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Seventh Circuit Tells Wisconsin Probationer with Gender Dysphoria how to Proceed

On December 23, 2015, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal of a Wisconsin probationer with gender dysphoria who was denied a preliminary injunction to allow her to move from a men’s homeless shelter to her mother’s house and to dress as a woman in public. In doing so, the appellate court provided her with a surprising amount of information on how to proceed in future litigation, possibly indicating a favorable disposition towards the issue of treatment for prisoners with gender dysphoria.

Roy Mitchell was born male but identifies as female, which makes her physically a man and psychologically a woman. She has been homeless or incarcerated most of her adult life.

Mitchell filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging two Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) administrators, two prison doctors and three Dane County probation officers were deliberately indifferent to her need for psychological and hormonal therapy which had been recommended by a DOC consulting psychologist. She sought a preliminary injunction against her probation officers, who prohibited her from dressing as a woman in public or moving from a men’s shelter to her mother’s home.

The district court dismissed all of Mitchell’s claims save those against the prison doctors, and denied her motion for a preliminary injunction because the probation officers had been dismissed from the suit. Mitchell appealed the denial of the preliminary injunction.

While her appeal was pending, Mitchell informed the Seventh Circuit that she had been sentenced to nine months in jail after pleading guilty to theft, prostitution and resisting an officer. The Court of Appeals held that development mooted her appeal as she was no longer under the supervision of the probation officers, and noted the usual procedure when confronted with an appeal that has been mooted is to vacate the judgment of the district court and remand the case with instructions to dismiss the suit without prejudice. That prevents a district court’s unreviewed decision from having a preclusive effect on potential future litigation.

But that remedy would not work in this case because a viable claim remained against the DOC doctors, which was not part of Mitchell’s appeal. Further, the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction did not preclude it from issuing a permanent injunction. Therefore, the Seventh Circuit simply dismissed the appeal.

The appellate court noted that, upon her release from jail, Mitchell could revive her suit against the probation officers (or new probation officers), or file a new civil rights action to address related issues. “And she’ll be able to ask the district court to vacate its current judgment denying her claims against them, on the ground that our ruling deprived her of an opportunity to challenge his earlier ruling.” See: Mitchell v. Wall, 808 F.3d 1174 (7th Cir. 2015).

However, following remand the district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in August 2016, dismissing the remaining claims in the case. Mitchell has since filed another appeal, which remains pending. 

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Related legal case

Mitchell v. Wall