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Judge drops Harvard Medical School from Grim Reaper lawsuits; says it's not to blame for the body-parts bazaar its morgue manager allegedly ran

A Suffolk Superior Court judge today dismissed Harvard and two of its managers from lawsuits by family members of people whose deceased relatives' body parts may have been sold for five years on a black market to macabre collectors across the country - sometimes after unofficial open houses at the medical school campus.

In his ruling, Judge Kenneth Salinger agreed with the families of 12 people who willed their bodies to Harvard that what morgue manager Cedric Lodge is charged with doing was "nauseating." But, he wrote, they failed to prove that Harvard or the two people who ran the school's program for taking in bodies took any part in or knew anything about Lodge's alleged parts business or that they did anything that was not in "good faith" and so are protected by a state law regulating the donation of bodies to medical schools.

[T]he plaintiffs' complaints do not contain any factual allegations plausibly suggesting that HMS employees are allowed to remove, keep or sell human body parts, or that HMS knew what Lodge was doing, or that HMS gave Lodge permission to do so.

Salinger said the families - several of whom wanted to be named lead plaintiffs in a class action representing all of the families of people who'd willed their bodies to Harvard - can continue their suits against Lodge, who is unlikely to have as much resources as Harvard should the families win - especially if he is convicted on the federal charges for which he, his wife and several other people were arrested last year.

According to his ruling Lodge, who drove around in a Subaru with plates reading GRIM-R, his wife and the other indicted people ran a ring in which Lodge would carve out saleable items from bodies in the morgue after the medical school was done with them but before they were shipped to a Roslindale crematorium. Sometimes he and his wife would allegedly ship the parts out from their New Hampshire home, sometimes Lodge would hold a sort of open house at the morgue, where prospective purchases could look over what was available for some on-the-spot sales.

Salinger wrote that Harvard and the two employees who ran its anatomical gift program are covered by a section of the state's Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which regulates the disposition of a person's body and body parts after death if the destination is a research facility or operating room for transplantation rather than a cemetery or crematorium.

The specific section of the law grants immunity from lawsuits against any institution or employee who complies with the law or who "attempts in good faith to do so," Salinger wrote.

Salinger allowed that:

It may not seem fair that Harvard can avoid responsibility and liability in this case even if, as plaintiffs allege, it was negligent in sthe HMS morgue and as a result let Lodge get away with stealing body parts for years.

But he said that the law was fairly clearly written and provided ""a legislative policy judgment that the Court must enforce without questioning whether it is wise, effective or sound policy," for it is the role of the legislature to establish policy and the role of the courts to enforce it.

Besides, he continued, the families simply failed to prove Harvard or its anatomical gift program acted in bad faith when they accept their loved ones' bodies.

Conclusory and unexplained allegations that Harvard 'knew' what Lodge was up to are not entitled to any weight in deciding whether the complaints should be dismissed" based on the "qualified immunity" the state body-donation law granted it. ...

The further allegation that Harvard "should have known" about Lodge's ongoing scheme is also insufficient because, if true, it would show only that Harvard was negligent, not that it failed to act in good faith.

And, Salinger wrote, he could not let the families' attorney conduct "discovery" - extensive interviews and demands for documents - that might prove their case, because "a civil plaintiff is required to state a viable claim before they may engage in discover about it," he wrote.

Further, Harvard was not "vicariously liable" for Lodge's alleged activities, because to make that case, the families would have to show Lodge was acting within "the scope of his employment" at the medical school, and the facts show he clearly was not, the judge concluded.

Complete ruling (7.5M PDF).

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Comments

The government found Stash Pizza liable for the racist tirade by their employee.

Government has also found Harvard not liable for the evil fraud conducted by their employee.

Hmmm...

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The difference is that there's a law specifically designed to protect institutions that accept "anatomical" donations, to the point that "qualified immunity" comes in, while there's no law designed to protect companies that have foul-mouthed racists interacting with customers.

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Let’s be honest the difference is one company has billions of dollars and the other is just a pizza joint

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In one case, the employer knew and almost certainly encouraged or at least condoned the behavior. In the other case the employer had no idea and would have immediately fired them if they found out, probably seeking criminal charges too.

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Harvard Medical School is EXTREMELY aware of their ethical obligations as doctors, researchers, and educators. Even if they didn't know this dude was insane, they knowingly allowed the program to fall into a situation where nobody was overseeing this guy and there was no checks or balances on what was happening in the morgue. There is very little in medicine, medical research, or higher education where somebody is not looking over your shoulder in some capacity, but HMS sure found one and used that as an excuse to avoid hiring anyone or bothering to keep records.

Legal immunity or not, HMS is absolutely a negligent party in this case and their actions are unethical.

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"Morgan & Morgan attorney Kathryn Barnett, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, has already vowed to appeal the dismissal."

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Booo. I'm holding out for Ultima Morgan.

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Seems like no effort was made by HMS or the morgue managers. Wouldn’t proper handling of remains be a required management responsibility? I certainly won’t be leaving my remains to HMS as planned due to the lack of proper management. There are bad actors everywhere. Management is responsible for procedures, practices and oversight to manage in such a way that heinous acts by bad actors such as these do not occur. How the lack of such management constitutes “good faith” is beyond me.

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It would show only that Harvard was negligent, not that it failed to act in good faith.

Is there a legal definition for "in good faith"? To me, being negligent - failing to establish safeguards, not auditing records, leaving one person in charge of the morgue with no secondary sign off - is clear and obvious negligence. Even if this dude was not crazy, it creates an environment where an employee could simply be incompetent, lazy, disorganized, and as a result cause problems (wrong remains returned to wrong families, for example).

If a hospital only had one surgeon on staff, and therefore there was nobody evaluating or doing review on all the surgery done at that hospital, it would be considered negligence and the hospital would be held responsible for failing to establish policies.

The idea that an institution can be negligent in staffing and policy and that they're still considered to be acting "in good faith" is ridiculous.

Qualified Immunity and acting in good faith is supposed to be coverage for employees of an institution acting in good faith, not a cover for the institution at large so they aren't held responsible for longstanding neglect of a program.

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Link to the ruling isn't working. Appreciate you including the documents in the cases you cover, so that we can read the rulings ourselves.

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Apologies for that!

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