Ruling Reversed for Transsexual Inmate's Hormone Therapy
[RICHMOND, VA] - The U.S. appeals court in Richmond today said a Roanoke federal judge should not have dismissed the case of a transsexual state prison inmate seeking to resume estrogen treatments.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously to reverse the lower court and send the case back for further proceedings.
Inmate Ophelia Azriel De'lonta - born Michael A. Stokes - developed a compulsion for self-mutilation after a 1995 revision in Virginia Department of Corrections policy stopped estrogen therapy. At that time De'lonta had been receiving it for two years. De'lonta has had no surgical change and is housed in a prison for men.
De'lonta filed suit in 1999 against Ron Angelone, who was then the prison system director, and several prison doctors, alleging they inflicted cruel and unusual punishment by denying adequate medical treatment to a prisoner.
De'lonta claimed also that the self-mutilation was absent during the period of estrogen therapy treatment, but worsened when it was stopped. The self-mutilation moved from primarily arms and hands to the genitals.
De'lonta is serving a 73-year sentence for robberies, two of them purse-snatchings. Since going to prison in 1983, De'lonta has been diagnosed consistently by prison doctors as having "gender identity disorder."
Judge James C. Turk of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia ruled in October 2001 that De'lonta could not present facts in a trial that would state a valid constitutional claim. He dismissed the case before trial and De'lonta appealed.
In his ruling Turk noted that De'lonta was getting mental health treatment and anti-depressant drugs in prison. He concluded that the heart of De'lonta's claims was simply a disagreement over medical treatment.
De'lonta, assisted in the appeal by the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, did not challenge Turk's ruling that abruptly stopping the estrogen treatment was not unconstitutional.
The 4th Circuit panel agreed with De'lonta that the allegations in the lawsuit, especially that the termination of estrogen treatment "resulted in compulsive, repeated self-mutilation," state constitutional claims that might be proven at trial.