Appellate Win for Calif. Transgender Inmate

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Ninth Circuit on Friday revived a transgender California inmate’s legal action for sexual-reassignment surgery.
     The reversal for Mia Rosati, whom California records call her Philip, comes a short three weeks after the federal appeals court held oral arguments in the case.
     Rosati filed a 60-page handwritten pro se complaint from San Diego’s R.J. Donovan State Prison, where she is serving 80 years to life for murder.
     Though a federal judge dismissed the complaint, the circuit’s unsigned reversal Friday says that Rosati’s allegations were sufficient to state a claim.
     Rosati’s attorney, Peter Renn, had told the court at the hearing that his client’s gender dysphoria is so severe that she attempted to castrate herself in prison after she was denied access to surgery.
     Rosati has also expressed intentions of performing even more dangerous surgery in the future, Renn said.
     California conceded at the hearing that the district court should not have dismissed Rosati’s complaint without leave to amend.
     “This concession alone justifies reversal,” the panel’s opinion says.
     “But, even absent the concession, we conclude that the complaint, although not drafted with the skill and brevity expected of counsel, stated an Eighth Amendment claim upon which relief could be granted.”
     The opinion notes that Rosati has plausibly alleged her severe gender dysphoria, because she cited “repeated episodes of attempted self-castration despite continued hormone treatment.”
     Rosati also plausibly alleged that prison officials were aware of her medical history and need for treatment but denied the surgery because of a blanket policy against sexual-reassignment surgery, the opinion says.
     “Indeed, the state acknowledged at oral argument that no California prisoner has ever received SRS,” the opinion says.
     California scheduled its first sex-reassignment surgery for an inmate last month upon a federal judge’s order, but the Ninth Circuit entered a stay in Michelle Norsworthy’s case pending a hearing set for Aug. 10.
     For the federal appeals court, “even absent such a blanket policy,” Rosati plausibly alleged that her symptoms are so severe that “prison officials recklessly disregarded an excessive risk to her health by denying SRS solely on the recommendation of a physician’s assistant with no experience in transgender medicine.”
     The opinion also says that, although Rosati lacks a medical opinion recommending SRS, she plausibly alleged that “this is because the state has failed to provide her access to a physician competent to evaluate her.”
     “We express no opinion on whether SRS is medically necessary for Rosati or whether prison officials have other legitimate reasons for denying her that treatment,” the opinion says.
     “But, like other courts that have considered similar actions, we hold that the allegations in Rosati’s complaint are sufficient to state a claim.”
     Renn, Rosati’s attorney, said in a statement that his client’s “cries for help fell on deaf ears within the prison system, and we are grateful the appellate court has revived her case.”
     “Given the severe distress she suffers, denying her access to potentially life-saving treatment, or even a good-faith evaluation for it, is inexcusable,” he said.
     “Without adequate treatment, gender dysphoria can easily spiral into depression, suicide and attempts at self-surgery that jeopardize a person’s life. Transgender prisoners should not be denied access to essential medical care.”
     The state could not be reached for comment on Friday.
     Renn is with Lambda Legal, in Los Angeles.

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