
gave birth to her child in October 2010. In 2011, Melendez
pled guilty in the Commonwealth's Norfolk Superior Court
to statutory rape of the plaintiff and was sentenced to
sixteen years of probation. As conditions of probation, the
sentencing judge ordered Melendez to acknowledge paternity of
the child, to support the child financially, and to abide by
any orders of support issued by the Commonwealth's
Probate and Family Court.
has consistently objected to conditions of Melendez's
probation. After seeking in May 2012 in Norfolk Probate and
Family Court to establish paternity and child support by
Melendez, she learned in June 2012 that Melendez sought to
obtain visitation rights with the child. Plaintiff, who was
at that time not represented by counsel, filed an action in
Probate and Family Court to obtain child support from
August 2012, Plaintiff sought in the Superior Court to revise
the conditions of Melendez's probation and thereby
displace continuing Probate and Family Court jurisdiction.
She requested that Melendez be required to pay criminal
restitution, rather than child support, in order to relieve
her of the burden of engaging in Probate and Family Court
proceedings with him. Plaintiff sought to avoid the prospect
of an unwanted sixteen year relationship with Melendez under
which the Probate and Family Court would supervise and adjust
respective responsibilities for the child.
Plaintiff's motion was pending in the Superior Court, she
filed a petition with a single justice of the Massachusetts
Supreme Judicial Court pursuant to G.L. c. 211, § 3,
requesting that the single justice order the Superior Court
to rule on her motion and vacate the challenged portion of
Melendez's probation conditions. Thereafter, the Superior
Court denied Plaintiff's motion and the single justice
rejected Plaintiff's petition. The Supreme Judicial Court
affirmed the single justice's denial of relief in June
2013. H.T. v. Commonwealth, 989 N.E.2d 424 (Mass.
August 2013, Plaintiff filed suit in this court under 42
U.S.C. § 1983, raising the same challenge to
Melendez's probation conditions she had raised in state
court. Judge Stearns dismissed Plaintiff's suit on the
grounds that the Eleventh Amendment barred her claims and
that the doctrines of Burford abstention and of
Younger abstention counseled against exercising
jurisdiction. Tyler v. Massachusetts, 981 F.Supp.2d
92, 95-97 (D. Mass. 2013). Judge Stearns observed that
Plaintiff was not without an appellate remedy in the state
As the Single Justice pointed out, her remedy-if one need be
sought-is an appeal from any order eventually entered by the
Probate and Family Court that plaintiff believes to impinge
on her rights under the United States Constitution or the
Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, rights which she is free
to assert in the Probate Court proceeding.
Id. at 97.
after Judge Stearns dismissed her federal claims, Plaintiff
returned to Probate and Family Court and moved to vacate that
court's jurisdiction or, in the alternative, to terminate
Melendez's potential parental rights. The court denied
the motion to vacate jurisdiction and, after an evidentiary
hearing, denied Melendez visitation rights and required him
to pay weekly child support of $110.00.
Appeals Court affirmed. H.T. v. J.M., 65 N.E.3d 31
(Table), 2016 WL 7046435 (Mass. App. Ct. 2016). The Appeals
Court held that the Probate and Family court had jurisdiction
to adjudicate parental rights in this case pursuant to G.L.
c. 209C, which grants the Probate and Family Court
“exclusive jurisdiction to make determinations
regarding custody and visitation in a paternity
proceeding.” Id. at *2. The court noted that
“nothing in the ...