Monday, March 25, 2013

United States v. Arora case brief

United States v. Arora case brief
860 F. Supp. 1091 (D. Md. 1994)


Plaintiff United States sought judgment against defendant scientist in its suit for civil conversion and trespass for the alleged destruction of cells at the National Institute of Health. The scientist disputed whether he had committed a trespass or conversion and what damages were appropriate.

OVERVIEW: The scientist was accused of deliberately destroying cells developed by another scientist. The district entered judgment for the United States. The evidence was overwhelming in that the scientist admitted the tampering to three persons, the scientist had access to the laboratory at the time of the destruction, his fingerprints were found on flasks, and there was a motive in that the scientist had a rivalry with his fellow scientist. Conversion and trespass were similar torts, although conversion involved a more serious exercise of control. The intentional destruction of a chattel was an act of conversion. The intentional destruction of the cells, which were part of a valuable research project, was a conversion. A living cell line was a property interest capable of protection. While market value was the general rule of damages for the destruction of a chattel, damages could include whatever was necessary to indemnify as long as such an award was not speculative. The cost of creating the cells was compensable. The scientist acted with the necessary intent for an award of punitive damages.

The Court entered judgement on the conversion count, in favor of the United States, in the sum of $450.20 compensatory damages and $5,000.00 punitive damages and Defendant was also directed to pay court costs.

-A number of factors are considered in determining whether interference with a chattel is serious enough to constitute a conversion as opposed to a trespass.
-These include: a) the extent and duration of the actor's exercise of dominion or control; b) the actor's intent to assert a right in fact inconsistent with the other's right of control; c) the actor's good faith; d) the extent and duration of the resulting interference with the other's right of control; e) the harm done to the chattel; f) the inconvenience and expense caused to the other.

OUTCOME: Judgment was entered for the United States on the conversion claim. The trespass claim was rendered moot. The deliberate destruction of laboratory cells was a conversion. Compensatory damages included the cost of creating the cells. Punitive damages were appropriate.
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