(CN) – The 8th Circuit said it lacks jurisdiction to decide if an Arkansas university violated a divorced woman’s right to control “potential life” by refusing to let her implant frozen embryos created with her ex-husband.
The federal appeals court in St. Louis said the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred it from reviewing the Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The doctrine establishes the U.S. Supreme Court as the only federal court that can review state-court decisions, unless Congress says otherwise.
The court described the plaintiff, Patricia Dodson, as a “state court loser” trying to win in federal court.
In 1995, Dodson and her then-husband, Dr. Jackson Lay, enrolled in the in vitro fertilization program at UAMS and produced 18 embryos, which were frozen and stored at the university.
They signed a document stating that, in the event of divorce, “all control and direction of [their] tissues will be relinquished to the medical director of the IVF Program.”
But two years after their divorce in 1997, Dodson asked UAMS to implant the embryos in her. The university refused, telling Dodson that she had to get written consent from Lay.
Lay objected to the implantation, but agreed to have the embryos destroyed, used for medical research or legally adopted by another couple. The medical school told Dodson to choose among the three alternatives.
Instead, Dodson asked a state court to override Lay’s decision and lost. The judge found it “reasonable” for UAMS “to ask her to get her ex-husband’s consent to become the biological father to a child born to his ex-wife more than two years after they divorced.”
Dodson’s appeal was dismissed by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
In October 2008, she sued in federal court for alleged constitutional violations. She sought an order barring UAMS from interfering with her right to decide the fate of the embryos. At that point, she supported adoption.
The district court cited the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in dismissing the constitutional claims, and the 8th Circuit affirmed.
The judges acknowledged that one claim — that Dodson was erroneously charged for embryo storage fees — was not subject to the doctrine, but said the district court had no duty to consider that claim after the federal claims were eliminated.