Brief Fact Summary. Robert Newman and Barbara Obarski (Parents) (Plaintiffs) brought suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 after the Los Angeles County Coroner (Defendant) removed the corneas of their deceased children without the Parents" (Plaintiff) notification or consent.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The next of kin of the deceased has a constitutionally protected property right in the disposition of the body of the decedent.
Facts. In order to assist in providing the State of California"s non-profit eye banks with an adequate supply of corneal tissue for transplantation, the legislature adopted California Government Code (CGC) § 27492.47. The code provides, in pertinent part, that the coroner is authorized to "remove and release or authorize the removal and release of corneal eye tissue from a body within the coroner"s custody . . . if the coroner has no knowledge of objection to the removal." The section also protects the coroner from civil and criminal liability for removing such tissue, provided there was no objection to the tissue being removed. Robert Newman and Barbara Obarski (Parents) (Plaintiff) each had children who died in 1997. After their deaths, the Los Angeles County Coroner (Defendant) obtained possession of their bodies. The Defendant, following the provisions of § 27492.47, removed the corneas from the children without attempting to notify the Plaintiffs or obtain their consent. In 1999, the Plaintiffs learned of what the Coroner did and then filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming an unconstitutional taking of property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed and this appeal followed.
Issue. Does the next of kin of the deceased have a constitutionally protected property right in the disposition of the body of the decedent?