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Law School Case Brief

Moore v. Regents of Univ. of Cal. - 51 Cal. 3d 120, 271 Cal. Rptr. 146, 793 P.2d 479 (1990)

Rule:

A reviewing court's only task in reviewing a ruling on a demurrer is to determine whether the complaint states a cause of action. Accordingly, a reviewing court assumes that the complaint's properly pleaded material allegations are true and give the complaint a reasonable interpretation by reading it as a whole and all its parts in their context. A reviewing court does not, however, assume the truth of contentions, deductions, or conclusions of fact or law.

Facts:

The plaintiff, John Moore, underwent treatment for leukemia at the Medical Center of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA Medical Center). He filed an action against his physician and others, alleging they used cells extracted from him in potentially lucrative medical research without his permission. He alleged that his physician failed to disclose preexisting research and economic interests in the cells before obtaining consent to the medical procedures by which they were extracted. Based on these allegations, the patient attempted to state 13 causes of action. Each defendant demurred to each purported cause of action. The trial court, however, expressly considered the validity of only the first cause of action, for conversion, and sustained the general demurrer to the entire complaint with leave to amend. In a subsequent proceeding, the trial court sustained two defendants' demurrers without leave to amend, and took the remaining demurrers off its calendar. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding the third amended complaint stated a cause of action for conversion, and directed the trial court to give plaintiff leave to amend as to the two defendants, and to decide the remaining causes of action.

Issue:

Did the use of John Moore’s cells without permission state a cause of action for conversion?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of California reversed the appellate court's decision, finding plaintiff did not state a conversion claim when defendants used plaintiff's cells in medical research without permission because plaintiff had no ownership interest in cells after they left his body. According to the Court, conversion should not lie because it would discourage medical research of cells and patients are adequately protected from abuse because of informed consent laws.

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