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Lynch v. Lewis

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division

March 23, 2015

CHRISTOPHER A. LYNCH, Plaintiff,
v.
SHARON LEWIS, M.D. and BILLY NICHOLS, M.D., Defendants.

ORDER

HUGH LAWSON, Senior District Judge.

This case is before the Court on a Recommendation from United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff. (Doc. 66). Judge Langstaff recommends granting Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. 42); granting Plaintiff's motion to clarify the allegations set forth in his Complaint but denying his Motion to Amend (Doc. 47); denying Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of Counsel (Doc. 62); and granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motions to dismiss (Docs. 34, 53). Specifically, Judge Langstaff recommends that Defendants' motions to dismiss Plaintiff's official capacity money damages claims and conspiracy claims be granted. However, Judge Langstaff opines that Plaintiff has met the pleading requirements for his Eighth Amendment claims of deliberate indifference by Defendants in their refusal to provide Plaintiff with necessary treatment for his gender identity disorder ("GID") and that Defendants' motions to dismiss these claims should be denied.

Defendants filed timely objections to the recommendation. Defendants object only to those portions of the recommendation denying their motions to dismiss and take no issue with the dismissal of Plaintiff's official capacity and conspiracy claims.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Christopher, a/k/a "Christina", Lynch identifies himself in his Complaint as a 22-year old transsexual female with a gender identity disorder ("GID"). Plaintiff states that since the age of 9 he has dressed and presented himself to the world as a female. He has also been employed as a female. Beginning at age 15, Plaintiff began self-prescribing female hormones that he admittedly acquired illicitly. At age 16, he was hospitalized following a suicide attempt after a teacher told him that he would never be a girl. (Doc. 1-2, p. 4).

Plaintiff has been incarcerated since age 19. Upon entering the prison system, Plaintiff no longer had access to the female hormones he had been taking prior to commencing his prison term in 2012, though he states that he attempted to continue self-medicating through the purchase of "hormones from inmates whom [sic] had prescriptions from non-prison physicians." (Doc. 1-2, p. 2). He began seeking treatment for her transsexualism while confined at Johnson State Prison, where he received an unofficial diagnosis of GID from psychiatrist Dr. McKinnon. Plaintiff alleges that when he arrived at Valdosta State Prison on July 23, 2013, he again notified prison officials of his GID and began seeking an official diagnosis and treatment for the condition, including hormone therapy. Plaintiff spoke both with counselors and facility physician Dr. Raymond Moody about the physical and mental symptoms she was experiencing as a result of the discontinuation of his self-prescribed hormone therapy. He described feelings of nausea, dizziness, acid reflux, headaches, and vomiting. Plaintiff further reported his depression, anxiety, lethargy, and preoccupation with genital mutilation and self-castration. He also revealed that he cut his wrist and his arm.

On August 5, 2013, Plaintiff filed a grievance alleging denial of treatment for his GID. On August 9, 2013, Dr. Moody informed him that Defendants Sharon Lewis, Medical Director for the Georgia Department of Corrections, and Billy Nichols, State Medical Director for Georgia Correctional Health Care, determined that Plaintiff did not meet the requirements to be treated for his GID based on S.O.P. VH47-0006, a policy Plaintiff states "makes arbitrary distinctions between transsexuals that have been treated prior to incarceration and transsexuals that have not." (Doc. 1, p. 6). Dr. Moody confirmed again on August 15, 2013 the decision of Defendants not to provide Plaintiff treatment. Plaintiff maintains that "Mental Health Counselor DeWese and psychologist Dr. Harrison attempted to argue on my behalf... but to no avail." (Doc. 1, p. 7).

Plaintiff alleges that on August 20, 2013, he wrote a four-page letter to both Defendants. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 8-22). In her letters, he "beseeched them to provide care, to at least make their decision based upon sound medical judgment rather then [sic] policy." (Doc. 1, p. 7). He wrote to Defendants again on September 26, 2013. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 17-18). Defendant Lewis appears to have authored a response to Plaintiff's continued grievance on November 20, 2013, concluding "that medical personnel handled this case appropriately and no further action is warranted." (Doc. 1-1, p. 3; Doc. 28-1).

Plaintiff continues to seek medical treatment for his GID. Plaintiff attached medical records from October 2013 to his Complaint reflecting a diagnosis of GID. (Doc. 1, pp. 14-16). The records further note that Plaintiff suffers "significant distress associated with incongruence between natal gender and experienced gender, persistent desire to be rid of male sexual characteristics and with pre-incarceration intervention (self-administered hormone therapy and surgical alteration 2d characteristics)." (Doc. 1, p. 14). He reports a "[d]esire to live as the other sex, persistent discomfort and sense of inappropriateness in gender role of male, preoccupation with ridding self of sexual characteristics of male, significant stress and impairment in multiple areas of functioning." (Doc.1, p. 15).

Plaintiff avers that the American Medical Association has articulated that the appropriate standard of care for GID is hormone therapy and surgery. He notes that while psychotherapy is an acknowledged instrument to monitor the mental welfare of a transsexual patient, it generally is not considered treatment for GID. He further articulates that the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health ("WPATH") should be applied and that Defendants' failure to abide by the recognized standard of care "disregarded my needs and disregarded degrees of contemporary care with callous and deliberate indifference; not even bothering with the pretense of caring or offering a less effective remedy." (Doc. 1, p. 8). As a result, he has resorted to self-mutilation of his wrist, arm, thigh and genitals, is experiencing severe depression, insomnia, and an immeasurable increase of manic-anxiety, psychological breakdowns, self-loathing, and a desire to be rid of his facial hair and other male characteristics. (Doc. 1, p. 8).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1), within fourteen (14) days of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, a party may submit written objections to the recommendation. The district court then shall conduct a de novo review of the portions of the recommendation to which the party objects. Id .; see also LoConte v. Dugger, 847 F.2d 745, 750 (11th Cir. 1988). The court may accept, reject, or modify the findings or recommendations of the magistrate. Id.

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants object to the magistrate's recommendation on three grounds. First, Defendants reiterate their contention that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for an Eighth Amendment violation for deliberate indifference as he has not alleged that Defendants had knowledge of a serious risk of harm posed to Plaintiff in failing to provide him treatment for his GID. Next, Defendants maintain that the magistrate erred in determining that Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity. ...


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