Echavarria v. Roach et al
Judge Allison D. Burroughs: MEMORANDUM AND ORDER entered. Plaintiffs motion for reconsideration, [ECF No. 269 ], is DENIED. SO ORDERED.(McManus, Caetlin)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS
J. MICHAEL ROACH, et al.,
Civil Action No. 16-cv-11118-ADB
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON
PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION
Plaintiff Angel Echavarria alleges that Defendants— the City of Lynn, former officers of
the City of Lynn Police Department, and former officers of the Massachusetts State Police—
violated his civil rights by engaging in unlawful conduct during the investigation that led to his
now-vacated conviction for first-degree murder. [ECF No. 1]. Defendants filed seven motions
to dismiss, [ECF Nos. 44, 51, 54, 56, 58, 71, 78], which the Court granted in part and denied in
part on September 7, 2017 (“Motion to Dismiss Order”), [ECF No. 96]. Currently pending
before the Court is Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration of the Court’s finding that part of his
due process claim was barred by collateral estoppel. [ECF No. 269]. For the reasons set forth
below, the motion is DENIED.
Presuming the parties’ familiarity with this case, the Court here details only the facts that
are relevant to the instant motion.
In January 1994, Daniel Rodriguez (“Daniel”) was shot and killed after two armed men
broke into the apartment where he was staying. Echavarria v. Roach, No. 16-cv-11118, 2017
WL 3928270, at *1 (D. Mass. Sept. 7, 2017). In 1996, Plaintiff was convicted for Daniel’s
murder and sentenced to life in prison. Id. at *2. The conviction was affirmed on appeal by the
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”). Commonwealth v. Echavarria, 703 N.E.2d
1137, 1141 (Mass. 1998). After spending more than two decades in prison, a Massachusetts
Superior Court ruled that Plaintiff was entitled to a new trial based on ineffective assistance of
counsel and vacated his conviction. See Echavarria, 2017 WL 3928270, at *2. In June 2015, the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts entered a nolle prosequi, which dropped all charges against
As part of the initial murder investigation, and a year after the murder took place, two of
the defendants, Lt. Michael Roach and Sgt. Jack Garvin, 1 visited a man named Gary Sevinor in
prison. Echavarria, 2017 WL 3928270, at *2. Sevinor was allegedly present in the apartment at
the time of Daniel’s murder, although Plaintiff maintains that he was not there and police reports
from the night of the murder do not identify him as a witness. See id. During the meeting at the
prison, Roach and Garvin presented Sevinor with a photo array, and he identified Plaintiff as one
of Daniel’s killers. Id. Plaintiff maintains that Garvin and Roach used unduly suggestive
identification procedures to convince Sevinor to falsely implicate him. Id. This identification
was used as evidence in Plaintiff’s trial. Id. Plaintiff raised the suggestiveness of Sevinor’s
identification during his criminal trial and moved to suppress that evidence. Echavarria, 703
N.E.2d at 1139. The trial court denied the motion. Id.
Plaintiff concedes that he would be asserting his currently precluded due process claim only
against defendants Roach and Garvin. [ECF No. 313 at 7 n.3].
During his appeal, the SJC upheld the trial court’s determination that Sevinor’s pretrial
identification was not “so unnecessarily suggestive and conducive to irreparable mistaken
identification as to deny [Plaintiff] due process of law.” Echavarria, 703 N.E.2d at 1139 (citation
and internal quotation marks omitted).
Defendants filed their motions to dismiss in fall of 2016 and argued that any § 1983 claim
based on the suggestiveness of Sevinor’s identification was precluded by the SJC’s ruling on that
issue. [ECF No. 49 at 24–25; ECF No. 52 at 17–18; ECF No. 57 at 11–12; ECF No. 59 at 4–5;
ECF No. 79 at 12–13]. The Court agreed that the claim was precluded and reasoned that
[t]he SJC recognized the constitutional implications of Plaintiff’s challenge to the
identification procedure, and nevertheless ruled against him on this issue. Thus,
the elements of issue preclusion are satisfied: the issue was litigated and determined
by a final judgment, and the determination was essential to that judgment.
Accordingly, Plaintiff is precluded from advancing any claim that Sevinor’s pretrial
identification was unduly suggestive.
Echavarria, 2017 WL 3928270, at *9. Although the suggestive identification theory was
dismissed in the Motion to Dismiss Order, Plaintiff was permitted to otherwise pursue his
allegations that Sevinor’s role as an eyewitness violated his civil rights (i.e., under theories of
suppression or fabrication of evidence). Id.
On September 10, 2020, over three years after the Court issued the Motion to Dismiss
Order, Plaintiff filed his motion for reconsideration. [ECF No. 269]. Six days later, on
September 16, 2020, Plaintiff filed a notice of supplemental authority directing the Court’s
attention to an opinion from another session of this Court, Schand v. McMahon, 487 F. Supp. 3d.
71 (D. Mass. 2020). [ECF No. 270]. On October 28, 2020, Defendants filed three separate
oppositions to the motion for reconsideration. [ECF Nos. 275, 278, 283]. Plaintiff filed his reply
on February 9, 2021. [ECF No. 303].
“A federal district court has the discretion to reconsider interlocutory orders and revise or
amend them at any time prior to final judgment.” Davis v. Lehane, 89 F. Supp. 2d 142, 147 (D.
Mass. 2000); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b); Fernandez-Vargas v. Pfizer, 522 F.3d 55, 61 n.2 (1st Cir.
2008) (“[A] district court has the inherent power to reconsider its interlocutory orders, and we
encourage it to do so where error is apparent.”); see also Perez-Ruiz v. Crespo-Guillen, 25 F.3d
40, 42 (1st Cir. 1994) (“Interlocutory orders . . . remain open to trial court reconsideration . . . .”).
The Supreme Court, however, has cautioned that “courts should be loathe to [reconsider orders]
in the absence of extraordinary circumstances such as where the initial decision was ‘clearly
erroneous and would work a manifest injustice.’” Christianson v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp.,
486 U.S. 800, 817 (1988) (quoting Arizona v. California, 460 U.S. 605, 618 n.8 (1983)). With
these principles in mind, “a court should grant a motion for reconsideration of an interlocutory
order only when the movant demonstrates (1) an intervening change in the law; (2) the discovery
of new evidence not previously available; or (3) a clear error of law in the first order.” Davis, 89
F. Supp. 2d at 147. “Motions for reconsideration are not to be used as ‘a vehicle for a party to
undo its own procedural failures [or] allow a party to advance arguments that could and should
have been presented to the district court prior to judgment.’” United States v. Allen, 573 F.3d
42, 53 (1st Cir. 2009) (alteration in original) (quoting Iverson v. City of Boston, 452 F.3d 94,
104 (1st Cir. 2006)); see also Sullivan v. Dumont, 391 F. Supp. 3d 161, 164 (D. Mass. 2019)
(finding that a motion for reconsideration of an interlocutory order should not be used to advance
arguments that could have been raised earlier).
Plaintiff asserts that reconsideration is appropriate because: (1) the Court misapplied the
standard for issue preclusion in the Motion to Dismiss Order; (2) he has uncovered new evidence
during discovery that was not previously available; and (3) there has been an intervening change
in the law on the preclusive effect of vacated judgments. [ECF No. 269 at 13–18].
Plaintiff first contends that the Court’s prior ruling contradicts the basic principle of
hornbook law that a vacated state court judgment cannot have preclusive effect. [ECF No. 269 at
13–15]. He contends that the state trial court’s decision to grant him a new trial vacated his
conviction and all appellate decisions related to the underlying conviction.
A defense of issue preclusion requires four elements: “(1) the issues raised in the two
actions are the same; (2) the issue was actually litigated in the earlier action; (3) the issue was
determined by a valid and binding final judgment; and (4) the determination of the issue was
necessary to that judgment.” Manganella v. Evanston Ins. Co., 700 F.3d 585, 591 (1st Cir.
To start, although Defendants raised the defense of issue preclusion at the motion to
dismiss stage, Plaintiff failed to raise any argument regarding the preclusive effect of a vacated
judgment in his opposition to the motion to dismiss. See [ECF No. 83 at 45–46]. The Court
questions whether Plaintiff has waived his right to make this argument in a motion for
In the Motion to Dismiss Order, the Court applied the Massachusetts standard for issue
preclusion. Plaintiff argues that the federal standard for issue preclusion applies here, but also
concedes that the outcome would be the same under either standard because both standards
require that there be a valid and final judgment. [ECF No. 269 at 14]; see also Kelso v. Kelso,
15 N.E.3d 767, 772–73 (Mass. App. Ct. 2014) (discussing Massachusetts standard).
Accordingly, the Court applies the federal law standard that Plaintiff advocates for but agrees
that its analysis would be the same under either standard.
reconsideration. Allen, 573 F.3d at 53 (“Motions for reconsideration are not to be used [to] . . .
allow a party to advance arguments that could and should have been presented to the district
court prior to judgment.” (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). Setting aside that
issue, the Court did not clearly err in finding that the suggestiveness of Sevinor’s identification
was decided in a final and valid judgment by the SJC. In the Motion to Dismiss Order, the Court
held that the SJC’s opinion, not the underlying conviction, was a final and valid judgment on the
issue because it specifically addressed the nature of Sevinor’s identification. See Echavarria,
2017 WL 3928270, at *9. In reaching this decision, the Court relied on Johnson v. Mahoney,
424 F.3d 83, 93 (1st Cir. 2005). Id. In Johnson, the First Circuit, while considering a petition for
rehearing, rejected the argument that a SJC opinion affirming the conviction was vacated
because the underlying conviction was later vacated. 424 F.3d at 96. The First Circuit noted that
the SJC opinion in that case had not been expressly withdrawn or vacated and that the SJC
continued to cite the opinion as precedent. Id. Although the discussion of this issue was dicta
because the First Circuit held that this argument had been waived, the Court continues to find
Johnson supportive of its ruling in the Motion to Dismiss Order and the facts to be analogous to
the instant case. Because Plaintiff has not identified any First Circuit or Supreme Court
precedent that explicitly holds that an appellate decision cannot have preclusive effect when the
underlying conviction is vacated, the Court declines to grant the motion for reconsideration on
the basis of clear error.
Also relevant to the Court’s analysis is the fact that the order granting Plaintiff a new trial
was not based on the suggestiveness of the identification procedures used with Sevinor and
specifically did not upset the SJC’s ruling on that point. Commonwealth v. Echavarria, No.
1994-2407, 2015 WL 1947741 (Mass. Super. Ct. Apr. 30, 2015). Though Plaintiff made
arguments about the new evidence relating to Sevinor’s identification, the superior court
declined to consider that new evidence in reaching its ruling and instead relied on trial counsel’s
failure to call Plaintiff to testify (after promising the jury that he would) and his failure to
impeach another eyewitness to the murder. Id. at *9–10, *12 n.6.
In reaching its decision, the Court recognizes that other judges, in this district and others,
have reasonably ruled differently on this issue. The Court is also aware, however, that when
deciding a motion for reconsideration it “should be loathe to [revisit previous orders] in the
absence of extraordinary circumstances.” Christianson, 486 U.S. at 817. No such extraordinary
circumstances exist here.
Plaintiff next argues that the Court erred in finding that the suggestiveness of Sevinor’s
identification was actually litigated because (1) the newly discovered evidence that Defendants
suppressed or fabricated prevented him from fully and fairly litigating the issue; and (2) the issue
in the SJC’s opinion is not identical to the issue he raises now. [ECF No. 269 at 15–17; ECF No.
313 at 6]. This argument is essentially a more detailed rehashing of the arguments that Plaintiff
raised in his opposition to the motions to dismiss. In that brief, Plaintiff argued that the identity
of issues prong was “sorely lacking” and that Defendants should not be permitted to assert issue
preclusion when there were allegations that they had suppressed and fabricated evidence. [ECF
No. 83 at 45–46]. The Court has already considered and rejected these arguments, and they do
not now warrant reconsideration of the ruling on Sevinor’s identification.
Newly Discovered Evidence
Plaintiff also contends that the new evidence discovered since the Motion to Dismiss
Order was issued provides an independent reason to grant the motion for reconsideration because
it demonstrates that Sevinor’s identification was suggestive. [ECF No. 313 at 5–6]. Most of the
new evidence Plaintiff identifies, however, is unrelated to Sevinor and therefore is not a basis for
reconsidering the Sevinor identification issue. [Id. (discussing suppressed evidence relating to
another eyewitness and suppressed evidence regarding another suspect)]. Another portion of the
new evidence does relate to Sevinor, [id. at 5 (discussing evidence that Sevinor was not at the
crime scene, that a hat connecting Sevinor to the scene was fabricated, and that Sevinor was an
informant)], but that evidence is relevant to Plaintiff’s broader theories of fabrication and
suppression of evidence, which were not dismissed and will be allowed to proceed to trial. The
evidence that does specifically relate to Sevinor’s identification procedures largely just bolsters
allegations in the complaint, which the Court considered at the time that the Motion to Dismiss
Order was issued. [Id. (describing the specific coercive techniques and inadequate photo array
used with Sevinor)]. In his opposition to the motions to dismiss, Plaintiff alleged that
“Defendants again used unduly suggestive techniques or outright coercion to convince Sevinor to
falsely identify Plaintiff as one of Daniel’s killers.” [ECF No. 83 at 8]. At the motion to dismiss
stage these allegations were taken as true, but did not change the Court’s analysis. Although
Plaintiff has now further specified what the coercive or suggestive techniques actually were, that
alone does not require the Court to reconsider its prior ruling.
Change in Law
Plaintiff asserts that he could not have raised his current arguments in his opposition to
the motions to dismiss because courts have only recently decided that “vacated state criminal
judgments cannot have preclusive effect in later § 1983 litigation challenging the validity of state
criminal proceedings.” [ECF No. 313 at 3–4; ECF No. 269 at 13–15]. To support his argument,
Plaintiff cites to recent cases from other sessions of this Court, the Sixth Circuit, the District of
Colorado, and the Northern District of New York, which have all found that a vacated conviction
cannot be a basis for issue preclusion. 3 [ECF No. 313 at 3–4]. Fundamentally, Plaintiff
contradicts his “change in law” theory by also explicitly arguing that it is a matter of “hornbook”
law that a vacated judgment cannot be given preclusive force and citing to decades-old First
Circuit precedent to support this point. [ECF No. 269 at 13–14]. Accordingly, the arguments
that he makes now were all available to him at the time that he filed his opposition to
Defendants’ arguments in support of issue preclusion, but he failed to make them. As noted
above, motions for reconsideration “are not vehicles for pressing arguments which could have
been asserted earlier.” Galanis v. Szulik, 863 F. Supp. 2d 123, 124 (D. Mass. 2012) (citing
Palmer v. Champion Mortg., 465 F.3d 24, 30 (1st Cir. 2006)).
Furthermore, the opinions that Plaintiff has identified are not binding on this Court, and
the fact that other courts have applied this legal principle differently in the time since the Motion
to Dismiss Order was decided does not demonstrate that there has been an intervening change in
law that supports reconsideration. See Martins v. 3PD Inc., No. 11-cv-11313, 2014 WL
1271761, at *3 (D. Mass. Mar. 27, 2014) (declining to reconsider an earlier interlocutory order
based on a contrary decision that had since been issued by a different district court).
Interests of Justice
Finally, Plaintiff contends that principles of equity and justice require reconsideration.
[ECF No. 269 at 17–18]. Declining to reconsider one discrete legal theory relating to Sevinor,
Some of the recently decided cases are easily distinguishable because the court did not discuss
the preclusive effect of the appellate decision. See Peterson v. Heymes, 931 F.3d 546, 554-55
(6th Cir. 2019); O’Connell v. Alejo, 2020 WL 1244852, at *4 (D. Colo. Mar. 16, 2020). Other
courts did explicitly find that the appellate opinion confirming the conviction would be vacated
along with the underlying conviction. Cosenza v. City of Worcester, 355 F. Supp. 3d 81, 94 (D.
Mass. 2019); Dukes v. City of Albany, 289 F. Supp. 3d 387, 393 (N.D.N.Y. 2018). Regardless,
as noted infra, these cases are not binding on the Court and they do not represent an intervening
change in law.
however, will not result in a manifest injustice to Plaintiff. Plaintiff was permitted to pursue
other due process theories relating to Sevinor, and the Court has allowed his fabrication and
suppression theories relating to Sevinor to proceed to trial against certain defendants. See [ECF
No. 335]. Accordingly, there is still ample opportunity for Plaintiff to challenge Defendants’
allegedly unlawful conduct vis-à-vis Sevinor.
For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration, [ECF No. 269], is
September 30, 2021
/s/ Allison D. Burroughs
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS
U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
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