The board of regents for the University of California system is accusing Wake Forest University Health Sciences of stalling through recent legal actions that seek the dismissal of a countersuit related to a primate colony in southern Forsyth County.
The Wake Forest group and the University of California at Los Angeles are involved in a legal fight to end their joint venture in the research center in the Friedberg community.
The primate center is based on a 200-acre farm and has about 80 employees, including 12 veterinarians, according to a Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center spokesman.
The center has an average population of 800 monkeys. That includes the colony of 475 vervet monkeys, many of which came from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. They contain family trees that have been tracked for eight generations by researchers.
The latest response by the regents centers on the legal argument of whether the board has proven a “diversity of citizenship” for its counterclaims. Wake Forest is saying the board hasn’t, therefore it said the lawsuits should be shifted from federal to state court.
According to USLegal.com, diversity of citizenship exists when opposing parties in a lawsuit are citizens of different states or countries. If the party is a corporation, it is a citizen of the state where it is incorporated or is doing business. If diversity of citizenship exists, it places the case under federal court jurisdiction.
The attorneys representing Wake Forest argue that since the regents are “an arm of the state of California” and not citizens, the federal court does not have diversity jurisdiction over the action, and the counterclaims should be dismissed. The attorneys want the case returned to Forsyth Superior Court and heard by a jury.
The regents said in their countersuit that Wake Forest is making “false” and “misleading” statements about their role with the state of California. It said in the latest response that Wake Forest has failed to submit to the court “a declaration or affidavit setting out compelling facts that should be considered” and “also failed to identify any relevant facts in public records of which the court should take judicial notice.”
In the latest filing, the attorneys representing Wake Forest state that the board said it “is the state of California” in a 2007 case involving Indemnity Insurance Co. in federal court in California.
“Every argument the regents make to this court is flatly contradictory by the regents' own statements in numerous documents ranging from U.S. Supreme Court briefing to SEC filings,” the attorneys representing Wake Forest stated. “Simply put, the regents know that it is an arm of the state for purposes of diversity, and therefore cannot properly remove this action to federal court.”
Wake Forest filed its lawsuit Dec. 7 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
That same day, Wake Forest informed UCLA it had terminated the agreement, refused a request for an audit of the primate center's financial books and said it was prepared to reduce the size of the colony by half. How it would do that was not stated.
On Feb. 15, the regents filed a lawsuit on behalf of UCLA, accusing Wake Forest of financially mismanaging the research center and using vervet monkeys there for unauthorized research, including a dengue-fever study.
The regents asked the court to declare the joint venture as terminated because of material breach of the contract, namely misallocation of costs that caused a larger operating budget deficit.
In the case of a material breach, UCLA said the contract allows the university to receive the title for the colony at no cost and to relocate the monkeys. UCLA said it has researched suitable sites for relocation.
The Wake Forest group said it is willing to shut down the vervet colony if UCLA doesn't agree to continue to pay its obligations for operating costs.