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Watson v. Ordonez

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 22, 2018



          Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, pro se, alleges state and federal civil rights violations arising out of an ongoing proceeding in the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court in Suffolk County. Specifically, Lawrence Watson (“plaintiff” or “Watson”) alleges that defendants Justice Angela Ordonez, Justice Paula Carey, Attorney Whitney Duvall and Commissioner Michael Heffernan (collectively “defendants”), in their individual and official capacity, violated his civil rights by failing to compel court employees to comply with state statutes regarding the waiver of court fees for indigent parties and by attempting to enforce child support payments through a civil contempt proceeding.

         Pending before this Court are (1) plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief and second motion for injunctive relief (Docket Nos. 2 and 28), (2) defendants' motion to dismiss (Docket No. 15) and (3) plaintiff's motion for a criminal complaint of perjury against Judicial Case Manager Daniel Gibson (Docket No. 24). For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion to dismiss will be allowed and plaintiffs' motions for injunctive relief and for a criminal complaint will be denied as moot.

         I. Background

         In September, 2017, Watson initiated this action which relates directly to proceedings in the Suffolk County Probate and Family Court (“Suffolk Family Court”). He had previously filed a complaint in that court against Sherry Walker, the mother of his only child, in April 2003 for visitation and custody rights. In July, 2003, Watson was ordered to make weekly child support payments to Ms. Walker. Watson claims that his unemployment benefits expired in May, 2004 and thereafter he did not “willingly” make child support payments. That same year the Department of Revenue (“DOR”) purportedly ordered the Registry of Motor Vehicles to suspend Watson's license without hearing.

         Defendants are all affiliated, in one way or another, with the Suffolk Family Court and the Department of Revenue. Michael Heffernan (“Heffernan”) is the former Commissioner of the Department of Revenue and was responsible for supervising DOR employees, including Attorney Whitney Duvall (“Attorney Duvall”), who acted as counsel for the DOR. Justices Angela Ordonez (“Justice Ordonez”) and Paula Carey (“Justice Carey”) are judges who presided over sessions in the Suffolk Family Court.

         Watson alleges that he wrote to Justice Carey 11 times between September, 2008 and February, 2014 to inform her that employees of the Suffolk Family Court had failed to comply M.G.L. c. 261 §§ 27A-27D by refusing to accept affidavits of indigency from Watson seeking fee waivers in his proceeding. He claims that he subsequently informed Justice Ordonez of the conduct of the employees on two occasions in 2014. Watson asserts that neither judicial officer took action to compel compliance with the state statute.

         In April, 2016, Attorney Duvall, acting as counsel for the DOR, filed a civil contempt action against Watson to enforce child support payment obligations. Watson alleges that Attorney Duvall held herself out as representing Ms. Walker, rather than the DOR or the Commonwealth, in violation of M.G.L. c. 119A § 3. He claims that he informed Commissioner Heffernan that Attorney Duvall purported to represent Ms. Walker in October, 2016.

         The proceedings in Suffolk Family Court are ongoing. Lawrence B. Watson v. Sherry A. Walker, No. SU03W0810PA1, Suffolk Probate and Family Court.[1]

         II. Motion to Dismiss

         A. Legal Standard

         The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized the tensions inherent in parallel judicial proceedings at the state and federal levels and has forewarned against the possibility of “undue interference” with state judicial proceedings by federal courts. See, e.g., Sprint Commc'ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, 571 U.S. 69, 72 (2013). The Court has described the fervent concern, making clear that

the restraining [of the state court] would entail an unseemly failure to give effect to the principle that state courts have the solemn responsibility, equally with the federal courts to guard, enforce, and protect every right granted or secured by the constitution of the United States.

Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 460-61 (1974) (citation and internal quotations omitted); see also Mass. Delivery Ass'nv.Coakley, 671 F.3d 33, 40 (1st Cir. 2012) (basic notions of comity and federalism are foundational ...

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