• April 7, 2010

Patricia Dodson and Dr. Jackson Lay participated in an in vitro fertilization program in 1995, divorced in ’97, disagreed on whether Ms. Dodson could be implanted with Lay-fertilized eggs in ’99, and the issue has been touring the Arkansas state court system and the federal courts ever since.  

Complicating matters still further, Defendant University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (“UAMS”), where the procedure was performed and where the frozen embryos are stored, gave Plaintiff Dodson 21 days back in 2000 to choose between embryonic destruction, donating them to medical research, or “transfer/adoption by another couple.”  But thereafter, “for nearly eleven years,” UAMS billed Dodson for storage fees.  In other words, the case is not only about ultimate control and disposition of the frozen embryos but also has this far more mundane financial basis.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in a published per curiam decision (Riley, Wollman, Melloy) determined that, as to one of Dodson’s claims, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applied whereby a “state court loser” cannot get around that loss by recasting her claims as federal claims and then giving the case another go in federal court.

Judge Melloy separately concurred in the decision against Plaintiff Dodson but thought that Dodson should lose based on res judicata and collateral estoppel grounds rather than based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.  Citing and discussing recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that narrow the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Judge Melloy stressed that Rooker-Feldman would only apply if Dodson “were complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments,” which, he pointed out, was not the case.

As for the claim based on the alleged wrongful charging of storage fees, the federal court held that this was a claim under state law that Dodson should pursue, if she wishes, in state court, not federal court.

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