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Richards v. Holder

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 19, 2014

ERIC HOLDER, Attorney General of the United States of America, Defendant.


LEO T. SOROKIN, District Judge.

Plaintiff James Richards has sued Defendant Eric Holder in his official capacity as United States Attorney General, alleging that the federal statute prohibiting the sale of human organs for transplantation, 42 U.S.C. § 274e, violates his due process rights and exacts a taking without just compensation. Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 44-45, 53. Richards also requests a declaration that the statute would not apply to him so long as he purchases an organ from a person within Massachusetts. Id. at 11. Defendant has moved to dismiss the counts alleging due process violations and a taking, arguing that those counts fail to state a claim. Doc. Nos. 18-19. Richards has opposed the motion. Doc. Nos. 20-21. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion to dismiss is ALLOWED, and Richards is ordered to show cause why the request for declaratory relief should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.


The following facts, drawn from Richards's complaint, are taken as true for the purposes of resolving this motion. The Court draws all reasonable inferences from these factual allegations in Richards's favor.

Richards currently suffers from end stage renal disease, which is a product of kidney damage that was caused by previously prescribed medication. Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 4-5. The only treatment for the disease at this stage is dialysis or a kidney transplant. See id. ¶ 12. Richards is currently receiving dialysis treatment, which requires lengthy treatment sessions several times per week. Id . ¶¶ 17-18. The sessions range from uncomfortable to painful and can have significant negative side effects. Id . ¶ 19. Richards avers that his life expectancy would be meaningfully longer if he received a kidney transplant rather than continuing dialysis. Id . ¶ 30. He further states that the longer he is on dialysis, the less likely it is that any eventual transplant will be successful and the less likely a significant increase in life expectancy will result from that transplant. Id.

Richards has asked family members to donate a kidney for transplant, but they are not willing or able to do so. Id . ¶ 7. He is eligible for a "perfect match" kidney donation, but, thus far, none has been found. Id . ¶¶ 9, 11. Without a "perfect match, " Richards will likely wait four to five years in order to receive a kidney for transplant. Id . ¶ 11. In order to minimize the time waiting for a kidney, Richards's family is willing to pay a donor at least $50, 000 for the donation of a kidney. Id . ¶ 25. His intention to offer payment to incentivize the donation of a kidney is thwarted, however, by 42 U.S.C. § 274e, which makes it a federal crime "for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation." § 274e(a); Doc. No. 1 ¶ 25. Violations of the statute are punishable by fines of up to $50, 000 and imprisonment of not more than five years. § 274e(a)-(b).

Richards argues that if he were able to pay a donor to donate a kidney, he would likely be able to procure a kidney with less delay, with the attendant benefit of increased life expectancy, than if he were forced to wait to receive a kidney off the waiting list. See Doc. No. 1 ¶ 36. As such, Richards argues that, as applied to him, § 274e deprives him of both life and liberty without due process of the law, in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Id . ¶¶ 44-45.

Richards also states his preference to have his own organs harvested and sold upon his death, such that the proceeds of those sales may be included in his estate and passed to his heirs. Id . ¶ 50. He argues that because § 274e prevents him from selling his organs and because the United States will not provide just compensation for those organs, the statute effects an unconstitutional taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. Id . ¶¶ 51-53.

Finally, Richards requests a declaration that the statute, which only criminalizes transfers that affect interstate commerce, would not apply to him if he purchased a kidney from someone within Massachusetts. Id. at 11.


To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The Court "must take the allegations in the complaint as true and must make all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff[]." Watterson v. Page , 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993). "[F]actual allegations" must be separated from "conclusory statements in order to analyze whether the former, if taken as true, set forth a plausible, not merely a conceivable, case for relief." Juarez v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc. , 708 F.3d 269, 276 (1st Cir. 2013) (internal quotations omitted). This highly deferential standard of review "does not mean, however, that a court must (or should) accept every allegation made by the complainant, no matter how conclusory or generalized." United States v. AVX Corp. , 962 F.2d 108, 115 (1st Cir. 1992). Dismissal for failure to state a claim is appropriate when the pleadings fail to set forth "factual allegations, either direct or inferential, respecting each material element necessary to sustain recovery under some actionable legal theory." Centro Medico del Turabo, Inc. v. Feliciano de Melecio , 406 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2005) (quoting Berner v. Delahanty , 129 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 1997)).


The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment provides that "[n]o person shall... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. V. Noting that the Clause "guarantees more than fair process, " the Supreme Court in Washington v. Glucksberg set forth the analysis to evaluate substantive due process claims. 521 U.S. 702 , 719, 720-21 (1997). The Court noted that the inquiry has "two primary features":

First, we have regularly observed that the Due Process Clause specially protects those fundamental rights and liberties which are, objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition, and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed. Second, we have required in ...

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