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Gonzalez v. Kokot

December 27, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. No. 01 C 304--Allen Sharp, Judge.

Before Easterbrook, Ripple, and Kanne, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge


This appeal comes to us from a grant of summary judgment in favor of two East Chicago, Indiana police officers. A Chicago, Illinois police officer and his friend brought this § 1983 lawsuit, alleging that their constitutional rights had been violated when the East Chicago officers wrongfully arrested them and used excessive force in doing so. This lawsuit by Roberto Gonzalez and Gloria Holland faced an immediate hurdle, however, given that they had previously executed releases of any claims they might have had against the East Chicago officers. They nevertheless proceeded with their lawsuit, on the theory that the releases they signed were invalid and unenforceable either as a matter of contract law or as violating public policy. Because we agree with the district court that the releases are valid and thus fully enforceable, we affirm the grant of summary judgment.

I. History


The Arrest of Gonzalez and Holland The § 1983 claims asserted by Gonzalez and Holland arose out of an April 10, 1999 incident that began when Officers Nicholas Kokot and Deverick Dixon *fn1 were dispatched to an address on Drummond Avenue in East Chicago, Indiana. Upon their arrival, the two officers began to move pieces of wood and concrete sitting in the street onto the grassy area between the street and the sidewalk. Gonzalez, apparently unhappy with the transfer of the wood from the street to a position in front of his house, opened the door of his home and complained to the officers that the wood was damaging his lawn. The officers responded that if Gonzalez wanted the wood removed, he would have to speak with city officials.

From this point, the precise details of the encounter are somewhat unclear, but it is undisputed that Gonzalez and the officers continued to exchange words. According to the version advanced by Gonzalez, he initially spoke to the officers in a calm, measured tone, but as the interchange continued, Gonzalez admits to raising his voice, apparently making liberal use of profanity throughout the exchange. There is some disagreement as to the exact warning Officer Kokot then gave Gonzalez; Kokot asserts that he told Gonzalez to lower his voice, redirect his anger, or be arrested. Gonzalez claims that Kokot said nothing about lowering his voice. Gonzalez admits that he then began to belittle Kokot, and that in doing so he was "yelling, but not 'at the top of top of [sic] his lungs.' " (Appellant Br. at 8.)

The interchange between Gonzalez and the officers culminated in Officer Kokot's attempt to arrest Gonzalez. Gonzalez acknowledges resisting Kokot's effort to handcuff him, holding back his unrestrained arm to avoid being cuffed and attempting to stand up after Kokot put him on the ground. During this arrest attempt, Gonzalez's companion Gloria Holland came out of the house and attempted to position herself between Kokot and Gonzalez, asking the officers not to arrest him while she grabbed Gonzalez's uncuffed arm. She refused Dixon's request to stop interfering with Gonzalez's arrest, which led Dixon to grab her arm and arrest her as well. Holland twice withdrew her arm from his attempt to handcuff her, leading Dixon to place her on the ground to finish handcuffing her.

Gonzalez was charged with disorderly conduct in violation of Indiana Code § 35-45-1-3(2), *fn2 and with forcibly resisting, obstructing, or interfering with a law enforcement officer in violation of Indiana Code § 35-44-3-3(a)(1). *fn3

Holland was charged solely with resisting law enforcement. The charges against Gonzalez and Holland were brought in East Chicago City Court, where Gerald Kray, a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for Lake County, was assigned the case. The defendants retained attorney Jeffrey Schlesinger.


The Releases On or about February 28, 2000, while the criminal charges against Gonzalez and Holland were pending, their attorney Schlesinger served the City of East Chicago with a Notice of Tort Claim, asserting the claim that Officers Kokot and Dixon had arrested Gonzalez and Holland without probable cause and with the use of excessive force, violating their constitutional rights. Schlesinger also told prosecutor Kray of the tort claim, and Kray relayed this information to the East Chicago Law Department, as apparently was his practice, by calling Roy Dominguez, corporation counsel for East Chicago. Thus, Kray became aware of the civil rights claim to be filed by the defendants.

According to Schlesinger, he initiated plea discussions with Kray sometime after the charges were filed. During these discussions, Schlesinger told Kray that Gonzalez was a Chicago police officer and that Gonzalez would face job repercussions if he were found guilty or were to plead guilty. At some point, the issue of releases was introduced into the discussions. According to Kray, it was Schlesinger who first offered signed releases of claims if Kray would agree to a plea arrangement that led to a dismissal of the charges against his clients. Schlesinger, on the other hand, testified that Kray indicated that it was the City of East Chicago that was requiring releases from the defendants in return for its consent to a dismissal of the charges. Kray also testified that it was his practice to obtain the consent of the arresting officers before dismissing any criminal charges and that Kokot and Dixon wanted releases from Gonzalez and Holland before they would provide their consent to any dismissal.

In any event, the prosecutor, Schlesinger, and Kokot and Dixon reached an agreement providing for dismissal of the criminal charges in exchange for the release of any claims by Gonzalez and Holland--an arrangement known as a release-dismissal agreement. Sometime after the issue was introduced into the plea discussions, releases were prepared by the East Chicago Law Department and forwarded to Schlesinger. The releases were ...

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