ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – The Eighth Circuit heard oral arguments Tuesday over whether a Minnesota mother’s parental rights were violated when her teenager underwent gender transition services without her consent.
Anmarie Calgaro sued her then-17-year-old transgender daughter, two state agencies and two health providers in 2016 after her daughter, identified as E.J.K. in court records, was allowed to receive elective medical services for a sex change without Calgaro’s consent or a legal order of emancipation.
Erick Kaardal, the attorney representing Calgaro, argued Tuesday before an Eighth Circuit panel that the government agencies and health care providers terminated his client’s parental rights without due process when they decided on their own that E.J.K., who was called J.D.K. in Calgaro’s lawsuit, was emancipated.
“The state Legislature…took a perfectly good legal term, emancipation, and wrote this sentence: ‘for purposes of this clause ‘legally emancipated’ means that a person under the age of 18 years who has been emancipated by a [court] or is otherwise considered emancipated under Minnesota law,’” Kaardal said.
The attorney said the vague language is problematic and that, in this case, St. Louis County determined E.J.K. was emancipated and could receive government benefits even though Calgaro was a “fit parent” and objected to government benefits.
Part of the issue, Kaardal argued, is there is no procedural due process rights for “fit parents” like there are for those who are deemed to be unfit.
“Why wouldn’t we make this same effort for fit parents?” he asked.
David Wilk, representing one of the two defendant health care providers, Park Nicollet, said the providers in this case are not state actors and Calgaro’s claims were properly dismissed by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson.
“The statute…doesn’t change any of this. It merely allows minors under unique circumstances to consent to their own care, whether it’s routine medical care or other kinds of care,” he said.
U.S. Circuit Judge Steven Colloton fired back, asking Wilk what the unique circumstance was in E.J.K.’s case.
“We had a minor who did not live at home,” Wilk replied.
“That’s the unique circumstance?” Colloton pressed.
“And we have a minor who is providing for herself financially. And under that statute, that minor now has the ability to consent to medical care, or at least the provider is entitled to rely on that consent.” Wilk quickly responded.
Attorney Nick Campanario, representing St. Louis County, said his client did not violate Calgaro’s rights in connection with the county’s determination that her child was eligible for general medical assistance.
“Under Minnesota law, county agencies have an obligation to administer the general assistance program according to rules and laws adopted by the Department of Human Services,” he said.
U.S. Circuit Judge Duane Benton abruptly interrupted Campanario as he was trying to explain the procedural aspect, and said, “Let me cut to the chase…emancipation is not defined in the general assistance statute, right?”
Campanario replied, “Correct.”
“It’s just stated as a word, emancipation,” Benton said.
Campanario continued, “If you look at the factual allegations in the complaint, what they suggest at best is that the county worker who handled E.J.K’s case application for general assistance made a mistake in concluding that she was eligible as a legal emancipated person.”
The county is not liable for a mistake made by a county worker, the attorney added.
“There was nothing in the complaint that indicated the county had a policy that caused that worker to make the wrong decision,” Campanario said.
He said if the was a problem with how E.J.K. application was handled; the county is not liable for the mishandling because it was not caused by a county policy.
U.S. Circuit Judge Roger Wollman rounded out the panel. It is unclear when the judges will issue a ruling in the case.