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Transgender Idaho Prisoner Who Won Gender Conforming Surgery Awarded Over $2.6 Million in Legal Fees

by Eike Blohm, MD

On September 30, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho awarded $2,631,593 in attorneys fees and expenses to a former state prisoner, who successfully sued for gender confirming surgery to address a severe case of gender dysphoria that included several attempts at self-castration. When Adree Edmo finally underwent surgery in 2020, a year before her release from the state Department of Corrections (DOC), it capped a five-year battle with the prison system and Corizon Health, its privately contracted healthcare provider. [See: PLN, Oct. 2022, p.36].

After the legal victory, Edmo moved for attorney’s fees and expenses. Generally, each party to a lawsuit is responsible for its own legal fees. But under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, the prevailing party in a civil rights action may recover reasonable legal expenses.

Courts commonly use the “Lodestar Method” to determine what amount is reasonable. The first step is to determine whether the hours billed and hourly rate are reasonable. Step two involves consideration of an adjustment to that number based on 12 factors, such as awards in similar cases, as laid out in Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., 526 F.2d 67 (9th Cir 1975).

Litigation by prisoners is also governed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, which limits the hourly attorney rate to 150% of the rate for court-appointed counsel. In this case, that came to $232.50 per hour. Over the five-year litigation, Edmo’s legal team of three main attorneys and 16 supporting attorneys billed 5,968.30 hours.

DOC objected and proposed that only one-seventh of the amount should be awarded because only one out of Edmo’s seven original claims had succeeded. The Court rejected that idea, saying it could not “imagine why a lawyer would allocate equal hours to each claim.”

In its review for reasonableness, the Court subtracted only a trivial number of hours from the award, adjusting the total to 5,691.5 hours for $1,317,821.75 in fees.

In the second Lodestar step, the Court awarded an adjustment factor of 2.0 to almost every billing item, since the PLRA limitation of $232.50 per hour significantly underestimated the true market value of the services provided by the attorneys involved. To that adjusted total of $2,586,048.80 in fees was then added an additional $45,544.20 in litigation expenses.

Edmo’s legal team included attorney Lori Rifkin of Berkely, California; attorneys from Ferguson Durham, PLLC in Boise and Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP in Pasadena, California; and attorneys with the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco. See: Edmo v. Corizon, USDC (D. Ida.), Case No. 1:17-cv-00151.

By agreement, Corizon Health was on the hook for the award, not DOC. But Rifkin and the entire award of $2,631,593 were included in a list of creditors and debts made in a bankruptcy filing by Corizon Health – now known as Tehum Care Services, Inc. – in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas on February 15, 2023. See: In Re: Tehum Care Services, Inc., USBC (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 23-90086. 

Additional source: US News

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