7th Circuit remands Section 1983, wrongful death suits

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered the trial court to take another look at two cases combined on appeal, which stem from the death of an inmate at the Elkhart County jail.

The appellate court released an 84-page opinion in Estate of Nicholas D. Rice, deceased, by Rick D. Rice and Diane J. Waldrop, co-personal representatives v. Correctional Medical Services, et al., Nos. 09-2804, 10-2389, in which Nicholas Rice’s parents filed a lawsuit in federal court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, alleging among other things, that jail officials and medical personnel had deprived Rice of due process by exhibiting deliberate indifference to his declining mental and physical condition. Rice was in jail for nearly 15 months awaiting trial when he died from excessive drinking of water, a disorder known to manifest in some people with schizophrenia. Jail officials knew of his mental illness.

The District Court entered summary judgment against the estate on its Section 1983 claims, suit No. 09-2804, finding in part that correctional and medical personnel hadn’t consciously disregarded Rice’s medical needs and that the ultimate cause of his death wasn’t reasonably foreseeable to them. The estate then filed its second federal suit, No. 10-2389, invoking the court’s diversity jurisdiction, in which it reasserted the state wrongful death claims that the judge in the first suit had dismissed without prejudice after disposing of the federal claims. The judge in the second suit dismissed that case on the basis of collateral estoppel, reasoning that his colleague’s finding as to the foreseeability of the cause of Rice’s death precluded recovery on any of the state claims.

“On review of the record, we conclude that a material dispute of fact precludes summary judgment on one of the Estate’s section 1983 claims: that his conditions of confinement were inhumane. We also conclude that the district court erred in dismissing his state claims. We therefore affirm in part and reverse in part,” wrote Judge Ilana Rovner.

They sent both cases back for further consideration.



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