FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Michael A. Ponsor, U.S. District Judge
Goldblatt, with whom Law Office of Dana Goldblatt was on
brief, for appellant.
D. Strayer, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Maura
Healey, Attorney General was on brief, for appellee.
Lynch, Thompson, and Barron, Circuit Judges.
THOMPSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
federal case is brought by an aggrieved litigant who asks us
to step in and change the way some things turned out for him
in state court in Massachusetts. Specifically, appellant
Abinel Zenon sought a declaratory judgment labelling as
unconstitutional a protective order that remains in effect in
his now-closed state criminal case. This request was denied
by the federal district court on appellee's motion to
dismiss. Because we hold that the state court judge's
actions are shielded from this attack by the doctrine of
judicial immunity, we affirm.
2013, Zenon was at the Springfield District Court for the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts ("Springfield
court"), attending to some driving charges unrelated to
this case. While there, he wound up getting into an
altercation with two court security officers who, according
to Zenon, attacked him without provocation, all the while
"making inappropriate comments to him regarding his
ethnicity." As Zenon tells it, one of the officers,
Alexander Sierra, a former member of the Springfield Police
Department, already had a reputation around the courthouse
for violence. When the scuffle ended, Zenon found himself
charged and arraigned on two counts of assault and battery on
on Zenon's attorney's investigation of the incident,
Zenon filed a notice of intent to assert the affirmative
defense of self-defense. To get more information with which
to bolster his case, Zenon subpoenaed administrative records
from the Springfield court, seeking all written incident
reports authored by Officer Sierra. In response to the
subpoena, the records were filed with the court and delivered
in due course to appellee Associate Justice Margaret Guzman
("Judge Guzman"), the judge overseeing Zenon's
29, 2015, Judge Guzman, following a chambers conference,
turned over Officer Sierra's trial incident reports for
the preceding two years, and ordered the Commonwealth to
produce Springfield Police Department reports involving
Officer Sierra for the same two-year period. But she released
the records to defense counsel with restrictions, making the
documents subject to a part written/part oral protective
order. The written ruling was encapsulated in a pre-printed
order entitled "PROTECTIVE ORDER FOR DEFENSE
COUNSEL." The written order, amongst other things,
permitted defense counsel to review the "presumptively
privileged" records for purposes of preparing for trial,
but prohibited her, without prior court approval, from
disclosing any of the information to anyone, including Zenon
or her investigator (but not including colleagues). It also
forbade her from contacting any of the individuals named in
the reports without court permission. From the bench, Judge
Guzman likewise allowed the Commonwealth access to the
records with similar restrictions.
Zenon's criminal case proceeded, his counsel began to
feel hampered by the prohibitions imposed by the court and
repeatedly petitioned to have them lifted. Prior to receiving
the records, defense counsel, on her own, had investigated
other alleged episodes involving Officer Sierra and had
identified and contacted several participants and witnesses
to discuss their own experiences with him. Also, rumors
abounded about other Officer Sierra dustups but the
protective order thwarted counsel's efforts to dig
deeper. By September 2015, though, she had partial success in
convincing Judge Guzman to vacate the protective order as to
at least two incidents,  but that was it.
September 23, 2015, Zenon filed a petition for extraordinary
relief with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (the
"SJC") to stay his criminal trial and vacate the
protective order. This petition was denied without a hearing
by a single justice, and Zenon pressed an appeal to the full
court. A few days later, on October 5, 2015, Zenon entered a
plea on the assault and battery charges: Zenon was not
required to stipulate to the conduct alleged, and the charges
were continued without a finding of guilt. But by its terms,
the protective order remained in effect.
the disposition of Zenon's criminal case, other
individuals who had been charged with assault and battery
under similar circumstances, as well as attorneys involved in
other courthouse incidents, contacted Zenon's attorney
seeking information about Officer Sierra. Although Zenon had
authorized his attorney to provide these people with relevant
information, he and his attorney had been prevented by the
protective order from sharing any information about Officer
February 4, 2016, a full panel of the SJC denied Zenon's
request to further consider his petition to vacate the
protective order. Zenon v. Commonwealth, 44 N.E.3d
858, 859 (Mass. 2016). Summarizing the prior proceedings, the
court wrote: "[Zenon] sought certain third-party records
in support of his claim that the alleged victim was in fact
the first aggressor." Id. at 859 (citing
Commonwealth v. Adjutant, 824 N.E.2d 1 (Mass.
2005)). The court continued: "The judge issued the
protective order concerning these records, apparently
following the Dwyer protocol." Id.
(citing Commonwealth v. Dwyer, 859 N.E.2d 400,
explicating its decision, the SJC focused on the procedure
available to Zenon when he initially filed his motion (that
is, while the criminal charges were still pending). The court
concluded that it did not need to exercise its
"extraordinary power of general superintendence under c.
211, §3" to intervene in the workings of the
Springfield court because Zenon had "an adequate
alternative remedy" in the normal trial and appellate
court processes. Id. at 859-60 (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted).
Had Zenon been tried and convicted of any offense, he could
have challenged the protective order on direct appeal. . . .
If Zenon believes that the records have any continuing
significance now that the charges have been resolved, he
could move in the District Court for termination or
modification of the protective order and, if such a motion is
denied, appeal in the ordinary course from that ruling.
Id. at 859.
not to follow any of the SJC's suggested pathways, Zenon
filed a complaint in federal court on July 14, 2016, seeking
a declaratory judgment that the protective order violates his
First Amendment rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
and naming as defendants Judge Guzman and the District Court
Division of the Massachusetts Trial Court. Judge Guzman
responded with a Rule 12 motion to dismiss, making three
principal arguments: that she was protected from suit by
sovereign immunity, pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment; that
the federal court was barred from hearing the suit based on
the doctrines of Younger and
Rooker-Feldman abstention; and that the
complaint was barred by collateral estoppel. Zenon then
amended his complaint, dropping the Commonwealth Trial Court
as a defendant. In due course a magistrate judge analyzed the
amended complaint and Judge Guzman's motion, and
recommended that Judge Guzman's motion be denied.
Thereafter, in a written objection to the report and
recommendation, Judge Guzman took the opportunity to add a
new argument to her motion: judicial immunity. In the end,
after citing the confusion caused by ...