707 F.3d 756 (7th Cir. 2013), 11-3428, Wells v. Coker

Docket Nº:11-3428.
Citation:707 F.3d 756
Opinion Judge:TINDER, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:James WELLS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Jeff COKER, in his Individual Capacity, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Attorney:Sara Michelle Mayo (argued), Attorney, Lower Level, Springfield, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant. Megan E. Morgan (argued), Attorney, Office of the Corporation Counsel, Springfield, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before POSNER, MANION, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:February 12, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 756

707 F.3d 756 (7th Cir. 2013)

James WELLS, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Jeff COKER, in his Individual Capacity, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 11-3428.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

February 12, 2013

Argued July 11, 2012.

Page 757

Sara Michelle Mayo (argued), Attorney, Lower Level, Springfield, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Megan E. Morgan (argued), Attorney, Office of the Corporation Counsel, Springfield, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before POSNER, MANION, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

Page 758

TINDER, Circuit Judge.

At around midnight on January 1, 2008, James Wells decided to celebrate New Year's Eve by shooting his gun into the air from his back porch. His celebration ended when Officer Jeffrey Coker of the Springfield, Illinois, Police Department shot him three times. What transpired in the moments between those two events is at the heart of this case.

Wells pleaded guilty to reckless conduct for his actions on that night. The charge to which he entered a guilty plea stated that he " discharged a firearm multiple times ... and then pointed the firearm at [Coker]." Prior to entering this guilty plea, Wells sued Coker and his employer, the City of Springfield, alleging that Coker used excessive force in shooting Wells. Coker contends that his force was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment and state law because Wells pointed his gun at him. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants after determining that Wells was judicially estopped from denying that he had pointed the gun at Coker because Wells pleaded guilty to a charge that included the statement that he had pointed the gun at Coker. Because neither judicial estoppel nor other doctrines of preclusion apply to the particular facts of Wells's plea agreement, we reverse the district court's order.

I. Background

The factual background for this appeal is deceptively simple. The parties agree that Wells shot his gun into the air several times to celebrate the New Year of 2008. They also agree that, after arriving at the scene to investigate the gunfire, Coker shot Wells three times, seriously injuring Wells. The only material fact in dispute is whether Wells pointed his gun at Coker before Coker fired at Wells. Coker claims that Wells turned toward him and pointed a gun in his direction, whereas Wells denies doing so.

On January 30, 2008, the Sangamon County State's Attorney's Office filed an information charging Wells with reckless discharge of a firearm, a felony, and stated that he " endangered the bodily safety of an individual in that, while acting in a reckless manner, he discharged a firearm multiple times." On August 11, 2009, the State's Attorney filed a second count against Wells, charging him with reckless conduct, a misdemeanor. This second count alleged that Wells " endangered the bodily safety of individuals in that, while acting in a reckless manner, he discharged a firearm multiple times ... and then pointed the firearm at Officer Jeff Coker" (emphasis added). See 720 ILCS 5/12-5(a)(1) (" A person commits reckless conduct when he or she ... recklessly performs an act or acts that cause bodily harm to or endanger the safety of another person" ). Either of these two factual bases— discharging a gun in a residential neighborhood or pointing a gun at Coker— would have been sufficient, standing alone, to support a guilty plea for reckless conduct. Through an agreement with the State to dismiss the felony count, Wells pleaded guilty to this second count on that same day, following a plea hearing during which the court recited the terms of this second count to Wells, who replied by agreeing that he understood the charge and all possible penalties. Wells's lawyer was present during this plea hearing. The transcript of the guilty plea hearing (which Wells introduced in opposition to the State's summary judgment motion) shows that the discussion of the facts supporting the charge was brief and that Wells's guilty plea was not specific with respect to whether he was admitting to shooting the firearm, pointing it at Coker, or both:

Page 759

The Court: All right, in Count II, Mr. Wells, you're charged with the offense of Reckless Conduct. It's alleged that on or about the 1st day of January, 2008, within Sangamon County, that you endangered the bodily safety of individuals in that, while acting in a reckless manner, you discharged a firearm in the air multiple times in a residential neighborhood while celebrating New Year's Eve and then pointed the firearm at Officer Jeff Coker of the Springfield Police Department.

As charged, it's a Class A misdemeanor punishable up to a year in jail, $2,500 fine, and you could be sentenced to probation, conditional discharge or periodic imprisonment.

Do you understand the charge in Count II and all of the possible penalties for a Class A misdemeanor?

Wells: Yes.

...

The Court: How do you plead to the charge of Reckless Conduct, a Class A misdemeanor, in Count II?

Wells: Guilty.

During the period between the filing of the first and second criminal charge, Wells brought a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Coker, alleging that Coker's decision to shoot Wells violated Wells's constitutional rights. Wells also sued the City of Springfield under a Monell custom or policy theory, Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), and included some state tort law claims as well.1 The defendants moved for summary judgment on May 20, 2011, arguing that, since the charge to which Wells pleaded guilty stated that Wells pointed a loaded gun at Coker, Coker's use of deadly force in response was justified. In response, Wells denied aiming his gun at Coker. But he admitted that after he shot several rounds in the air, his gun still contained a few rounds of ammunition.

In litigating the motion for summary judgment, the parties also disputed the legal significance of Wells's guilty plea for reckless conduct. The...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP