Following years of bitter controversy and a string of lawsuits, a Florida judge recently allowed the reclusive Marvel CEO Isaac ‘Ike’ Perlmutter and his wife to move forward with a claim of conversion of their DNA. By allowing the case to move forward, the judge ostensibly allowed the question of whether DNA is to be considered ‘property’ for purposes of the lawsuit to proceed.
The question at issue all relates to a fight about a tennis court. Harold Peerenboom, a businessman from Toronto, moved into Sloan’s Curve, a Florida community in which Perlmutter and his wife lived. In 2010, Peerenboom began a lawsuit alleging the community’s tennis facilities were controlled by bid-rigging. The defendant, Karen Donnelly, soonafter filed a defamation suit against Peerenboom. Perlmutter supported Donnelly’s lawsuit.
In 2011, Peerenboom’s neighbors in Sloan’s Curve and his business associates began receiving hate-letters accusing Peerenboom of being a child molester, an anti-Semite, and worse. Peerenboom filed suit for defamation against Perlmutter for orchestrating the hate-mail campaign against him.
In the present case, Perlmutter alleged that during a deposition for Peerenboom’s defamation lawsuit, Perlmutter’s DNA, and that of his wife, were surreptitiously collected from items such as water bottles and special papers that they touched over the course of the deposition, without consent. This DNA was apparently used to match Perlmutter’s wife to DNA found on one of the hate-letters.
Judge Sasser, who allowed Perlmutter’s conversion claim, said that “no binding authority has ever definitively answered the question of whether genetic material such as DNA constitutes ‘property.’” Additionally, Judge Sasser concluded that the Perlmutters had intangible rights and interests into their genetic information which allowed the conversion theory to be extended to include such material. Perlmutter is now one step closer to a public trail on the issue. Judge Sasser additionally sustained claims for civil theft, abuse of process, defamation, and publication of private facts, among others.
Gardner, Eriq, “Marvel Chairman Ike Perlmutter Allowed to Pursue Legal Claims Over Theft of His DNA,” Hollywood Reporter (Jan. 25, 2017 1:29 PM), http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/marvel-chairman-ike-perlmutter-allowed-pursue-legal-claims-theft-his-dna-968493
Eriq Gardner, “The Marvel Chairman, a Hate-Mail Feud and Claims of Stolen DNA,” Hollywood Reporter (Aug. 11, 2016, 6:00 AM), http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/isaac-perlmutter-story-marvel-chairmans-918237.
Sorkin, Andrew Ross, “Lurid Suit Over Hate Mail Embroils Isaac Perlmutter, Marvel Chief,” New York Times (Mar. 7, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/08/business/dealbook/lurid-suit-over-hate-mail-embroils-isaac-perlmutter-marvel-chief.html