Melfi v. Mount Sinai Hospital Notes
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HUMA 1825 Case Notes
John Melfi v. Mount Sinai Hospital et al (2009)
- The plaintiff, John Melfi, brings this action for, inter alia, loss of sepulcher
after his brother’s body was sent to a community college for embalming
practice and then for a burial in a mass grave in Potter’s Field.
o Leonard Melfi was a playwright who suffered a congestive heart
failure, and after being brought to Mount Sinai Hospital didn’t receive
o The hospital had his name but omitted any additional information
including his address, SIN, and contact information. Despite claims
from Dr. Bruns (operating surgeon) of making two calls, they were
o His body remained in the hospital for 30 days, after which it was
transferred to another morgue. There was no record of the hospitals
attempting to contact a next of kin. He was experimented on, and then
buried in a mass grave.
o Two months after his burial, his family received information of his
o The defendants filed a claim that “no notifications were made
regarding Mr. Melfi’s death” and that “his body was illegally
embalmment [sic] without the permission of next of kin”
o On October 21, 2002 the plaintiff commenced this action against the
city defendants and Mt. Sinai hospital. The court initially dismissed
both the claims.
- The Health and Hospital Corporation (HCC) complained that the court erred
because the plaintiff’s notice was untimely.
- HHC’s claim was rejected because it fails to recognize the essential
nature of the right of sepulcher, a unique cause of action among the
torts recognized at common law
- For thousands of years the right of sepulcher was solely emotional injury.
o Less of a quasi-legal property right and more of a legal right to the
next of kin finding “solace and comfort”. The cause of action does not
accrue until interference with the right directly impacts the “solace
and comfort”. Because the injury is mental/emotional, it is axiomatic
that the plaintiff must be aware of the interference to their distress
before they can experience distress
- The right of sepulcher has been ritualized since earliest pre-Christian
civilizations: mummifications, Roman’s duty of burial, reverence for the dead.
- Moschion, (Greek poet 3rd century BC), opined that mankind buried dead to
remove traces of former savage existence or the cannibalism of the Titans.
- In Antigone, the right to be buried is given by the Gods. The ancient concept
of burial rights provides origins for American jurisprudence. In the 17th
century the church enforced all necessary rules for proper sepulcher
- Nullius in Bonis means “goods of no one” (No one’s property)
- Larson v. Chase: the defendant argued that the plaintiff’s widow had no legal
interest in or right to the body of her deceased husband. The defendant
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