Greenberg et al. v. Miami Children’s Hospital Research Institute et al.
In 2003, a Florida District Court revisited the issues raised in the Moore case in Greenberg et al. v. Miami Children’s Hospital Research Institute et al. In this case, a group of individuals and nonprofit institutions involved in research on Canavan disease (Greenberg group) entered into a collaboration with Reuben Matalon, M.D., and the Miami Children’s Hospital Research Institute (MCH) to identify the gene responsible for Canavan disease.
The individual members of the Greenberg group, who were parents of children afflicted with Canavan disease, collected blood and tissue samples from Canavan families and supplied these to Dr. Matalon. The group also created a database containing clinical and medical information about the families and shared the information with Dr. Matalon.
Using the samples and information provided by the Greenberg group, Dr. Matalon and his research team successfully isolated the gene responsible for Canavan disease. Dr. Matalon filed a patent application claiming the genetic sequence for the Canavan gene, which subsequently issued as a patent and was assigned to MCH. MCH thereafter instituted a program of restrictive licensing of the patent.
The Greenberg group, which had expected that the benefits of Dr. Matalon’s research would remain in the public domain to promote prevention and treatment of Canavan disease, filed suit against Dr. Matalon and MCH alleging, among other things, lack of informed consent and conversion.
The Greenberg group, relying on the Moore case, alleged that Dr. Matalon and MCH had breached the duty of informed consent when they failed to inform the Greenberg group that they intended to file a patent application and to profit from the research based on the biological samples and medical information provided by the Canavan families.
The Florida court, noting that the Moore case concerned a physician-patient relationship, whereas in this case Dr. Matalon performed only medical research and did not treat any of the Canavan patients, found no breach of the duty of informed consent.
The Greenberg group also asserted a claim for conversion on the basis that they had a property interest in the tissue and genetic information provided to Dr. Matalon. As the California court did in the Moore case, the Florida court declined to recognize a property interest in body tissues or genetic material provided for research.
However, a significant difference between the Moore and Greenberg cases was the finding by the Florida court that the Greenberg group had successfully established a claim against Dr. Matalon and MCH for unjust enrichment based on the license fees that they received under the patent.
Unjust enrichment occurs when the plaintiff confers a benefit on the defendant, which the defendant voluntarily accepts and retains, and then realizes gains from the benefit that renders it inequitable for the defendant to retain the benefit without paying for it. In Greenberg, the court found sufficient evidence to support a claim that Dr. Matalon and MCH were unjustly enriched by the economic benefits conferred by the patent rights, which were based on the biological samples and medical information provided by the Greenberg group.