There has been a lot of litigation over the past several years over student suicides. All of the cases are tragic and difficult to study. Most of them deal with allegations that the suicide was the result of bullying based on disability or sex or sexual orientation. The latest to reach a high level court had nothing to do with those issues.
Jake was a senior in Marysville, Michigan, just a few months from prom, graduation and enrollment at Michigan State. There is no hint of bullying in the case. The suit was brought against the district, the principal, the assistant principal and the acting superintendent. The suit alleged, among other things, that the defendants should be held liable for Jake’s death due to the “state created danger” theory.
The 6th Circuit held that the state created danger theory was not applicable. The court cited earlier cases in which it had rejected this theory in a suicide case. The court observed that “where a person makes a free and affirmative choice to end his life the responsibility for his actions remains with him.”
What happened? This all started with a laptop, stolen from a teacher. Jake admitted that he had taken it. School officials imposed a long term suspension. Jake was sent home in the custody of his father. Later that day, he apparently slipped out of the house and took off in his car. At 8:30 that evening, local police reported to the parents that Jake had driven his car into a concrete pillar. The car caught fire. Jake never got out. The medical examiner ruled it a suicide.
The court distinguished this case from an earlier one in which a school sent a “mentally unstable” student home, knowing that he would be unsupervised and had access to firearms. This was quite different. The school released Jake to his father, and the young man remained under the supervision of his father or grandfather for several hours before he slipped out.
The case is Jahn v. Farnsworth, decided by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on June 29, 2015. We found it at 2015 WL 3938035.
DAWG BONE: “STATE CREATED DANGER” WILL RARELY APPLY IN A SUICIDE CASE.