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Monday, July 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Appeal Over Transgender Inmate’s Surgery Ends

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Ninth Circuit dismissed as moot an appeal of a federal judge's order requiring California prison officials to provide sex reassignment surgery to a transgender inmate, since she was recently released.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar's landmark ruling that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation violated Michelle-Lael Norsworthy's constitutional rights by denying her surgery while she was in prison would have led to the first sex reassignment surgery on a prison inmate in California history.

The case occurred alongside the circuit's recent revival of a similar action brought by California inmate Mia Rosati and the state's agreement to pay for the sex reassignment surgery of transgender inmate Shiloh Quine.

Norsworthy was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1987. She began living as a woman while in prison and was formally diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2000.

She was scheduled to have sex reassignment surgery on July 1, but the procedure was put on hold after the Ninth Circuit granted the state a stay.

But while the appeal was pending, Norsworthy was released on parole and the state argued that her release rendered the case moot.

The circuit agreed and remanded to Tigar to determine whether to vacate his order requiring the state to provide the surgery.

In a separate dissent, Circuit Judge Consuelo Callahan said that the majority's remand is "based on legal error and unnecessarily prolongs this litigation."

"Everyone agrees that this appeal is moot," she said. "Accordingly, in addition to dismissing this appeal we should vacate the mandatory preliminary injunction ordering CDCR to provide Ms. Norsworthy with sex reassignment surgery."

Callahan said that the majority's argument that the facts surrounding Norsworthy's release are not sufficient developed "approaches sophistry," since the process leading to her release are "set forth fully in the documents that have been submitted to the court."

But the majority contended that there was evidence that the state influenced Norsworthy's parole process and that the circumstances of her release are therefore "somewhat unusual."

"Because we can say no more, we are unwilling to express a view of what happened without full knowledge of all the facts that the district court should consider in the first instance," the majority's per curiam opinion said.

Neither Norsworthy's lawyers nor the Attorney General's office could be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

A spokesman for the CDCR said the department is reviewing the court's decision and had no further comment.

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