April 18, 2020

Moore v. Regents of the University of California | Case Brief - Supreme Court of California

51 Cal. 3d 120, 793 P.2d 479, 271 Cal. Rptr. 146, cert. denied, 11 S. Ct. 1388 (1991)

FACTS: Moore had hairy-cell leukemia. Physicians found the cells unique and upon removing his spleen as part of the treatment, kept it for research. The physicians subsequently patented the cell-line developed from Moore's cells and the potential market was estimated in the billions of dollars. Moore continued having to schedule visits with doctors for observation but never knew about the patent and research on his cells.

ISSUES:

1) Was there a breach of fiduciary duty and lack of informed consent?

2) Was the cell  derived from Moore's cells his property after conversion?

HOLDINGS:

1) Yes

2) No

RATIONALE:

1) Didn't obtain the patient's consent.

2) He retained no interest in the cells because of:

a. no reported judicial decisions support Moore's claim 

b. CA law limits any continuing interest of a patient in excised cells c. the subject of the patent - the cell-line and products derived from it - cannot be Moore's property (the patented cell-line is factually and legally distinct from Moore's cell-line. 

3) Conversion Liability? - No

a. protect patient's to make autonomous decisions 

b. not threaten innocent parties (i.e. researcher) who are trying to help society - conversion is a strict liability tort and would hold liable all whose hands came in contact with the cells - hinder research by restricting access to the raw materials

DISSENT ISSUES:

- the real issue is whether or not a patient has a right to determine, before a body part is removed, how that part will be used 

- conversion action for unauthorized use 

- at time of extraction he had the same right to do w/ his cells as the physicians did - i.e. contract them for sale to a pharmaceutical company

- we allow the sale of other human organs