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Sidwell v. County of Jersey

May 15, 2006


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


I. Introduction

Before the Court is a motion to dismiss submitted by Defendants Jersey County, Paul Cunningham, the Jersey County Sheriff's Department, and Kevin Klass (collectively, "Defendants") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b). (Doc. 2.) Plaintiff Darren Sidwell, individually and as special administrator of the Estate of Derrick Sidwell ("Plaintiff"), responds in opposition. (Doc. 10.) For the reasons below, the Court denies Defendants' motion.

II. Background

Plaintiff brings his action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983, 28 U.S.C. § 1343,the Illinois Wrongful Death Act 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 180/1 ("Wrongful Death Act") (against Defendants Cunningham and Klass), and the Illinois Survival Act, 755 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/27-6 ("Survival Act") (also against Cunningham and Klass). His core allegation is that Defendants allowed the Decedent, Derrick Sidwell ("Decedent"), to escape and commit suicide while in the custody of the Jersey County Sheriff's Department ("Department," or "Sheriff's Department").

More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that on July 29, 2004, the Decedent was arrested by the Sheriff's Department on a charge of attempting to pass a forged prescription. The next day, Plaintiff continues, the Decedent attempted to commit suicide twice - first by attempting to hang himself and second by attempting to slit his wrists - failing both times. Later that day, after complaining of chest pains, the Decedent was transported to a hospital, where Defendant Klass allegedly removed his restraints and left the area. The Decedent then escaped, ultimately causing his own death by hanging himself by a tree on hospital grounds. (Doc. 1.) On top of these allegations, Plaintiff maintains that within a relatively short time prior to these events, at least two and possibly three inmates committed suicide while in the custody of the Sheriff's Department. Further, Plaintiff alleges that the Illinois Department of Corrections, before the Decedent's death, issued directives to the Department concerning its inadequate policies relating to suicidal inmates. (Id.)

Defendants advance several arguments in support of dismissal. First, they argue that the individual Defendants - Cunningham and Klass - are entitled to qualified immunity. Second, they maintain that Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently allege a constitutional violation. Third, they contend that even if Plaintiff did sufficiently allege a constitutional violation, Defendants Cunningham, Jersey County, and the Jersey County Sheriff's Department would be immune from suit. Fourth and finally, they argue that Defendants Cunningham and Klass are immune under the Illinois Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act, 745 Ill. Comp. Stat. 10/1-101 et seq. ("Tort Immunity Act").

Plaintiff disagrees. He argues that Cunningham and Klass are not entitled to qualified immunity because they were aware of a serious risk of harm to the Decedent and were deliberately indifferent to that risk. Further, Plaintiff argues that he has adequately alleged an official-capacity claim and a constitutional violation. Finally, Plaintiff maintains that the Tort Immunity Act provides neither Cunningham nor Klass with immunity in this instance.

III. Analysis

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

When ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept the complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draw reasonable inferences from those allegations in plaintiff's favor. Transit Exp., Inc. v. Ettinger, 246 F.3d 1018, 1023 (7th Cir. 2001). The court must then determine "whether relief is possible under any set of facts that could be established consistent with the allegations." Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G., 953 F.2d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir 1992) (citingConley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not its merits. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). A claim may be dismissed only if it is beyond doubt that under no set of facts would a plaintiff's allegations entitle her to relief. Travel All over the World, Inc. v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 73 F.3d 1423, 1429 (7th Cir. 1996). To survive a motion to dismiss, "[c]complaints need not plead facts and need not narrate events that correspond to each aspect of the applicable legal rule." Kolupa v. Roselle Park Dist., 438 F.3d 713, 715 (7th Cir. 2006).

B. Plaintiff's Section 1983 Claims

1. Sufficient Allegation of a Constitutional Violation

"For a § 1983 claim to exist, there must be a deprivation of either a constitutional right or a federal statutory right, and the action must be taken under color of state law." Discovery House, Inc. v. Consolidated City of Indianapolis, 319 F.3d 277, 281 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1 (1980)). Here, Plaintiff alleges a Fourteenth Amendment violation, which is the proper basis for relief for a pretrial detainee. Butera v. Cottey, 285 F.3d 601, 605 (7th Cir. 2002). The test applied to a pretrial detainee's Fourteenth Amendment claims is the same as the test applied in the Eighth Amendment context; under both tests, the relevant question is whether the individual was protected against deliberate indifference as to his basic needs. Cavalieri v. Shepard, 3 ...

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