Rich Vaughn Blog: Vergara Embryo Lawsuit Louisiana Personhood Law IFLG

Vergara Embryo Suit Invokes Louisiana's One-of-A-Kind Personhood Law

The sensational legal battle between actress Sofia Vergara and her ex-fiancé, Florida businessman Nick Loeb, over the disposition of the couple’s two fertilized embryos recently got even more sensational.

On December 6, Loeb dropped his California case against Vergara and the couple’s fertility clinic, which sought to allow the embryos to be born via a surrogate, after the judge in the case ordered him to provide the names of his previous girlfriends who had abortions during his relationships with them. Loeb and Vergara created the embryos together via assisted reproductive technology in 2013. Legal experts surmised Loeb was about to lose his case.

On December 7, a new case was filed in the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, Louisiana—a state that in 1986 passed a law that gives unborn embryos status as a “juridical person.” The Louisiana law “grants embryos the explicit right to sue and be sued, prohibits their ownership or destruction, and requires any dispute to their futures be resolved in their ‘best interests,’” according to a report by The Daily Beast. The law granting personhood to embryos is the first and only law of its kind and has never been tested.

The Louisiana filing does not appear to have been spur-of-the-moment but craftily prepared. Loeb is not named as a plaintiff; rather the plaintiffs are the two embryos and James Charbonnet, the administrator of a Louisiana-based trust established earlier for the support of the embryos. The lawsuit “claims Vergara is preventing the embryos— referred to as ‘Emma’ and ‘Isabella’— from receiving ‘their expected inheritance,’” according to a Times Picayune report. The suit seeks to grant Loeb full custody of the embryos, strip Vergara of her parental rights, and designate her as an egg donor, based on her supposed “neglect” of the embryos by leaving them frozen in a Beverly Hills clinic. Charbonnet and James Arruebarrena, an employment and personal injury attorney, are listed as attorneys in the case. Reportedly Arruebarrena and Catherine Glenn Foster, a right-wing anti-abortion activist who has worked exclusively for firms with anti-abortion agendas, are the masterminds behind the case, according to The Daily Beast.

While many of my colleagues and legal experts feel it’s a long shot that the plaintiffs will prevail in the bizarre case, it’s not impossible. Bringing the case in Louisiana with its one-of-a-kind personhood law was a clear case of venue-shopping. Although the ART procedure took place and the embryos are stored in Los Angeles, the couple has ties to Louisiana. Vergara filmed in the state for several months while she and Loeb were together; Loeb graduated from Tulane University and owns a business based in Louisiana. The existence of the trust established for the embryos gives Charbonnet standing to sue.

On the other hand, established legal precedent favors the parent who does not wish to procreate. As we wrote briefly about the California case in 2015:

The case law in this area (which is ever-evolving) GENERALLY says that the court will likely look to the parties’ written agreements. Although in this case the intended parents had agreed on disposition of the embryos in the event one of them died, there was no agreement made for how the embryos would be treated should the couple separate. In this situation, case law says the parties’ respective procreative interests will be balanced. In other words, the objecting party’s right NOT to procreate will be balanced against the other party’s right TO procreate. The preference in that balance thus far has been to rule in favor of the party who does NOT want to procreate, taking into consideration, however, whether the opposing party has any other viable means of biologically procreating. If the party wanting to use the embryos has no other viable means to procreate to have his/her own biological child, then she/he MIGHT be allowed to use the embryo for that purpose, even against the other party’s objection. However, if both parties remain fertile and able to procreate biologically with someone else later on, a court is unlikely to force someone to procreate against his/her will.

One can only imagine how onerous it must feel to Vergara, who since her 2014 breakup with Loeb has married actor Joe Manganiello, for Loeb to continue intruding in her life by insisting their embryos be gestated. The two undoubtedly believed, when they signed the embryo disposition agreement provided by their fertility clinic, that they had all the bases covered—apparently, they never thought about the all-too-possible scenario that they might separate and that good will and mutual respect would end with the relationship. It is the function of competent legal counsel in situations like theirs to coolly consider all the eventualities so that the clients are not left susceptible by the emotions of the moment.


Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015, received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension, and obtained her second Master of Science degree in Legal Studies from Loyola Law School. Peiya relocated back to her hometown, Beijing, China in 2019 and works from IFLG’s Beijing office. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University which he received in 2013, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. Luis has worked for IFLG in both Los Angeles as well as San Francisco, and is currently based in Dallas, Texas. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”


Kim has over 30 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.

Phoebe Sadler

Fertility law attorney Phoebe Sadler has a background in family law and has been practicing exclusively in the area of assisted reproduction technology (ART) law since 2018.

Rubina Aslanyan

Rubina has an extensive background in the legal field as a paralegal in Family Law and has worked in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 2012. Her area of focus is in managing and assisting clients with surrogacy, egg donation, and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s domestic and international clients. During her spare time, Rubina enjoys spending time with her family and dog Bella, traveling and cooking.

Alexander Espinoza
Legal Assistant

Alexander joined IFLG as a legal assistant in 2019, where he manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases. Alex is bilingual in English and Spanish and has been in the legal field for 23 years. Alex is excited to join the IFLG team and pursuing his will to help others in the reproductive law process. In his spare time he loves spending time with his family and friends, being outdoors, road trips, loves music and dancing.

Cara Stecker
Senior Paralegal

After receiving her paralegal certificate in 2005, Cara began working in assisted reproductive law. During the fifteen years Cara has worked in this field, she has gained a wide range of experience and knowledge that she uses to help better assist clients and those involved in the assisted reproductive journey. Cara’s primary roles involve managing parental establishment matters and coordination with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorney network, drafting contracts and parental establishment court documents and providing support to other team members. Cara finds great joy in being a small part of a team of caring people who help others achieve their dream of having a family. In her spare time, Cara enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, watching her children play the sports they love, and she enjoys, running, cycling and exploring the outdoors in the sun.

Stephanie Kimble

Stephanie received her BS in History and Political Thought from Concordia University Irvine in 2015 and her Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego later that same year. She has been working as a Paralegal since 2016 in Family and Reproductive Law. She is excited to be part of International Fertility Law Group working on managing Surrogacy, Egg donation and Parental Establishment Cases.

Trish Pittman
Assistant Financial Coordinator

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of accounting, Trish joined the IFLG team in 2019 as Assistant Financial Coordinator. Her client-facing focus at IFLG is to assist with all client trust accounting. Trish is the mother of two daughters and enjoys spending time teaching and learning new things from them. In her free time, she loves long walks in the park and reading suspense and mystery novels.

Katie Deaquino
Senior Paralegal

Katie is a Senior Paralegal with IFLG and has dedicated over sixteen years to the areas of surrogacy and reproductive law. She received her Paralegal Certificate from Coastline Community College and has worked with some of the top law firms in the assisted reproduction community. Katie is also a commissioned Notary Public. With IFLG, Katie manages Surrogacy, Egg Donation, and Parental Establishment cases and provides support to other IFLG team members. Katie truly enjoys helping others build their families through assisted reproduction and is thankful she has had the rewarding experience of assisting IFLG clients. Katie often spends her free time with her Husband, four young children and her bulldog “Bella”.

Elsa Jimenez
Legal Assistant

Elsa joined IFLG as a Legal Assistant in 2019, bringing more than 35 years of experience working in the legal profession (concentrating in tort and litigation matters). At IFLG she assists surrogates with their surrogacy and parental matters. The oldest of five siblings, born and raised in East Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Elsa loves “seeing the beauty of families forming” through assisted reproductive technology. She and her husband Carlos have four children and one grandson. Elsa enjoys jazz and ’80s music, being outdoors in nature, collecting teacups and tea pots, and spending time with her close-knit family.