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Seventh Circuit Permits Gender Dysphoria Federal Civil Rights Case to Proceed

by Derek Gilna

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the district court’s dismissal of a federal civil rights case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, brought by a former prisoner in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC), who claimed that she had been denied hormonal therapy for her medically diagnosed condition of gender dysphoria.

Lisa Mitchell argued that she had identified as a woman and that DOC officials while she was confined (and her parole officers after her release) blocked her from receiving that therapy.
According to the opinion, “It took DOC over a year to evaluate Mitchell’s candidacy for hormone therapy, and even then, nothing happened. Instead, DOC refused to provide Mitchell with the treatment its own expert recommended on the ground that Mitchell was within a month of release from the prison.”

“Although DOC’s Mental Health Director, Dr. Kevin Kallas, encouraged Mitchell to find a community provider to prescribe her hormones, DOC parole officers prevented Mitchell from following this advice,” the Court continued. “Still under state custody, the terms of Mitchell’s parole actually prohibited her from taking hormones or dressing as a woman.”

Shortly after she was taken into custody by the Wisconsin DOC, Mitchell requested hormone therapy for her diagnosed medical condition. The DOC represented to Mitchell that they were reviewing the appropriateness of the treatment. Instead, they treated her only for the psychological effects of the delay in treatment until shortly before her release when they asserted that treatment could not occur because not enough time remained for it to be monitored.

After she was blocked from treatment by both the DOC and her parole officers, she filed suit, asserting that “because a person is deprived of her liberty while incarcerated, she ‘must rely on prison authorities to treat [her] medical needs.’ Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 103,” according to the opinion.

However, for a defendant to be liable, it had to be shown that the party had to have direct involvement with the lack of medical treatment.

In reviewing the record, the Court of Appeals noted that the conduct of Mitchell’s clinician, the DOC medical treatment committee, and her parole officers constituted serious material disputes, and that summary judgment should not have been granted by the district court.
The Appellate Court concluded: “Punishment for Mitchell’s crimes cannot extend to the deprivation of the medical treatment she requires for her serious gender dysphoria. The Wisconsin DOC staff must approach Mitchell’s request for treating gender dysphoria with the same urgency and care as it would any other serious medical condition.”See: Mitchell v. Kallas, 895 F.3d 492 (7th Cir. 2018).


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Related legal case

Mitchell v. Kallas