Suit against Hop­kins dis­missed

But judge to al­low re­fil­ing of case over 1940s ex­per­i­ments

Baltimore Sun - - BUSINESS MARYLAND - By Sarah Gantz sarah.gantz@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/sarah­gantz

A fed­eral judge in Bal­ti­more dis­missed a $1 bil­lion law­suit against the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity and oth­ers in­volved in a 1940s govern­ment ex­per­i­ment that in­fected hun­dreds of Gu­atemalans with syphilis and other vene­real dis­eases, but of­fered the vic­tims’ lawyers in­struc­tions — and a dead­line — to re­file the case.

U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Gar­bis said the suit, filed on be­half of 842 vic­tims and their fam­ily mem­bers, did not in­clude enough de­tail about their claims. Cit­ing the “de­spi­ca­ble na­ture” of the study, Gar­bis said lawyers could file an amended com­plaint in­clud­ing more specifics about how and when vic­tims were in­fected. The amended com­plaint is due Oct. 14.

“There is no doubt that at least some of the Plain­tiffs suf­fered in­jury from the Gu­atemala Study,” Gar­bis wrote.

Paul Bek­man, the vic­tims’ at­tor­ney, pledged to con­tinue pur­su­ing the case.

“What we’re go­ing to do is amend and re­file the com­plaint, set­ting out more par­tic­u­lar de­tail,” said Bek­man, a lawyer with Sals­bury, Clements, Bek­man, Marder & Ad­kins LLC in Bal­ti­more. “We be­lieve we can more than ad­e­quately do that, to meet the stan­dard the court wants us to fol­low.”

The law­suit per­tains to ex­per­i­ments con­ducted by the U.S. govern­ment in which sub­jects were de­lib­er­ately in­fected with syphilis, gon­or­rhea and chan­croid to study ways to treat sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases and pre­vent them from spread­ing. The United States for­mally apol­o­gized for the ex­per­i­ments in 2010, when knowl­edge of them be­came pub­lic.

The suit seeks to hold Johns Hop­kins re­spon­si­ble be­cause its doc­tors held key roles on pan­els that re­viewed and ap­proved fed­eral spend­ing for the ex­per­i­ments.

In a state­ment, univer­sity of­fi­cials de­scribed the study as “de­plorable” and ex­pressed sym­pa­thy for the in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies af­fected, but de­nied in­volve­ment in ini­ti­at­ing, fund­ing or con­duct­ing the ex­per­i­ment. Hop­kins will con­tinue to fight the law­suit.

“While the plain­tiffs are per­mit­ted to re­file, the judge has de­ter­mined with this rul­ing that they have not pro­vided facts to sup­port their le­gal claims,” Hop­kins said in a state­ment.

The suit also names the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb.

The Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion said in a state­ment that it had no role in the ex­per­i­ments. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb could not be reached for com­ment.

The suit divides 842 vic­tims into five cat­e­gories: peo­ple who were in­fected as part of the study; the es­tates of de­ceased di­rect vic­tims; spouses; de­scen­dants; and rel­a­tives whose deaths were caused by dis­eases con­tracted from the study.

For an amended com­plaint to move for­ward, lawyers must pro­vide more de­tail about at least one vic­tim from each cat­e­gory — in­clud­ing which dis­ease they con­tracted, and when and how they re­al­ized they had been in­fected — and of­fer a plau­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion of how the dis­ease was caused by the study, ac­cord­ing to the de­ci­sion filed Wed­nes­day.

The de­ci­sion is sig­nif­i­cant not only be­cause it gives lawyers a path — and di­rec­tions — to re­file a com­plaint, but be­cause it ac­knowl­edges wrong­do­ing and says the court would have ju­ris­dic­tion to hear a claim if it were pre­sented in enough de­tail, said Robert Gar­cia, a hu­man rights lawyer with The City Project in Los An­ge­les.

“That’s hugely im­por­tant for the judge to ac­knowl­edge that and I think it pro­vides a great deal of hope and in­spi­ra­tion for the at­tor­neys and the vic­tims,” said Gar­cia, who is among the lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the Arch­dio­cese of Gu­atemala in a pe­ti­tion to the In­ter-Amer­i­can Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights re­lated to the ex­per­i­ments.

Bek­man, the vic­tims’ lawyer, said he was not sur­prised by the judge’s de­ci­sion. Gar­bis made sim­i­lar points at a hear­ing ear­lier this sum­mer, he said.

The move to dis­miss a case but leave open the op­por­tu­nity to amend with more in­for­ma­tion is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon, he added.

Though amend­ing and re­fil­ing the suit will pro­long the process, Bek­man said he is com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing with the case.

“These peo­ple were se­verely in­jured, dam­aged lives, ru­ined spouses, chil­dren, grand­chil­dren,” he said. “We be­lieve their voice needs to be heard.”

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