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Federal judge in Illinois tosses lawsuit hoping to secure sex offenders’ access to erectile dysfunction meds

In a legal twist, the dismissal comes at the plaintiffs' own request.

(CN) — U.S. District Judge Iain Johnston dismissed a class action Thursday that had challenged a provision of an Illinois offense law barring a convicted sex offender on mandatory supervised release from accessing prescription drugs to treat erectile dysfunction.

An Illinois man on supervised release — after being convicted of sex offenses in 2014 — brought the class action against Illinois Corrections Department Director Latoya Hughes this past January. He was joined by the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws, a sex offense law reform nonprofit. The plaintiffs claimed the law violates the Eighth and 14th Amendments, which respectively prohibit cruel and unusual punishments and bar the state from "depriv[ing] any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

The plaintiffs argued that barring sex offenders from accessing erectile dysfunction medications while on supervised release interferes with fundamental liberties related to a person's health.

"The challenged law violates the substantive due process clause of the 14th Amendment because it interferes with fundamental liberty interests — namely, intimate aspects of sexuality that are undeniably fundamental rights and private medical decisions," the plaintiffs argued in January.

The individual plaintiff also hopes to access the medication for the sake of intimacy with his partner.

In a response to the complaint, Hughes filed a motion to dismiss in March. She argued the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws lacked standing to bring suit, and that the individual plaintiff failed to state a claim. She citied the Heck legal doctrine to bolster her position; the doctrine bars plaintiffs from pursuing certain civil rights lawsuits if a judgment in their favor could undermine their criminal conviction.

"The mandatory supervised release restrictions listed in [Illinois law], including the ED Drug Ban, comprise part of the offender’s sentence," Hughes argued. "Because he directly challenges an aspect of his sentence, under the Heck doctrine [the plaintiff] can only bring such a claim in a habeas corpus proceeding, not a [civil rights] case."

Johnston, a Donald Trump appointee serving in the western court district of Northern Illinois, diverged from Hughes' reasoning in his dismissal order. The judge agreed with the plaintiffs that they had standing to sue, but called their complaint in its current form "futile." He cited precedent from the Seventh Circuit to support his conclusion, namely the appellate court's 2003 decision in the case Williams v. Wisconsin. In that case the appellate court barred a man on parole from travelling to the Philippines, holding that parole was a form of confinement whose conditions the parolee could not challenge in certain civil lawsuits.

"Seventh Circuit precedent forecloses parolees from attacking the fact of their confinement — namely, the conditions of their parole — under [U.S. law]," Johnston wrote. "That is nevertheless what the plaintiffs attempt to do here."

Acknowledging the plaintiffs' standing, Johnston's dismissal came not due to Hughes' motion but at the plaintiffs' own request, as they hoped to challenge the Seventh Circuit's Williams v. Wisconsin ruling as erroneous.

"Cognizant of their suit’s futility, they ask the Court to dismiss it to allow the Seventh Circuit an opportunity to reconsider Williams," Johsnton wrote.

"Plaintiffs believe the decision in Williams was erroneous and seek to have this court dismiss plaintiffs’ claims so that they can ask the Seventh Circuit to reconsider its existing precedent," the plaintiffs wrote in a separate court filing.

Despite seeking dismissal of their own complaint, the plaintiffs maintained that prohibiting sex offenders from accessing ED medication violated protections against cruel and unusual punishments.

"Williams severely hinders the ability of individuals on MSR to reenter into society by making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to challenge overly restrictive parole conditions imposed on them by state law," they wrote.

"This is especially the case for individuals convicted of sexual offenses, given that the parole conditions imposed on them are uniquely harsh, including the one being challenged here."

At press time, the plaintiffs had not yet filed with the Seventh Circuit to challenge its Williams decision. With the individual plaintiff's period of supervised release expiring next April, it's unclear if he will still need court intervention to access his medications when — or if — the appellate court reconsiders that case.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Health, Law, Regional

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