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Wait, Embryos Can Sue Famous Actresses? Who Knew?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 13, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Embryos in court? Apparently. Two enterprising balls of potential human life filed suit in Louisiana last week. Their target: Sofia Vergara, the star of ABC's Modern Family and contributor of half their genetic material.

The embryos were created by Vergara and her now-ex boyfriend Nick Loeb as part of an in vitro fertilization process. They were never implanted and the couple split in 2014. The two have been battling it out in court over the fate of the embryos ever since. Now, the embryos are suing on their own behalf, demanding (we're not kidding here) that they be born and allowed to enjoy a trust fund established in their name.

Emma and Isabella vs. Vergara

Though Vergara and Loeb have been fighting in California courts for some time, Loeb is not party to the current embryo suit. Rather, it has been brought by James Charbonnet as trustee of a trust created for Vergara and Loeb's potential children while the couple was undergoing IVF. The suit is on behalf of "Human Embryo #4 HB-A" and "Human Embryo #3 HB-A," or Emma and Isabella, as they're referred to throughout the suit.

The suit, according to a copy of the complaint made available by the Daily Beast, seeks to "remedy the prevention" of the embryos' expected trust inheritance "which is currently being blocked by Vergara's refusal to allow them to be transferred to a uterus so that they may continue to develop and be born" .

The suit seeks to terminate Vergara's parental rights and void a directive that would prevent the embryos from being implanted in a surrogate without her consent.

Wait, Embryos Can Really Sue?

So, how are these frozen embryos, which the suit says have five days of development, able to get into court? Lawyers for Charbonnet and the embryos are relying on a Louisiana law that treats IVF-conceived embryos as persons. "An in vitro fertilized human ovum," the statute reads, "is a biological human being which is not the property of ... the donors of the sperm and ovum."

Of course, a lawsuit by an embryo is unusual, but unexpected parties aren't entirely unheard of in the court systems. Cases relying on in rem jurisdiction give us captions like U.S. v. 422 Casks of Wine. In admiralty law, a vessel may be named as a party. And, until 2004, the Ninth Circuit occasionally allowed environmental lawsuits to be filed in the name of endangered species, leading to cases like Hawaiian Crow v. Lujan and Marbled Murrelet v. Pacific Lumber Company.

Of course, whether the embryos' suit can move forward successfully remains to be seen. We'll have to wait for Vergara's response before determining whether it's viable or not.

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