Medical Company That Benefitted From Henrietta Lacks' Cells, Files Motion to Dismiss Family Lawsuit
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Medical Company That Benefitted From Henrietta Lacks’ ‘Immortal’ Cells, Files Motion to Dismiss Family Lawsuit

Henrietta Lacks (Twitter)

The medical company being sued by the family of Henrietta Lacks has filed a motion calling for the dismissal of the suit, claiming it’s “decades too stale to proceed.”

Lacks, a Black woman, was diagnosed with cervical cancer and died at 31 in 1951. However, before her death, doctors at Johns Hopkins collected samples of cells in her cervix and turned them over to researchers. Because of this, medical advancements for the development of vaccines and treatments for major illnesses, such as AIDS and even COVID-19 have been made. Her cells were also the first cells to be successfully cloned.

The motion was filed on behalf of Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. and argues, “even under the most generous interpretation of when Plaintiff’s claim may have accrued, it is barred by Maryland’s three-year statute of limitations.”

According to the motion, the story of Lacks treatment by Johns Hopkins in 1951 and the widespread
subsequent commercial use of HeLa cells has been known for 50 years when Rolling Stone and Ebony magazines wrote on Lacks’ story in 1976. Since then, numerous articles and even a book have been written on her. However, Lacks’ family didn’t take action until October 2021 and, as a result, is facing a decision to determine if they are “time-barred.”

The Lacks family, which has retained civil rights attorney Ben Crump, argues in the suit that Thermo Fisher commercialized and profited off of HeLa cell products in various ways without permission from the Lacks family, while also knowing the cells were taken without Lacks’ permission.

“Compensating the Lacks family for its incredible contribution to medical science and research is long overdue, and decades of wrongdoing is not justification for continuing to ignore them. Instead of fighting this family, companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific should welcome the opportunity to right this wrong and be part of correcting the history of racial injustice in the U.S. medical system,” said Christopher Seeger, one of the attorneys representing the Lacks Estate in the litigation, in a statement.

The motion also argues against the continuing harm doctrine the Lacks estate uses in its suit. The plaintiffs argue the doctrine does not apply to unjust enrichment claims, which the Maryland Court of Appeals confirmed in a case earlier this year.

The motion adds that even if the doctrine applied to unjust enrichment claims, “it does not apply to “the continuing ill effects from [an] original alleged violation, as is asserted here.”

Thermo Fisher also argued the suit fails to plead that Thermo Fisher was not a bona fide purchaser for value, and even if the suit is not time-barred, the plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim does not and cannot allege an underlying tort.