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Law School Case Brief

Moore v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal. - 215 Cal. App. 3d 709, 249 Cal. Rptr. 494 (1988)

Rule:

Conversion is a distinct act of dominion wrongfully exerted over another's personal property in denial of or inconsistent with his title or rights therein, without the owner's consent and without lawful justification. It is an act of wilful interference with a chattel, done without lawful justification, by which any person entitled thereto is deprived of use and possession. For conversion, a plaintiff need only allege: (1) plaintiff's ownership or right to possession of the property at the time of the conversion; (2) defendant's conversion by a wrongful act or disposition of plaintiff's property rights; and (3) damages. 

Facts:

Upon removal of plaintiff John Moore's spleen as part of the treatment for his leukemia, defendants Dr. David W. Golde, Shirley G. Quan, and the Medical Center of the University of California, Los Angeles ("UCLA"), discovered that Moore's cells were unique. Defendants genetically engineered Moore's cells, without his consent, and sold the results to defendants Genetics Institute, Sandoz Ltd., Sandoz United States, Inc., and Sandoz Pharmaceutical Corporation (collectively, "Companies"). Without informing Moore of their purpose, defendants Golde, Quan and UCLA continued to take tissue samples from Moore for almost seven years following the removal of his spleen. Moore filed a lawsuit against defendants in California state court alleging numerous causes of action, including conversion. Golde, Quan and UCLA filed demurrers to the conversion claim, which the trial court sustained; Moore was permitted leave to amend. The Companies demurrer to conversion was granted but without leave to amend. Moore sought review. 

Issue:

Did the trial court err in finding that there was failure to state a cause of action in Moore's conversion action for defendants' commercial exploitation of his cells without his consent?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The appellate court reversed the demurrers in favor of defendants and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. The court ruled that Moore's cells were his tangible personal property and he did not consent to defendants' disposition of the cells. As such, his complaint adequately pleaded all the elements of a cause of action for conversion.

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