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Sheriff May be Liable for Jail Suicide

The decedent was arrested while drunk and promptly hanged himself in a police holding cell. The plaintiffs settled with the city defendants for $11000, leaving the state defendants in the case.

The district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to permit the plaintiffs to file a tenth amended complaint; in effect, they admitted repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendment.

Orders entered in state court before removal were not res judicata in federal court, since they were all part of the same suit. They should be evaluated under the law of the case doctrine.

Federal claims should not be dismissed based on state law immunities.

The claim against one deputy was properly dismissed because he was not on notice that the decedent posed a danger to himself; the facts that the decedent was intoxicated and "his tattoo questioned life and ... he cursed angrily" do not create an obvious, substantial risk of suicide. There were no allegation of suicidal tendencies, no claim or evidence of past suicide attempts or warnings from family members of a mental disturbance and suicidal condition; his behavior was not alleged to be increasingly bizarre, erratic or wild. (The court goes through the usual litany about detainees having at least the protection provided by the Eighth Amendment.)

The claim against the municipality fails because there is no evidence that county policymakers knew that being at the overcrowded facility where the decedent died exposed him to a substantial risk of injury.

The state law claims against the municipality and Sheriff for failing to maintain an adequate jail are barred by state immunity law which absolutely bars such claims. However, that immunity does not extend to wilful and wanton acts, and the allegation that the sheriff did know of the risk of self-harm and directed the prisoner's placement in the jail anyway does state such a claim. See: Payne for Hicks v. Churchich, 161 F.3d 1030 (7th Cir. 1998).

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Related legal case

Payne for Hicks v. Churchich