BOSTON (May 26, 2011) — In a landmark civil-rights case spanning six years, McDermott Will & Emery LLP is pleased to announce that the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has ruled that the Firm's transgender client has a right to receive hormone medication while civilly-committed within the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (the “DOC”).
The injunction obtained by McDermott on behalf of the Firm’s pro bono client, Sandy Battista, requires the State of Massachusetts to provide necessary medical care for Ms. Battista's gender identity disorder (GID). The opinion reinforces the fact that GID is a recognized disorder that, if left untreated, creates a "substantial risk of serious harm," and "can be extremely dangerous.” The First Circuit found that an unjustified failure to treat GID gives rise to a constitutional violation. Judge Michael Boudin wrote the First Circuit opinion, joined by Judge Norman Stahl and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who sat on the panel by designation.
“This case is about one’s right to medical care while incarcerated,” said Neal Minahan, an associate in McDermott’s Boston office who argued the case before the First Circuit. “Incarcerated, transgender individuals have as much right to medically necessary care as any other person in the State's custody. The First Circuit recognized that waiting nearly a decade to fill a medical prescription is inexcusable. In this case, it violated our client's constitutional rights.”
Ms. Battista, a transgender resident of the Massachusetts Treatment Center, was first diagnosed with GID in 1997 and has struggled to receive treatment for the disorder for over a decade. In June 2005, Ms. Battista filed this case as a pro se litigant in the United States District Court of Massachusetts in response to the DOC's decision to block her prescription for GID treatment. That treatment, which included hormone medication, had been unanimously approved by the DOC’s own contracted medical providers. In November 2007, District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock appointed McDermott as pro bono counsel. Years of intensely fought litigation culminated in a bench trial before the U.S. District Court in June 2010. The McDermott trial team was lead by Minahan and Dana McSherry, a partner in the Firm’s Boston office.
The District Court found that Ms. Battista "may not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment which consists of the neglect of her serious medical needs, nor may her serious needs become a pretext for the infliction of additional punishments. And that is what has happened here." After trial, the court issued an injunction requiring the DOC to provide GID treatment to Ms. Battista, including access to hormone medication. That injunction was stayed pending the DOC’s appeal to the First Circuit panel, which issued its unanimous opinion on Friday, May 20, 2011.
Minahan explained that the First Circuit’s opinion recognizes that the Fourteenth Amendment, not the Eighth Amendment, applies to a civilly committed person’s right to medical care. “The Fourteenth Amendment standard is ‘more plaintiff-friendly’ than the Eighth Amendment standard that governs criminal confinement,” said Minahan. “Even though the standard is different, the First Circuit went on hold that the DOC's actions would constitute a violation of Battista's rights under either the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment.”
McSherry added that “the First Circuit found that through its pattern of delays, misinformation and interference, the DOC ‘forfeited the advantage of deference,’ which it might otherwise be entitled under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment analysis.”
The McDermott team working on this case also included partner Mike Kendall, associate Benjamin Franklin, legal assistant Christine Slyman, and former McDermott partners Christopher Man and Emily Smith-Lee.
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