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Suicide Note Suit Against Coroner Dismissed

A woman had alleged that Montgomery County Coroner Walter Hofman violated her due process rights by withholding a suicide note written to her by her deceased son.

Montgomery County Coroner Walter I. Hofman did not violate a woman's due process rights when he refused to release a suicide note written to her by her deceased son, a federal judge ruled on Jan. 23.

The Pennsylvania Record reports that U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter dismissed a lawsuit filed last summer by resident Lisa Feldman against Hofman.

Feldman's son, Evan Klausen, committed suicide in September 2011. He left a suicide note to his mother and others on the dining room table of his home. When Hofman took possession of the body for a coroner's investigation, he also took possession of the suicide note.

According to court documents, Hofman returned Evan's possessions to Feldman on the same day he ruled the death a suicide, but he did not return the suicide note. When Feldman requested the note, Hofman told her it was his policy not to release such letters and that he would "never" return it.

Feldman sued Hofman, and the court issued a decree ordering Hofman to explain why he should not have to return the letter to Feldman.

After the decree, Hofman informed Feldman's attorneys that she could pick up the suicide note at his office. According to court documents, Feldman did so.

In July 2012, however, Feldman filed a second suit against Hofman, alleging that he had violated her Constitutional right to due process, intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her, and had seized her property ― the suicide note ― without authorization.

In dismissing the the claims, Buckwalter ruled that Hofman was immune to Feldman's lawsuit because he is a government official and because his conduct did not "violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known."

Buckwalter did not comment on whether Hofman acted properly in withholding the suicide note for two months.

"We pass no judgment on whether Dr. Hofman's withholding of the letter was ethical or moral under the circumstances," Buckwalter wrote.

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