REDWOOD CITY -- A judge has dismissed a New York couple's lawsuit -- which they refiled three times -- alleging the San Mateo County coroner mishandled their son's brain.

Bringing to a close an approximately 19-month legal struggle Superior Court, Judge Joseph Bergeron ruled Wednesday that Jerald and Sandra Wolkoff cannot proceed with their case. The couple alleged Coroner Robert Foucrault broke the law when he allowed an ambulance company to take samples of Steven Wolkoff's brainstem.

In a two-page ruling Bergeron wrote the Wolkoffs did "not identify any statute that requires the coroner to seek consent before taking a body part." He didn't allow the family another chance to refile, as they received in three prior court decisions on their suit.

San Mateo County applauded the decision, while attorneys for the Wolkoffs said the family is considering an appeal.

Steven Wolkoff died after a car wreck on Highway 1 in July 2008. His parents alleged in a separate 2009 lawsuit that ambulance company American Medical Response made errors that led to their son's death. 

In response, the company got Wolkoff's brain tissue as part of its defense against the wrongful death case, which has since been settled for an undisclosed sum, attorneys said previously.

The Wolkoffs say they didn't know the coroner had retained part of their son's brain, and never gave their permission for it to be turned over to the ambulance company.

"The Wolkoffs are pretty upset about the ruling," said their attorney Jayme Burns of Oakland-based law firm Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer. "They were devastated. Their (Jewish) faith requires the entire body be buried."
Due to ongoing litigation concerning the wrongful death case, the removed parts of Wolkoff's brain still have not been interred with him, Burns said.
San Mateo County Counsel John Beiers said the coroner didn't do anything wrong and the judge made the right call."The court had been very benevolent in giving the plaintiffs several chances to amend," he said. "Finally the judge had to close the door on the case."
Foucrault was accused once before of mishandling the remains handled by his office. Isolina Picon filed suit against the coroner in 2007 after learning his staff had retained her son's heart. Picon's suit was later dismissed.

Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at