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JARVIS v. STONE

July 9, 1981

ELIZABETH A. JARVIS, ETC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
IRA STONE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shadur, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Elizabeth Jarvis filed this diversity action on her own behalf and as Administrator of the Estate of her late husband Willard Jarvis ("Jarvis") against Ira Stone, Richard Brams ("Brams"), Norman Stone and Graphic Center, Inc. ("Graphic"), alleging that defendants caused Jarvis to commit suicide. Plaintiff's original complaint as amended (the "Complaint") comprises three counts, seeking relief under theories of wrongful death, intentional infliction of emotional damage and loss of consortium. Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint or alternatively to dismiss the prayers for punitive damages in Counts II and III.*fn1 For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order defendants' motion to dismiss the Complaint is granted, and this action is dismissed as well.

Facts*fn2

This Court's February 11, 1981 Memorandum Opinion and Order describes the allegations in the Complaint, which thus need not be recounted in any detail here. Briefly, plaintiff claims that after Jarvis' resignation from employment with Graphic and acceptance of a position with a competing firm, Art Works, Inc. ("Art Works"), defendants allegedly "conspired to injure Jarvis' physical and emotional health by destroying his business, his reputation, and the Art Works business." According to the Complaint those actions "affected Jarvis' health and emotional stability adversely" so that on May 10 or 11, 1979 Jarvis committed suicide.

Plaintiff's Theories of Liability

Count I: Wrongful Death

Complaint Count I seeks compensatory damages*fn3 under the theory that defendants wrongfully caused Jarvis' death. Defendants assert that Count I must be dismissed because, as a matter of law, suicide is "an intervening and independent cause of death which . . . breaks the chain of causation, precluding [defendants'] liability." Stasiof v. Chicago Hoist & Body Co., Inc., 50 Ill. App.2d 115, 122, 200 N.E.2d 88, 92 (1st Dist. 1964), aff'd sub nom. Little v. Chicago Hoist & Body Co., 32 Ill.2d 156, 203 N.E.2d 902 (1965); Brown v. American Steel & Wire Co., 43 Ind. App. 560, 88 N.E. 80 (1909).

In a diversity action all substantive questions must be decided in accordance with applicable state law. Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938). Plaintiff and defendants have expressed differing views as to the law of which state applies here: Illinois or Indiana. This Court need not make such a choice of law determination unless there is a conflict of laws on the relevant issue. In re Air Crash Disaster Near Chicago, Illinois on May 25, 1979, 644 F.2d 594, 605 n. 2 (7th Cir. 1981). Because the asserted defense is meritorious under the law of both Illinois and Indiana, no choice of law determination is required.

Stasiof and Brown both hold squarely that "there is no recovery for a suicide or attempted suicide following a tortious act." 50 Ill.App.2d at 122, 200 N.E.2d at 92; 88 N.E. at 84. That principle (the "suicide rule") is based on the rationale that "the act of suicide is an independent intervening act which the original tortfeasor could not have reasonably [been] expected to foresee." 50 Ill.App.2d at 122, 200 N.E.2d at 92.

Each state's decision recognized an exception to the suicide rule. In Stasiof the Court stated (id.):

  There is an apparent exception to the rule where, as
  the proximate result of an injury upon his head
  caused by the negligence of another, the person
  becomes insane and bereft of reason, and while in
  this condition and as a result thereof he takes his
  own life. His act in that case is not a voluntary
  one, and therefore does not break the causal
  connection between the suicide and the act which
  caused the injury.

In Brown the Indiana court articulated a broader, though still limited, exception to the rule. It stated that for the exception to apply (88 N.E. at 85):

  the evidence must be such as to warrant the jury in
  finding that the decedent in taking his life acted
  "without volition, under an uncontrollable impulse,
  or that he did not understand the physical nature of
  his act."

Stasiof and Brown are the controlling precedents in the two states.*fn4 Under either decision Jarvis' death is plainly not actionable. That Jarvis committed suicide is of course admitted in the Complaint. And the circumstances leading to his suicide, on plaintiff's own ...


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