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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Frozen Embryos of the Rich and Famous

Here at the Law Blogger, we rarely peruse the pages of US Weekly for blog content, but the latest celebrity gossip combines cutting-edge legal issues with the lifestyles of the rich and famous in such a way that we couldn't resist digging deeper.
Actress Sophia Vergara, most famous for her role as Gloria on Modern Family, is the unwitting subject of international headlines concerning embryos she had stored during her relationship with Onion Crunch inventor Nick Loeb.
Loeb and Vergara split in May 2014, after reaching an agreement that her cryopreserved embryos, frozen during an attempt at in vitro fertilization, would remain in storage indefinitely. 
The cryopreserved embryos were to remain in a deep freeze unless and until the parties -Vergara and Loeb- entered into a written agreement directing some other disposition of the biological property. 
Since April 2015, the parties have been engaged in litigation over the fate of the two frozen embryos. At that time, Loeb filed a complaint in California and the parties remained embroiled in the lawsuit until just this month, when Loeb voluntarily dismissed the California lawsuit.
The following day, a 46-page complaint was filed in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana requesting that the two frozen embryos be released to him so that he can have them implanted in a surrogate.
Loeb's decision to dismiss the California case and re-file in Louisiana is a transparent attempt at "forum shopping". Louisiana has the strictest laws concerning human embryos in the country, and requires courts to make determinations regarding embryos in the best interests of the embryo.
The basic premise of the legal system is that a court must have proper jurisdiction over the parties to a case in order to grant any relief. The in vitro fertilization process took place in California, the embryos are stored in California, and Vergara lives in California. Loeb admits to residing in Florida, but claims that Louisiana should have jurisdiction.
Vergara's role on True Blood caused the parties to spend time in Louisiana during their relationship, as did Loeb's status as a Tulane University alumnus and reserve police officer in Plaquemines Parish. He further claims that Jefferson Parish has jurisdiction because the parties ended their relationship at the Louis Armstrong International Airport.
In the family law industry, interstate disputes over child custody and jurisdiction are governed by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Under the standards of that act, California has clear jurisdiction over Louisiana.
Setting aside the jurisdictional issues with the Louisiana complaint, the legal team working for ART Reproductive Center, Inc., the Beverly Hills fertility clinic selected by Loeb and Vergara, anticipated these disputes and required all parties to sign documents indicating that future decisions concerning their embryos must be mutual.
While Loeb claims that he signed the agreement under duress, this blogger is skeptical that his claims of duress will hold up in court. The Louisiana Civil Code requires a person claiming that they signed a contract under duress to show a reasonable fear that they have been threatened with unjust injury. In determining whether a fear is reasonable, the court considers the age, health, disposition, and other circumstances of the party claiming to have signed under duress.
Loeb is a 41-year old business man worth over $15 million dollars with a platoon of lawyers on speed dial. He was educated at high-end college preparatory schools before enrolling at Tulane University, where he graduated with a degree in management and finance. It is difficult to imagine how he could be so intimidated by Vergara that he had no option but to sign a contract.
After all this, if Louisiana does order that the embryos be released to Loeb for implantation, it still must enforce the order in California. While the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution would make the Louisiana order valid in California, federal courts have been hesitant to enforce judgments from other states that conflict with the policy of the state resisting the order.

This blogger remains curious about the outcome of this interesting case. We here at the Law Blogger believe that Loeb's recent filing is nothing more than an attempt to remain in the public spotlight through his past connection to Vergara. 
Post #571


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