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Negligence Claim Stated in Florida Jail Prisoner's Suicide

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal has upheld a Florida district
court's grant of judgment as a matter of law on a claim of deliberate
indifference to medical needs and a state tort claim of negligent
supervision, training, and management in a Monroe County Detention Center
(MCDC) prisoner's suicide, but reversed the state tort claim of vicarious
liability for negligent failure to prevent the suicide.

Originally filed in state court, this action was moved to federal
court upon motion of the Monroe County Sheriff, Rick Roth. This lawsuit
was brought by the estate of deceased MCDC prisoner Daniel Tessier. The
matter proceeded to a jury trial, and after the estate closed its case,
the district court granted the Sheriff's motion for judgment as a matter
of law on all counts.

Tessier was booked into MCDC on May 18, 1999, on a charge of auto
theft. The next day he submitted a written request to see a doctor and
psychiatrist. Guard Kenneth Kerr logged in the request and placed it in
the box for medical to pick up, which was to occur twice daily. Tessier's
request, however, was not received until May 20.

Shortly after submitting his request, Tessier was observed by Kerr
to be nervous and he appeared to be having an anxiety attack. Tessier
complained of chest pains and was taken to medical. An electrocardiogram
netted borderline" results. Tessier was returned to his cell. A few
hours later, Tessier's symptoms continued and he was returned to medical.

The next day, Tessier was seen by Dr. Carol Daniels, an employee
with MCDC's medical contractor, Prison Health Services. Dr. Daniels
diagnosed Tessier with pleurtis, a begnign condition, and ordered he be
given a chest x-ray and motrin. About 5:00 p.m. on May 20, Tessier was
returned to his cell. Guard Robert Malopski said Tessier still appeared
nervous upon return.

Around 9:20 p.m. Tessier submitted a second written request,
PROBLEM TO BREATHE." To guard John Whortenburg's inquiry, Tessier said
his request was not urgent and could be handled on the next scheduled
time" the doctor came. At 9:35 a.m. on May 21, Tessier was discovered
hanged in his cell. He died two days later when life support was

On appeal, Tessier's estate argued it was erroneous for the
district court to exclude evidence of five other suicides over a 23 month
period. The Eleventh Circuit held that material differences in facts and
circumstances justified their exclusion. The court also held that the
denial of suicide expert's testimony was not an abuse of discretion
because the proferred expert's testimony in the form of conclusionary
statements devoid of factual or analytical support is simply not enough"
to meet the substantial burden of showing the testimony will assist the
trier of fact.

In upholding the judgment the sheriff was not deliberately
indifferent to Tessier's medical needs, the court said the Sheriff had no
notice that Tessier's suicide was foreseeable. The court then turned to
the state law claims. As the negligent training claim was based on
a discretionery government function, Flordia law entitled the Sheriff to
soverign immunity.

The Court, however, held that under Florida tort law the estate
submitted evidence that Tessier's suicide was a reasonably foreseeable
consequence of acts and omissions of MCDC employees." As such, Florida
law holds vicarious liability could be found by a reasonable jury.
Accordingly, the court reversed this claim for further proceedings while
affirming judgment on the other two claims.

Because original federal jurisdiction no longer exists, the
district court may send the case back to state court upon remand. See:
Cook v. Sheriff of Monroe County, Florida, 402 F.3d 1092 (11th Cir 2005).

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Related legal case

Cook v. Sheriff of Monroe County, Florida

[111] Cook argues that the MCDC's allegedly defective procedures amount to "deliberate indifference toward a class of suicidal detainees to which Tessier belongs, and that the deliberate indifference toward that class caused constitutional harm to Tessier individually." Appellant's Br. at 29 (emphasis in original). However, as we have explained previously, under our precedent, the defendant must have had "notice of the suicidal tendency of the individual whose rights are at issue in order to be held liable for the suicide of that individual." Tittle, 10 F.3d at 1539 (emphasis in original). Deliberate indifference, in the jail suicide context, is not a question of the defendant's indifference to suicidal inmates or suicide indicators generally, but rather it "is a question of whether a defendant was deliberately indifferent to an individual's mental condition and the likely consequences of that condition." Id. (emphasis added). For this reason, "[a]bsent knowledge of a detainee's suicidal tendencies, [our] cases have consistently held that failure to prevent suicide has never been held to constitute deliberate indifference." Popham, 908 F.2d at 1564. Thus, even if Cook had established the Sheriff's deliberate indifference toward suicidal inmates in general -- and, on this record, precious little evidence points to such a conclusion -- this would not suffice to demonstrate the foreseeability of Tessier's suicide and to hold the Sheriff liable under § 1983.*fn10

[112] Because Cook has failed to demonstrate that Tessier's suicide was foreseeable to the Sheriff, the sole defendant in this case, "there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find" deliberate indifference. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a). Accordingly, the district court properly entered judgment as a matter of law for the Sheriff on Cook's § 1983 claim.

[113] B.

[114] Cook's second claim is that the Sheriff is liable for Tessier's suicide death under Florida tort law, since Tessier's suicide was a probable and foreseeable consequence of the Sheriff's negligent failure to train and supervise MCDC employees. This claim is barred by Florida's sovereign immunity law; we, therefore, conclude that the district court did not err in granting the Sheriff's motion for judgment as a matter of law on this claim as well.

[115] As a panel of this Court has previously acknowledged, under Florida law, "a governmental agency is immune from tort liability based upon actions that involve its 'discretionary' functions." Lewis v. City of St. Petersburg, 260 F.3d 1260, 1266 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Dep't of Health & Rehabilitative Servs. v. Yamuni, 529 So.2d 258, 260 (Fla. 1988)). As the Supreme Court of Florida has explained recently, "if a duty of care is owed, it must then be determined whether sovereign immunity bars an action for an alleged breach of that duty. In making this assessment, it is necessary to ascertain the character of the allegedly negligent governmental act or omission. As this Court has determined, basic judgmental or discretionary governmental functions are immune from legal action, whereas operational acts are not protected by sovereign immunity." Pollock v. Fla. Dep't of Highway Patrol, 882 So. 2d 928, 933 (Fla. 2004) (citation omitted).

[116] A discretionary function, under Florida law, is one in which "the governmental act in question involved an exercise of executive or legislative power such that, for the court to intervene by way of tort law, it inappropriately would entangle itself in fundamental questions of policy and planning." Henderson v. Bowden, 737 So. 2d 532, 538 (Fla. 1999) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "An 'operational' function, on the other hand, is one not necessary to or inherent in policy or planning, that merely reflects a secondary decision as to how those policies or plans will be implemented." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Florida's discretionary function exception to its general waiver of sovereign immunity "is grounded in the doctrine of separation of powers," and "it would be an improper infringement of separation of powers for the judiciary, by way of tort law, to intervene in fundamental decisionmaking of the executive and legislative branches of government, including the agencies and municipal corporations they have created." Kaisner v. Kolb, 543 So. 2d 732, 736-37 (Fla. 1989).

[117] Applying these Florida sovereign immunity principles, in Lewis v. City of St. Petersburg, a panel of this Court addressed a tort claim brought on behalf of the estate of a motorist shot and killed by St. Petersburg police officers, alleging that the city negligently failed to train the officers. Although, under Florida law, "an employer is liable in tort for reasonably foreseeable damages resulting from the negligent training of its employees and agents," Lewis, 260 F.3d at 1265, the Court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff Lewis' negligent training claim, finding it barred by Florida sovereign immunity law. The Court observed that "Lewis does not challenge the implementation or operation of the City's police training program as it relates to the officers involved in the shooting, but rather Lewis challenges the City's policy decisions regarding what to include in the training of its police officers." Id. at 1266. The Court reasoned that "[a] city's decision regarding how to train its officers and what subject matter to include in the training is clearly an exercise of governmental discretion regarding fundamental questions of policy and planning." Id. Thus, Lewis' challenge to the reasonableness of these training policies was barred by "the 'discretionary' function exception to [Florida's] waiver of sovereign immunity." Id.

[118] Here, as in Lewis, the challenged actions are the Sheriff's decisions regarding "how to train its [corrections] officers and what subject matter to include in the training." Id.; see, e.g., Appellant's Br. at 27 ("MCDC's suicide awareness and prevention training consists of films shown once a year. . . . Surely more effective methods of supervising and training detention officers were available to the Sheriff."); id. (characterizing the issue as "[w]hether the Sheriff's methods of training and supervising personnel were reasonably effective, and whether more effective methods could have prevented Daniel Tessier's suicide").

[119] Thus, as in Lewis, "the acts which [Cook]'s negligent training claim challenge[s] are 'discretionary' governmental functions immune from tort liability."*fn11 Lewis, 260 F.3d at 1266. To find otherwise would amount to judicial intervention, by way of tort law, into the fundamental decisionmaking of the legislative and executive branches -- a practice against which the Florida courts have repeatedly cautioned. See, e.g., Henderson, 737 So. 2d at 538; Kaisner, 543 So. 2d at 736-37. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's grant of judgment as a matter of law on Cook's negligent training and supervision claim.*fn12 See Kaisner, 543 So. 2d at 734 ("A court must find no liability as a matter of law if either (a) no duty of care existed, or (b) the doctrine of governmental immunity bars the claim.").

[120] C.

[121] Cook's third claim is that the Sheriff is vicariously liable, under Florida tort law, for the negligence of MCDC employees in failing to take appropriate measures to prevent Tessier's suicide death. Because the evidence was sufficient to support a jury verdict in Cook's favor on this claim, we reverse the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law for the Sheriff and remand for trial on the merits of this claim.*fn13

[122] It is long established that, under Florida law, corrections officers owe individuals within their custody a duty to use reasonable care for their safety. See, e.g., Kaisner, 543 So.2d at 734 (observing that any individual placed in custody or otherwise detained by law enforcement officers is owed a common law duty of care); Hargrove v. Town of Cocoa Beach, 96 So. 2d 130 (Fla. 1957) (recognizing liability in negligence when an inmate died of smoke inhalation due to corrections officer's leaving the jail unattended); Hutchinson v. Miller, 548 So. 2d 883, 885 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1989) ("Clearly, the sheriff and his deputies owed the decedent the duty to use reasonable care for his safety when he was incarcerated."). Thus, when acts or omissions of a corrections officer result in injury to an inmate within the officer's custody, the officer may be liable in negligence for the harm suffered by the inmate.*fn14

[123] Self-infliction of injury, however, is treated as an independent intervening cause, which may suffice to break the causal connection between the conduct of the corrections officer and any injury sustained by the inmate. See, e.g., Guice v. Enfinger, 389 So. 2d 270, 271 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1980). However, causation is not defeated, and the officer is not relieved of liability, if the intervening cause "was foreseeable or reasonably might have been foreseen by the wrongdoer." Schmelz v. Sheriff of Monroe County, 624 So. 2d 298, 298 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1993).

[124] Thus, in suicide cases, Florida courts have treated as the key inquiry whether "it was reasonably foreseeable that harm would befall [the inmate] either directly or indirectly as a result of the actions and omissions of the [corrections officers]." Overby v. Wille, 411 So. 2d 1331, 1332 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1982).

[125] Florida's courts have repeatedly stressed that this basic question is not one for the court to answer as a matter of law, but rather is properly left to the trier of fact for resolution. See, e.g., Schmelz, 624 So. 2d at 299 ("The question of whether an intervening cause is foreseeable is for the trier of fact. Confronted with conflicting evidence as to the foreseeability of [the inmate's] actions, it was for a trier of fact to determine whether [the inmate's] own actions constituted the unforeseeable intervening cause of his injuries." (citation omitted) (citing Gibson v. Avis Rent-A-Car Sys., Inc., 386 So. 2d 520 (Fla. 1980))); Hutchinson, 548 So. 2d at 885 ("Whether the [sheriff and his deputies] were negligent in failing to protect the decedent, and whether the harm which befell him, albeit at his own hand, was within the scope of such negligent conduct so as to make such harm reasonably foreseeable under the facts here, are issues for the trier of fact."); Overby, 411 So. 2d at 1332 (observing that "the question of whether the intervening cause was foreseeable is ordinarily one for the trier of fact," and holding that "it was error to find that, as a matter of law, injury to [the inmate] was not reasonably foreseeable").

[126] Indeed, under Florida law, the evidentiary threshold for sending this claim to the jury is low. "Only a total absence of evidence to support an inference that the intervening cause was foreseeable justifies the court in removing the question from the trier of fact." Overby, 411 So. 2d at 1332 (emphasis added); see also Moore v. Morris, 475 So.2d 666, 668 (Fla. 1985) ("Summary judgments should be cautiously granted in negligence and malpractice suits. The law is well settled in Florida that a party moving for summary judgment must show conclusively the absence of any genuine issue of material fact and the court must draw every possible inference in favor of the party against whom a summary judgment is sought. A summary judgment should not be granted unless the facts are so crystallized that nothing remains but questions of law. If the evidence raises any issue of material fact, if it is conflicting, if it will permit different reasonable inferences, or if it tends to prove the issues, it should be submitted to the jury as a question of fact to be determined by it." (citations omitted))

[127] Nevertheless, without specifically acknowledging Florida law's strong preference for a jury's resolution of the foreseeablity question, the district court found the evidence insufficient as a matter of law to support Cook's negligence claim. The court reasoned:

[128] The red flags that have been alluded to that the plaintiffs suggest should have alerted persons to the fact that he was a suicide risk do not rise to the level of being foreseeable. . . . The evidence is simply not there that there was anything that would alert a reasonable person following the established policies and procedures of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office for the handling of inmates that would have alerted anyone to the fact that he was a suicide risk.

[129] After thorough review of the evidence presented at trial and of the applicable Florida law, we disagree.

[130] Four Florida cases involving negligence claims arising out of prison suicides guide our analysis. In Guice v. Enfinger, the First District Court of Appeals addressed the case of an inmate who was arrested while intoxicated and subsequently placed in the jail sickbay, where he apparently slept for several hours, before an employee discovered that he had hanged himself by his belt. The court concluded that "the deceased suicide was not sufficiently foreseeable to impose upon the Sheriff's employees the duty to remove the deceased's belt," finding "no facts in the record to indicate that the deceased had suicidal tendencies and no facts to indicate that the booking officer at the jail should have been suspicious of suicidal tendencies of the deceased." Guice, 389 So. 2d at 271.

[131] However, in three subsequent cases involving prison suicides, Florida's courts found summary judgments to have been entered erroneously, based on the existence of some evidence to support a jury finding of negligence. In Overby v. Wille, the decedent had flagged down a policeman and requested to be taken to a mental health facility, explaining that he thought he might have hurt someone. Instead, he was placed in jail, where he hanged himself by his belt. The Fourth District Court of Appeals concluded that the decedent's request to be taken to the mental health facility, as well as his unprovoked violent behavior during the booking process, and the fact that jail employees labeled him a "probable Signal 20," a designation that "refers to mental and emotional instability of some type," constituted sufficient evidence to support a finding that his suicide was foreseeable. See Overby, 411 So. 2d at 1332-33. "Under these circumstances," the court concluded, "it was error to find that, as a matter of law, injury to Overby was not reasonably foreseeable." Id. at 1334.

[132] In Hutchinson v. Miller, the decedent was a fifteen-year-old boy, in jail awaiting trial on a criminal charge, who was harassed, taunted, and threatened with sexual abuse by other juvenile inmates. The Fifth District Court of Appeals concluded that this treatment, "coupled with his withdrawal, his crying and his written appeals for help via his requests for transfer, all of which were known to [the sheriff and his deputies], could justify the inference that some harm to decedent was foreseeable." Hutchinson, 548 So. 2d at 885. Thus, the court concluded, the negligence claim had been improperly removed from the purview of the trier of fact. Id.

[133] Finally, in Schmelz v. Sheriff of Monroe County, the Third District Court of Appeals reversed the summary disposition of a claim involving an inmate whose suicide attempt left him severely brain damaged. Although the inmate "had never either threatened, attempted, or even talked about suicide," the booking officer observed him as subdued and depressed, felt "he might try to do something," and placed him on suicide watch. In addition, the watch officer observed him as "real flustered," nervous, and worried. Based on this "conflicting evidence as to the foreseeability of Schmelz' actions," the court concluded that "it was for a trier of fact to determine whether Schmelz' own actions constituted the unforeseeable intervening cause of his injuries." Schmelz, 624 So. 2d at 299.

[134] The evidence in the case before us, as in Overby, Schmelz, and Hutchinson, is "conflicting" as to foreseeability, but is sufficient to enable a jury to find that Tessier's suicide was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of acts and omissions of MCDC employees. While Tessier never threatened or otherwise mentioned suicide, evidence presented at trial revealed that Tessier made two written requests to see a psychiatrist, one on each of the two days immediately preceding his suicide. And, in his second request, Tessier stated that he was "mentally sick" and asked to see a psychiatrist "as soon as possible." In spite of these requests, Tessier was never seen by any mental health professional. Moreover, MCDC Deputies Kerr, Malopolski, and Whortebury all observed him as being nervous and anxious. Deputy Kerr specifically observed Tessier apparently having an anxiety attack, and based on Tessier's complaints of chest pain, Deputy Kerr sent him to Medical. Tessier's nervous, anxious condition prompted Deputy Malopolski to instruct him to take deep breaths and relax, and to push the intercom on the wall if he needed assistance. Deputy Malopolski thereafter responded to several intercom calls by Tessier, and on one occasion found Tessier bent over on his knees on the floor of his cell, apparently having trouble breathing, after which Deputy Malopolski sent him back to Medical.

[135] Under Florida law, these facts amount to sufficient evidence "such that reasonable people, in the exercise of impartial judgment, might reach differing conclusions" as to the foreseeability of Tessier's suicide and, accordingly, the negligence of MCDC employees in failing to prevent it. Williams v. Motorola, Inc., 303 F.3d 1284, 1289-90 (11th Cir. 2002). The Sheriff's motion for judgment as a matter of law on this claim should, therefore, have been denied, and the case submitted to the jury as finder of fact. See id. Accordingly, reverse the judgment of the district court as to this claim and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.*fn15

[136] IV.

[137] After carefully reviewing the record, we conclude that the district court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law for the Sheriff on Cook's vicarious liability negligence claim under Florida law. However, we affirm the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law in favor of the Sheriff on Cook's § 1983 claim and on her Florida law negligent training and supervision claim. We further hold that the district court acted within its discretion in excluding evidence of other suicides within the MCDC and the testimony of Cook's proffered suicide expert. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's judgment as a matter of law on the vicarious liability negligence claim, and affirm in all other respects.

[138] On remand, the district court should consider whether to continue to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Cook's state law vicarious liability negligence claim, which is all that remains in this case. Because no basis for original federal jurisdiction presently exists, the district court has the discretion to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) ("The district courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim . . . if . . . (3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction."); see also, e.g., Rose v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 279 F.3d 1271, 1288 (11th Cir. 2002) (observing that whether to continue to exercise supplemental jurisdiction is a decision that "should be and is vested in the sound discretion of the district court"). In making this decision, the court "should take into account concerns of comity, judicial economy, convenience, fairness, and the like." Lewis, 260 F.3d at 1267 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Because this case was originally filed in state court and removed to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, if the district court declines to continue to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, Cook's remaining claim should be remanded to state court. See id.


Opinion Footnotes

[140] *fn1 Honorable James H. Hancock, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Alabama, sitting by designation.

[141] *fn2 Cook initially sued in the Circuit Court of the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit in Monroe County, Florida, but, pursuant to the Sheriff's motion for removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, the case was removed to federal district court.

[142] *fn3 Dr. Daniels, a medical doctor with a specialty in internal medicine, was employed by Prison Health Services, a company with which the Sheriff contracted to provide medical services at the MCDC.

[143] *fn4 At the March 7, 2003 status conference, Cook indicated her intent to introduce evidence of the other suicides, and the Sheriff expressed his opposition to the admission of such evidence. To resolve the issue, the district court afforded the parties the opportunity to file memoranda of law explaining their arguments, and advised the parties that the issue was "akin to" evidence of similar acts under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b).

[144] *fn5 During Cook's examination of Major Taylor, the Sheriff objected on relevancy grounds to the question of whether suicide was the leading cause of death in the MCDC. After a prolonged sidebar discussion among the parties and the court, the trial court again ruled that Cook could "not go into, directly or indirectly, the other suicides."

[145] *fn6 Because neither the trial court nor the Sheriff expressed any reservations about Dr. Maris' qualifications or his methodology (the first two factors in the Rule 702 inquiry), and because Cook's burden is to establish all three prongs of the Rule 702 inquiry, we need not and do not consider these other two factors.

[146] *fn7 Our review of the complete record in this case reveals that Cook never attempted to reintroduce Dr. Maris' testimony, even though the trial court explicitly gave her the opportunity to do so. Although this Circuit has not squarely addressed the issue, when a trial court rules in limine tentatively to exclude evidence, most courts require that the party seeking admission of the evidence offer the evidence again at trial in order to preserve the issue for appeal. See, e.g., Walden v. Ga.-Pac. Corp., 126 F.3d 506, 519 (3d Cir. 1997) ("[W]here a district court makes a tentative in limine ruling excluding evidence, the exclusion of that evidence may only be challenged on appeal if the aggrieved party attempts to offer such evidence at trial."); Tennison v. Circus Circus Enters., Inc., 244 F.3d 684, 689 (9th Cir. 2001); Rishell v. Wellshear, 1999 WL 426193, at **6 (10th Cir. June 25, 1999) (unpublished); Jenkins v. Keating, 147 F.3d 577, 581 (7th Cir. 1998); United States v. Holmquist, 36 F.3d 154, 166 & n.12 (1st Cir. 1994); see also Fed. R. Evid. 103 (a) ("Once the court makes a definitive ruling on the record admitting or excluding evidence, either at or before trial, a party need not renew an objection or offer of proof to preserve a claim of error for appeal." (emphasis added)).
We need not consider whether to adopt this rule, however, because the trial court explicitly indicated to Cook, during trial, that her objection to the exclusion of Dr. Maris' testimony was preserved. During a sidebar conversation on the issue of whether Cook could ask Major Taylor whether suicides were the MCDC's leading cause of death, Cook explained that "our expert that we are not going to bring down because he already has been stricken, he would have testified that statistically with an inmate population that we have in this facility . . . six [suicides in twenty-three months] would have been off the board in terms of statistical anomaly." She further stated that her expert would have testified that the MCDC's suicide rate was eight to ten times higher than average, and she observed that "[w]ithout the suicide and the nexus and without the expert of suicodology," it would be difficult to meet the deliberate indifference standard.
The court responded: "Your record is protected on that. There is no difficulty at all in taking this to the Eleventh Circuit." Later in the same sidebar exchange, the court stated: "It may be that [the] Appellate Court will say no, Judge King, you are wrong. . . . I feel very good that we have an Appellate Court that looks at all the cases and I am glad they are there because it's a safety valve, because I do make mistakes."
Because these comments by the trial court created the clear impression that Cook had done all she needed to do to preserve her objection to the exclusion of Dr. Maris' testimony, we cannot conclude that Cook's failure to reoffer the testimony at trial amounted to a waiver of the issue. Cf. Thurber Corp. v. Fairchild Motor Corp., 269 F.2d 841, 843 n.2 (5th Cir. 1959) (holding, in a case where the district court "initially excluded some of [appellant's proffered evidence] altogether, had tentatively ruled that other portions were admissible for limited use, but later declined to permit introduction of any," that appellant "did not have to reoffer it formally at the several stages when introduction would have been pertinent," since appellant's objection had been "sharply brought to the Court's attention and by it articulately rejected," and appellant was therefore "entitled to accept the Court's ruling at face value").

[147] *fn8 We note that the trial court's tentative ruling on the admissibility of Dr. Maris' testimony focused only on the testimony's relevance to Cook's § 1983 claim. The record makes clear, however, that Cook was offering the testimony to prove her negligence claims, as well. See, e.g., Plaintiffs' Response Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to [sic] in Limine to Exclude/Limit Expert Witness Testimony at 3 (stating that Dr. Maris would testify "to the appropriate standard of care in detention facilities, the adequacy of medical and psychological care afforded inmates, and how such relates to the facts of our case"); id. at 6 ("Dr. Maris will offer testimony regarding the appropriate and governing standards of mental health care for inmates in jails and prisons instituted for the detection and prevention of suicide. Dr. Maris will explain the heightened degree of suicide risk for inmates and testify as to the reasonableness of Monroe County Detention Center policy/procedures, and the adequacy of the training, supervision and management of detention personnel."). In reviewing the trial court's ruling, we therefore consider whether Dr. Maris' testimony would assist the trier of fact in understanding matters related to Cook's § 1983 claim or to either of her negligence claims.

[148] *fn9 The Sheriff urged the trial court to exclude this opinion on the ground that it was "a legal conclusion that does little more than tell the jury what result should be reached." Defendant Roth's Motion in Limine to Exclude/Limit Expert Witness Testimony at 2. Although testifying experts may not offer legal conclusions, Federal Rule of Evidence 704(a) provides, in relevant part, that "testimony in the form of an opinion or inference otherwise admissible is not objectionable because it embraces an ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact." Fed. R. Evid. 704(a); see also United States v. Milton, 555 F.2d 1198, 1203 (5th Cir. 1977) ("Rule 704 abolishes the per se rule against testimony regarding ultimate issues of fact. By the same token, however, courts must remain vigilant against the admission of legal conclusions, and an expert witness may not substitute for the court in charging the jury regarding the applicable law.") (The Eleventh Circuit has adopted as precedent the decisions of the former Fifth Circuit rendered prior to October 1, 1981. Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 1981).). Because we have upheld the district court's exclusion of this opinion on other grounds, we need not and do not decide whether an expert opinion on "deliberate indifference" amounts to a conclusion of law.

[149] *fn10 Because Tessier's suicide was not foreseeable, we need not and do not consider whether the remaining elements of deliberate indifference are present here -- namely, whether the County, through its policies, disregarded the risk of suicide, by conduct that was more than merely negligent. See Cagle, 334 F.3d at 987.

[150] *fn11 Accordingly, we note that even if the district court had abused its discretion in excluding as irrelevant Cook's proffered evidence of other suicides occurring in the MCDC --which it did not -- such an error would in no way affect Cook's negligent training and supervision claim, since sovereign immunity is a legal limitation that no amount of relevant evidence can overcome.

[151] *fn12 The trial court granted judgment as a matter of law on the ground that Cook's evidence demonstrated that the training supplied "was sufficient." The court "recognize[d] that [Lewis] indicate[d] that there is no duty to train per se," but did not rule on this ground, reasoning that "in a real world, logically, a sheriff in a county situation, governmental situation, would understandably feel an obligation to do training." Because we conclude that Cook's negligent training claim is barred by Florida sovereign immunity law, we need not and do not consider whether the evidence presented could support a jury finding of negligence.

[152] *fn13 As a preliminary matter, the precise scope of a sheriff's vicarious liability for negligence committed by jail employees is a question of Florida sovereign immunity law, which we need not address in depth, since the parties do not dispute that the Sheriff may be held vicariously liable if MCDC employees are found to have acted negligently. It suffices here to note that a sheriff, as "an official of a political subdivision" of the state, Beard v. Hambrick, 396 So. 2d 708, 712 (Fla. 1981), is liable under Florida law "for a wrongful act or omission of any employee of the agency while acting within the scope of his office or employment under circumstances in which the state or agency, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the general laws of the state." Dep't of Health & Rehabilitative Servs. v. McDougall, 359 So. 2d 528, 532 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1978).

[153] *fn14 Although the Sheriff has not raised sovereign immunity as a defense to Cook's vicarious liability negligence claim, it bears noting that, under Florida law, a county's treatment of an individual inmate in its custody is an operational function, for which the State of Florida has waived governmental immunity. See, e.g., Henderson, 737 So. 2d at 538-39 ("A person taken into custody . . . is owed a common law duty of care. Numerous cases have recognized that this duty of exercising reasonable care exists and that it is an operational level function." (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); Dep't of Health & Rehabilitative Servs. v. Whaley, 574 So. 2d 100, 101 (Fla. 1991) (holding that the assignment of juveniles to a particular room within a detention facility is an operational function not protected by sovereign immunity); Kaisner, 543 So. 2d at 738. When the challenged action involves not "the policies themselves," but "the way [they] were implemented," the action is operational rather than discretionary. Id. at 738. Because Cook's vicarious liability claim challenges the manner in which MCDC procedures were implemented through individual corrections officers -- not the procedures themselves -- that claim is not barred by sovereign immunity.

[154] *fn15 On remand, our earlier conclusion that the district court acted within its discretion in excluding the testimony of Dr. Maris, Cook's proffered suicide expert, should not be read to preclude Cook from re-urging Dr. Maris' testimony, nor should it be read as barring the district court from reconsidering whether Dr. Maris' testimony might assist the trier of fact in resolving Cook's vicarious liability negligence claim. We remind Cook that if she seeks to reintroduce Dr. Maris' testimony, she must present it in a manner sufficiently precise, specific, and well-grounded to persuade the trial court that it would indeed assist the trier of fact.