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Belezos v. Board of Selectmen of Hingham

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 3, 2019

NICHOLAS G. BELEZOS, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF SELECTMEN of Hingham, Massachusetts, in their official capacity, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: PLAINTIFF BELEZOS' MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION OF MARCH 29, 2019 ORDER (DOCKET ENTRY # 26)

          MARIANNE B. BOWLER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Nicholas G. Belezos, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, (“plaintiff”) seeks reconsideration of a March 29, 2019 Memorandum and Order (Docket Entry # 22) “on the basis of manifest errors of law and manifest injustice.” (Docket Entry # 26). As to the state law claims, he submits this court “erroneously overlooked the controlling Massachusetts law of claim preclusion (res judicata), in particular the law of ‘appellate disregard' as enunciated in” Springfield Preservation Trust, Inc. v. Springfield Library and Museums Ass'n, Inc., 852 N.E.2d 83 (Mass. 2006) (“Springfield Trust”). (Docket Entry # 26, pp. 1, 4-6).[1] As to the substantive due process claims, plaintiff argues this court “misapprehended and erroneously distinguished Limone, Kennie, and Rose I & II, erroneously overlooked Sharpe, and erroneously relied upon Zotos I & II.” (Docket Entry # 26, pp. 1, 7-21). With respect to the procedural due process claim, plaintiff asserts this court “erroneously overlooked the Mathews[2] balancing test.” (Docket Entry # 26, pp. 1, 21-22). Defendants Board of Selectmen of the Town of Hingham (“defendants”), sued in their official capacity, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, disagree. (Docket Entry # 29).

         DISCUSSION

         The standard to warrant reconsideration is difficult to meet. See Mulero-Abreu v. Puerto Rico Police Dep't, 675 F.3d 88, 95 (1st Cir. 2012). One means to succeed is for a movant to “‘demonstrate . . . that the rendering court committed a manifest error of law.'” Id. at 94; see Villanueva v. United States, 662 F.3d 124, 128 (1st Cir. 2011) (“[r]econsideration may be proper where the movant shows a manifest error of law . . . or where the district court has misunderstood a party or made an error of apprehension”); Ruiz Rivera v. Pfizer Pharm., LLC, 521 F.3d 76, 82 (1st Cir. 2008) (reconsideration appropriate when “‘movant shows a manifest error of law'” or “if the court ‘has patently misunderstood a party or has made an error not of reasoning but apprehension'”) (internal ellipses omitted); accord United States v. Allen, 573 F.3d 42, 53 (1st Cir. 2009) (reconsideration appropriate “if there has been an intervening change in the law, or if the movant can demonstrate that the original decision was based on a manifest error of law or was clearly unjust”); Ellis v. United States, 313 F.3d 636, 648 (1st Cir. 2002) (reconsideration “warranted if there has been a material change in controlling law” or “manifest injustice”). As indicated, the existence of a manifest injustice also provides a basis for reconsideration. Ellis v. United States, 313 F.3d at 648; see Christianson v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp., 486 U.S. 800, 817 (1988) (“court has the power to revisit prior decisions . . ., although as a rule courts should be loathe to do so in the absence of extraordinary circumstances such as where the initial decision was ‘clearly erroneous and would work a manifest injustice'”). The manifest injustice exception “requires a definite and firm conviction that a prior ruling on a material matter is unreasonable or obviously wrong, ” Ellis, 313 F.3d at 648, “‘as well as a finding of prejudice.'” United States v. Garcia-Ortiz, 792 F.3d 184, 190-91 (1st Cir. 2015) (quoting United States v. Wallace, 573 F.3d 82, 89 (1st Cir. 2009), in parenthetical), cert. denied, 138 S.Ct. 694 (Jan. 8, 2018).

         Reconsideration is not an appropriate means “to advance arguments that could and should have been presented to the district court prior to its original ruling.” Villanueva v. United States, 662 F.3d at 128; accord United States v. Allen, 573 F.3d at 53. Finally, this court has considerable discretion in adjudicating a motion for reconsideration. See Harlow v. Children's Hosp., 432 F.3d 50, 56 (1st Cir. 2005) (“district court was not barred from reconsidering the prior decision; at most we review the decision to reconsider only for a particularly egregious abuse of discretion”); accord Ray v. Ropes & Gray LLP, 799 F.3d 99, 109 n.3 (1st Cir. 2015) (even if “law of the case doctrine applied to the court's interlocutory order, we would ‘review the decision to reconsider only for a particularly egregious abuse of discretion'”) (quoting Harlow v. Children's Hosp., 432 F.3d at 55); Karter v. Pleasant View Gardens, Inc., 323 F.Supp.3d 179, 181 (D. Mass. 2018) (court “has substantial discretion to grant or deny a motion for reconsideration”).

         I. Claim Preclusion

         Plaintiff initially seeks reconsideration of the “state claims” (counts I to III) because this court overlooked the controlling precedent of Springfield Trust. (Docket Entry # 26, pp. 1, 4-6). He correctly indicates (Docket Entry # 26, p. 4) that this court dismissed the individual state law claims based on claim preclusion (Docket Entry # 22, § A and p. 41).

         The decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) in Springfield Trust, 852 N.E.2d at 91, sets out a strikingly similar procedural fact pattern and arrives at a conclusion different from this court on the third element of claim preclusion in the context of an appeal. See generally RFF Family P'ship, LP v. Ross, 814 F.3d 520, 531-32 (1st Cir. 2016) (setting out the three required elements of claim preclusion under Massachusetts law, including third element, i.e., existence of “‘prior final judgment on the merits'”) (internal citation omitted).

         For reasons largely expressed by plaintiff (Docket Entry # 26, pp. 5-6), this court has a firm conviction that its decision finding that claim preclusion applied as to the third element, notwithstanding a decision by the Massachusetts Appeals Court (“MAC”) affirming the lower court in plaintiff's state court proceeding, [3] constitutes a manifest error of law as well as a manifest injustice sufficient to warrant reconsideration. The MAC affirmed the lower court's ruling on a procedural basis and found it “unnecessary to reach the merits of Belezos's claims.” (Docket Entry # 8-8, p. 4). Whereas the lower court decided the claims on the merits and entered a final judgment (Docket Entry # 8-7), the MAC decided the matter on a procedural ground based on a waiver without reaching the merits (Docket Entry # 8-8).[4] The Springfield Trust decision, which this court regretfully overlooked, is controlling, involves similar procedural facts, and is dispositive of the judgment-on-the-merits element of claim preclusion regarding appellate disregard in Massachusetts. See, e.g., Poirier v. Mass. Dep't of Corr., 186 F.Supp.3d 66, 68-69 (D. Mass. 2016) (reconsidering and reversing prior statute of limitations ruling because “DOC brings my attention to a First Circuit decision . . . which is dispositive of the timeliness issue with regard to Plaintiff's federal claim”) (citation omitted), aff'd, No. 16-1587 (1st Cir. Feb. 22, 2018), cert. denied, No. 18-5401 (Nov. 19, 2018).

         More specifically, the SJC in Springfield Trust addressed claim preclusion in the context of a prior case in which a lower court found an ordinance valid, followed by the appeals court affirming the judgment “on procedural grounds.” Springfield Trust, 852 N.E.2d at 91. The procedural grounds consisted of a failure to join a necessary party and a failure to “notify the Attorney General of the suit, as required” under a state statute. Id. at 417, n.11. On appeal in the prior case, the MAC “specifically stated that it did ‘not reach the other questions raised.'” Id. at 417 (internal citation omitted). Based on these procedural facts, the SJC refused to apply claim preclusion to the lower court's initial decision on the merits because the MAC decided the matter on procedural grounds. Id. at 91.

While the lower court had addressed the merits of the trust's claim, the case was ultimately decided on other grounds having nothing to do with the merits (see note 11, supra). “It is settled . . . that no [preclusive] effect can be attributed to a decree dismissing a bill or petition in equity, for want of jurisdiction or any other cause not involving the essential merits of the controversy.” Curley v. Curley, 311 Mass. 61, 66, 40 N.E.2d 272 (1942).

Springfield Trust, 852 N.E.2d at 91; see In re Sonus Networks, Inc., 499 F.3d 47, 59 (1st Cir. 2007) (quoting above language in Springfield Trust quoting Curley v. Curley, 40 N.E.2d 272, 274 (Mass. 1942)).

         Plaintiff presented the appellate disregard argument in his initial brief by quoting Sonus Networks' quotation of Springfield Trust. (Docket Entry # 15, p. 20). This court entirely overlooked the Springfield Trust decision and focused on In re Baylis, 217 F.3d 66, 71 (1st Cir. 2000), another decision cited in plaintiff's brief, as well as the lower court's merits-based decision in plaintiff's state court proceeding, Belezos v. Board of Selectmen of the Town of Hingham, Civil Action No. PLCV2014-01018B. (Docket Entry # 22, pp. 26-29). Further, whereas this court cited to a case involving issue preclusion that addressed the preclusive effect of an appellate court's decision affirming on a procedural ground a lower court's merits-based decision (Docket Entry # 22, pp. 28-29), this court did not address or cite a Massachusetts case involving claim preclusion with a similar procedural fact pattern involving an appeal of a lower court's decision resting on a singular ground rather than alternative grounds. The SJC's decision in Springfield Trust, however, addresses this fact pattern and finds no preclusive effect. Refusing to reconsider the unreasonable ruling, which overlooked Springfield and reached a diametrically opposite result, will work a manifest injustice result on plaintiff. See Ellis v. United States, 313 F.3d at 648 & n.5 (recognizing “a meaningful difference between an arguably erroneous ruling . . . and an unreasonable ruling that paves the way for a manifestly unjust result”). Accordingly, in this court's discretion and based on a manifest error of law or, alternatively, the existence of manifest injustice, see United States v. Carta, 690 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2012) (“‘manifest injustice requires a definite and firm conviction that a prior ruling is unreasonable or obviously wrong and a finding of prejudice'”) (internal brackets, citation, and ellipses omitted); Ellis v. United States, 313 F.3d at 648 (manifest injustice “requires a definite and firm conviction that a prior ruling on a material matter is unreasonable or obviously wrong” and prejudice), reconsideration is appropriate and the motion to reconsider (Docket Entry # 26) is allowed as to the state law claims. See Poirier v. Mass. Dep't of Corr., 186 F.Supp.3d at 68-69; see also DeGrandis v. Children's Hosp. Boston, Civil Action No. 14-10416-FDS, 2015 WL 1959433, at *4, *6 (D. Mass. Apr. 30, 2015) (allowing motion to reconsider because court previously and erroneously concluded memorandum of agreement was “a repudiation, ” First Circuit law does not consider such “last-chance agreements . . . to be a form of repudiation, ” and court incorrectly determined claim was “straight breach-of-contract claim rather than a ‘hybrid' claim under the LMRA”). The reconsideration of the state law claims (counts I to III) leads to their inclusion as claims in this case and no longer dismissed.

         II. Substantive ...


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