October 5, 2021

Case: JOHN MOORE, Plaintiff, and Appellant, v. THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA et al., Defendants and Respondents

Case No. S006987


Court: Supreme Court of California

51 Cal. 3d 120; 793 P.2d 479; 271 Cal. Rptr. 146; 1990 Cal. LEXIS 2858; 16 A.L.R.5th 903; 15 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1753



Opinion: Panelli, J., with Lucas, C. J., Eagleson, and Kennard, JJ., concurring. 

Separate concurring opinion: Arabian, J. 

Separate concurring and dissenting opinion: Broussard, J. Separate dissenting opinion by Mosk, J.


Procedural History

The Supreme Court of California holds that there is a need for the disclosure of the research interest performed by the physicians, but there are no property-related claims. This is after discovering more information about the patient. Moore filed a lawsuit for the share with the interest of making a profit from the product or research that was derived from his body cell line, without any consent. The lawsuit of Moore alleged that Golde was aware of the potential financial benefits, mainly when medical consent was obtained. However, he had concealed it to Moore. These claims were rejected by the Los Angeles Superior Court. In the year 1988, the California Court of Appeal ruled that tissue and blood samples were personal properties. Therefore, the patient was supposed to have some rights to have a share in the profit that was generated from the samples.



The plaintiff, Moore underwent treatment for Leukemia at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center. In this medical center, Moore was treated by Golde (Defendant) for hairy-cell Leukemia. The course of this treatment happened between October 1976 to September 1983. The defendant included various instances where he removed blood, the aspirate of bone marrow, and different other bodily substances. Back in August 1979, the defendant discovered a “Cell Line” from the sample taken from Moore’s body. On January 30th, 1981, the Regents of University of California used for a patent on the discovered on the cell line. On 20th March 1984, the license was provided and named the Quan (a researcher at U.C.L.A) and defendant Golde as the inventors and also, the Regents of University of California as the assignee. The Defendants Genetics Institute Inc., as well as Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, were included because of their subsequent investments and participation in the cell line. Moore opened a suit alleging the conversion of his bodily fluids to the profit-making research by the Defendants.


Legal Issue

  • Did the Plaintiff (John Moore) have the property right claim to his bodily fluids as well as tissues that have been removed from the body as samples? 
  • Did John Moore have an ownership interest in the sample cells and matter in a way that he may prosecute the Defendants for conversion?



No. There is no property right to the bodily fluid of any person that has already been removed from the body. The Plaintiff, John Moore, didn’t state any cause of action depending on the conversion. However, it is possible to prosecute the case based on the theory of “Breach of Fiduciary Duty Or Lack of Informed Consent.” A conversion tort happens when an individual or personal property of a single person is interfered with, mainly by any other person, with the regards of ownership or Possessory interests. In this case, Moore claims that the sample taken from his bodily fluid belonged to him and that he never authorized the Defendants to apply it to profit. Furthermore, he argues that the alleged result conversion and he asserts a right to share a portion of any resulting profit form the utilization of the excised material from his body. 


Legal Rule and Reasoning

In the perspective of Breach of Fiduciary Duty and Lack of Informed Consent, the plaintiff repeatedly alleges that Golde (Defendant), failed to provide the extent to which his research as well as the economic interest in Moore’s Cells before receiving consent to this medical procedure. A person of adult years and in sound mind has the right, in the exercise of control over his own body, to determine whether or not to submit to lawful medical treatments. (Cobbs V. Grant (1972) 8 Cal.3d 229, 242 {104 Cal.Rptr. 505, 502 P.2d 1}; Schloendorff V. New York Hospital (1914) 211 N.Y. 125 {105 N.E. 92, 93}.) As the Court discusses the disclosure issue, it is discovered that the doctor was required to disclose research interests.


On the conversion issue, the Plaintiff, Moore, argues that he continued to own his cells or matter extracted in his body, following their removal by the doctor, at least to direct their use. The Court evaluated Moore’s claims under the existing law and discovered that no judicial decision could be found in support of the claims. Also, the statutory law limits the continued interest of any patient in the excised blood and tissues, and it was discovered that the subject matter of the patent could not belong to the plaintiff. Here, the Court pointed out the California Statute, which ordered that any materials that are removed from the patients to be disposed of in a safe matter. According to the Court, the legislative intent was in order to limit the ownership of the patient of any removed material in the course of the medical procedure. According to the law, “To establish a conversion, the Plaintiff must establish an actual interference with his ownership or right of possession… Where the Plaintiff neither has title to the property alleged to have been converted, nor possession thereof, he cannot maintain an action for the conversion.” (fn.19 (Del E. Webb Corp. V. Structural Material Co. (1981) 123 Cal.App.3d 593. 610-611 {176 Cal.Rptr. 824}).


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