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Stone v. Massachusetts Trial Courts

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 11, 2018

STEPHEN STONE, Plaintiff,
v.
MASSACHUSETTS TRIAL COURTS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          LEO T. SOROKIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court orders that this action be dismissed without prejudice.

         I. Background

         Pro se litigant Stephen Stone, who is a pretrial detainee currently confined at the Dedham County House of Correction, has filed an action against the Massachusetts Trial Courts and Tony Navarro, the Chief Court Officer of the Malden District Court. In his amended complaint (#10), [1]Stone alleges that, since August of 2015, he has been subject to excessive bail. His confinement at county jails during this time has exacerbated his mental health problems and deprived him of necessary medical treatment.

         Stone also avers that, on November 19, 2016, he was denied access to Malden District Court by Chief Court Officer Tony Navarro because Stone had “too much legal paperwork.” Amend. Compl. ¶15. Navarro set another date for the proceeding. Stone became angry and spit on Navarro. He was restrained and placed in the Worcester County Sheriff's Office van. While be transported back to the jail, he tried to kill himself. Upon arrival at the jail, he was found barely conscious and was coughing up blood and required treatment at an emergency room.

         Stone made at least one other suicide attempt while being transported from court, leading Judge Conners, sitting in the Norfolk Superior Court, to order that he only be allowed to attend proceedings in his criminal case by video conference, not in person. Not being permitted to attend court proceedings in person has been mentally excruciating, leading Stone to engage in further self-harm.

         Stone brings this action against the Massachusetts Trial Courts and Navarro. His claims for relief are set forth under three different headings: “Excessive Bail, ” “ADA Violations, ” and “Constitutional Rights Violation.” Id. ¶¶ 22-26 (spelling standardized). With regard to the “ADA Violations, ” Stone maintains that Judge Connors violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities at by requiring him to attend proceedings by video conference. Stone claims that this constituted discrimination based his mental disabilities, including social impairment. Under the heading “Constitutional Rights Violation, ” Stone claims that being prohibited from attending hearings in person violated his rights to effective assistance of counsel and due process. He also alleges that Navarro's refusal to allow him to attend proceeding in Malden District Court on October 19, 2016 violated Stone's constitutional rights.

         In his prayer for relief, Stone asks that the Court declare the aforesaid conduct to be unlawful. He also seeks monetary damages.

         II. Review of the Complaint

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, prisoner complaints in civil actions that seek redress from a governmental entity or officers or employees of a governmental entity are subject to a preliminary screening. This statute authorizes the Court to dismiss a complaint sua sponte if the claims therein are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). Further, a court has an obligation to inquire sua sponte into its own subject matter jurisdiction. See McCulloch v. Velez, 364 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2004). In conducting this review, the Court liberally construes the complaint because the plaintiff is proceeding pro se. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972).

         A. Abstention

         “[F]ederal courts have long recognized ‘the fundamental policy against federal interference with state criminal proceedings.'” In re Justices of Super. 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 repeatedly expressed the principle that “the state courts be allowed to conduct state proceedings free from interference by the federal courts.” Id. at 16. This protocol 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).

         Under the principles of Younger abstention, federal courts “abstain from interfering with state court proceedings even where defendants claim violations of important federal rights, ” In re Justices, 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). The principles of comity and abstention also apply to habeas proceedings. With few exceptions not relevant here, “the federal courts have routinely rejected petitions for pretrial habeas relief raising any variety of claims and issues.” In re Justices, 218 F.3d 11, 18 (footnote omitted).

         Here, the Court would needlessly interfere in a pending state criminal proceeding if it were to address the merits of Stone's claims concerning the state court's order that he participate in criminal pretrial proceedings by video conference and his challenge to the bail requirement. . The Court has no reason to believe that Stone does not have an opportunity to raise all pertinent issues within the state court system, even if they are not resolved in the manner he wishes. Bail decisions can be appealed to the Superior Court, see M.G.L. ch. 276, §§ 57, 58, further may review may be sought from a Single Justice under M.G.L. ch. 211, § 3, and thereafter from the Supreme Judicial Court. See, e.g., Brangan v. Commonwealth, 477 Mass. 691 (2017) (holding defendant's bail hearing did not meet constitutional requirements and ordering the Superior Court judge to conduct a new bail hearing).[2] Further, Stone's counsel has advocated in Court for his client to be able to attend pretrial proceedings in person.[3]See Gonzalez v. Waterfront ...


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