Court orders stay in case of transgender Idaho inmate’s surgery; arguments set for May
A federal appeals court on Friday ruled the Idaho Department of Correction does not have to provide gender confirmation surgery to a transgender inmate until it says otherwise, and attorneys are scheduled to argue the case in court in May.
The stay came from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. It halted the countdown that began in December, when U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ordered the department to provide gender confirmation surgery within six months to Adree Edmo, who identifies as a woman but is held in a men’s prison. Doctors previously diagnosed Edmo with gender dysphoria, a condition in which the rift between a person’s birth gender and chosen gender identity causes them serious distress and disrupts their quality of life. Many people who live with gender dysphoria do not require gender confirmation surgery, but in the most severe cases — such as Edmo’s, according to her attorneys — surgery can be recommended.
If Edmo receives the surgery, she would be the first Idaho prison inmate — and only the second in the nation — to undergo the procedure while in prison.
“The hard working taxpayers of Idaho should not be forced to pay for a prisoner’s gender reassignment surgery when individual insurance plans won’t even cover it,” according to a statement from Little’s office in January.
Deborah Ferguson, Edmo’s attorney, has since stated some insurance plans do cover the surgery, however.
The department had until June 13 to provide the surgery to Edmo but appealed the case to the next judicial level, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, that same month.
On Friday, that court issued a stay on the surgery — meaning the state does not have to provide the surgery until the court says otherwise.
But Ferguson didn’t take that stay as a bad sign.
“What’s unusual about that is while the court decided to grant the stay they also ... decided to put it on a highly expedited track,” Ferguson told the Idaho Press on Wednesday.
Typically, a case might languish in the court system for two to three years before the circuit court decides to hear it, she said. In this case, attorneys are scheduled to argue their case before the panel of three judges in San Francisco on May 17. The case is speeding ahead by legal standards — Ferguson said the court even agreed to push another case back to give attorneys the May date to argue Edmo’s case.
“What it signals to me is they agree with the urgency of the matter,” Ferguson said. “It was quite clear in Judge Winmill’s decision that time was of the essence ... and it should be heard as soon as possible.”
Ferguson noted the May 17 court date means the court could still make a decision in the case before the original June 13 deadline for the surgery. To her, it appears the court might want to honor Winmill’s original order.
In the five months since Winmill’s Dec. 13 ruling on Edmo’s case, much of the debate and discussion between attorneys has focused on finding a surgeon who is willing and able to perform the gender confirmation surgery. Early on, the department identified Geoff Stiller, a Moscow-based surgeon who specializes in transgender surgeries, as the doctor who would likely perform the procedure. Yet, Edmo’s attorneys noted in a March 19 document, Idaho Department of Correction officials didn’t actually make contact with Stiller’s office until late February — two-and-a-half months after Winmill’s order.
“To this day, they have never spoken with Dr. Stiller directly,” Edmo’s attorneys wrote.
Before he performs gender confirmation surgery, Stiller meets with a potential patient, and he also requires letters about the patient and their condition, from both mental health specialists and a physician. The doctors treating Edmo in prison, who are employed by Corizon Correctional Healthcare and contracted by the state, “do not believe she is qualified for surgery,” according to the document. The reasons for that, according to the document, include “Ms. Edmo not having well-controlled mental health conditions, not having lived as a female in a real-life social setting for 12-months or more, and due to a history of lack of compliance issues with treatment recommendations.”
But, as Edmo’s attorneys wrote in the document, Winmill already ruled the department had violated Edmo’s constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment by withholding the surgery from her; he noted the two attempts Edmo made to castrate herself in her cell.
Attorneys will present their oral arguments in May. In the meantime, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that while there is a stay on the surgery itself, Edmo can still meet with Stiller for a preliminary appointment, which according to court documents is scheduled for Thursday.