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Williams v. Kelly

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 27, 2018


         SECTION: “R” (1)



         Wilbert Williams a/k/a Serenity Izabel Williams, a state prisoner, filed this federal civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the following defendants: Beverly Kelly, the Assistant Warden of the Rayburn Correctional Center (“Rayburn”); Chris Polk, Rayburn's Assistant Director of Nursing; Robert Tanner, Rayburn's Warden; and James M. LeBlanc, the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.[1] Plaintiff later filed an amended complaint to add two new defendants: Teresa Knight, Rayburn's Director of Nursing; and Dr. Robert Cleveland, the physician at Rayburn.[2] In this lawsuit, plaintiff claims that the defendants have been deliberately indifferent to her need for medical treatment for gender dysphoria and have violated her right to equal protection.[3]

         Several motions are currently pending before the Court. Plaintiff has filed motions for a preliminary injunction[4] and default judgment.[5] The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, [6]which plaintiff has opposed.[7]

         I. Plaintiff's Allegations

         In her original complaint, plaintiff made the following allegations:[8]

Serenity Izabel Williams is an anatomical male who is suffering from Gender Dysphoria. This is a rare psychiatric disorder in which she feels persistently uncomfortable about her anatomical sex, and who typically seek medical treatment, including sexual reassignment surgery. Gender Dysphoria is a serious medical condition recognized by the medical community as a serious condition.
All Defendants are all in deliberate indifference by imposing a substantial risk of serious harm to Plaintiff Williams' present and future health.
Plaintiff avers that she's on feminizing hormone therapy. The final step of Williams' treatment is sexual reassignment surgery, which would bring her primary and secondary sex characteristics into conformity with her female gender identity and therefore treat the severe mental anguish she experiences as a result of her gender dysphoria.
Plaintiff avers that all of the defendants has been informed that she have been and still is suffering with a serious medical condition which is known as “Gender Dysphoria” and have been denied serious medical treatment such as sex reassignment surgery and be transfer to an all female's prison.
All defendants not only being aware of the facts that by denying Williams a sexual reassignment surgery; they have caused her extreme anxiety, and depression that she go to sleep crying and wake up crying knowing that she don't feel comfortable as she is in life. She also thought of self-castrating herself.
All defendants have disregard the risk that Williams' gender dysphoria will cause her to do upon herself, by failing to take reasonable measures to abate these risks.
Plaintiff avers that defendants acted with an intent and/or purpose to discriminate again her based upon membership in a protected class. The essence of the Equal Protection Clause is a requirement that similarly situated persons be treated alike.
In support of her Equal Protection Clause claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Williams alleges that all of the defendants acted with an intent and/or purpose to discriminate against her based upon her membership in a protected class. Specifically, she alleges that defendants intentionally treat her differently than non-transgender female inmates seeking vaginoplasty due to her gender and transgender status by barring her from such treatment or, at a minimum, holding her to more onerous standard, and that Defendants discriminated against her by refusing to have her transfer to an all female's prison.
The Plaintiff further contends that none of the above provided her with a legitimate penological reasoning of denying her sex reassignment surgery. There are no institution policy nor Department or State's policies and regulations barring the plaintiff vaginoplasty surgery. If there are statutes and regulations that bar her from getting sex reassignment surgery; then it is facially discriminatory because it explicitly distinguishes between treatment for transsexual woman that is designated as presumptively “not medically necessary” (i.e. castration and vaginoplasty for treatment of gender dysphoria) and the same treatments for non-transgender woman (i.e. vaginoplasty for treatment of cystocele or rectocele), which are explicitly exempted from this bar.
Here, Williams has alleged that each Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her transgender status. She alleges that, in considering her need for medically necessary surgery, and vaginoplasty in particular, Defendants treated her differently from a similarly situated non-transgender woman in need of medically necessary surgery. They articulate no important governmental interest, much less describe how their gender classification - which makes it more difficult for a transgender person to receive gender reassignment surgery than it is for a cisgender woman - is substantially related to that interest.[9]

         In her amended complaint, plaintiff added the following additional pertinent allegations:

1. Plaintiff has been living as a female since adolescence in the early 2000s;
2. She has been in custody since on or about October 16, 2015;
3. In 2016, a prison psychiatrist, Dr. Matthew Gamble, diagnosed her as suffering from gender dysphoria;
4. She began feminizing hormone therapy on June 29, 2017; 5. She is classified in the prison system as transgender “based on her sexual preference and her mental health status”; 6. She requested sex reassignment surgery on “numerous occasions” with no success;
7. She filed an administrative grievance which was denied at the final step by defendant LeBlanc;
8. Defendants are aware that she has attempted suicide on “numerous occasions since childhood, ” and their refusal to provide sex reassignment surgery poses an unreasonable risk to her health and life;
9. Sex reassignment surgery would allow plaintiff “to reduce the high dosages of hormones she receives, which put her at increased risk for heart and vascular condition and certain types of cancer”;
10. If she goes untreated or if treatment is discontinued, there is a severe risk that she “will experience suicidal tendencies, the impulse to engage in self-castration, or self-harm, clinically significant depression, anxiety, and mental impairment.”[10]

         Plaintiff attached to her amended complaint copies of the responses to her administrative grievance. At the first step, Warden Tanner denied relief, stating:

Your complaint seeking sex reassignment surgery and an eventual transfer to a female prison has been reviewed.
According to your medical record, you were properly evaluated by the medical staff at his [sic] facility and subsequently prescribed hormone replacement therapy. You have been referred to the management team for continued review of your status. Documentation in your medical record indicates that you are non-compliant with taking your treatment regime as prescribed. As a result of your non-compliance, you are not eligible for consideration for gender affirming surgery. You are encouraged to comply with your treatment plan and continue to meet with the mental health staff as needed.
Your request for a remedy is denied.[11]

         At the second and final step of the administrative remedy procedure, Secretary LeBlanc's designee then likewise denied relief, stating:

It has been determined that your complaint is without merit. The medical staff has addressed your concerns in an appropriate manner and in accordance with DOC Health Care Policy. Medical opinion is controlling. The care you have received as well as the care you will continue to receive from the Medical staff is determined adequate for your health care concerns. As such, this office has accepted staff's position in this matter and concurs with the response provided at the First Level. Therefore, administrative intervention is not forthcoming.
Your request for relief is denied.[12]

         II. Motion for Preliminary Injunction

         Plaintiff has filed a motion for a preliminary injunction.[13] Under the law of this Circuit, a plaintiff must make a clear showing that her case satisfies the following four criteria before she can receive a preliminary injunction: (1) a substantial likelihood exists that she will succeed on the merits of her claim; (2) a substantial threat of irreparable harm exists if the injunction is not granted; (3) the threatened injury outweighs any harm to the defendants if the injunction is granted; and (4) the injunction will not undermine the public interest. See Valley v. Rapides Parish School Board, 118 F.3d 1047, 1051 (5th Cir. 1997); see also Ingebresten v. Jackson Public School District, 88 F.3d 274, 278 (5th Cir. 1996); Doe v. Duncanville Independent School District, 994 F.2d 160, 163 (5th Cir. 1993); Holland American Insurance Co. v. Succession of Roy, 777 F.2d 992, 997 (5th Cir. 1985). She must satisfy all four factors; a failure to satisfy even one of the four factors requires a denial of the preliminary injunction. See Mississippi Power & Light v. United Gas Pipe Line Co., 760 F.2d 618, 621 (5th Cir. 1985).

         For the reasons explained infra, plaintiff's claims should be dismissed. Therefore, she cannot show that there is a substantial likelihood that she will succeed on the merits of her claims, and, accordingly, her motion for a preliminary injunction should be denied.

         III. Motion for Default Judgment

         Plaintiff has also filed motion for the entry of a default judgment.[14] However, for the following reasons, it is clear that the motion should be denied because the defendants were never technically in default and, in any event, a default judgment would be inappropriate.

         First, because plaintiff is an inmate, her civil action is subject to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”). “[U]nlike in the typical civil case, defendants do not have to respond to a complaint covered by the PLRA until required to do so by the court, and waiving the right to reply does not constitute an admission of the allegations in the complaint.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 213-14 (2007) (emphasis added); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(g)(1). In the instant case, the Court never entered an order directing the defendants to respond to the complaint, and, therefore, they were not in default. See, e.g., McCurdy v. Johnson, No. 2:08-cv-01767, 2012 WL 3135906, at *1-2 (D. Nev. Aug. 1, 2012).

         Second, the motion for default judgment is premature because a default has not been entered pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). See Structural Concrete Products, LLC v. Clarendon America Insurance Co., 244 F.R.D. 317, 328 (E.D. Va. 2007); Griffin v. Foti, Civ. Action No. 03-1274, 2003 WL 22836493, at *1 (E.D. La. Nov. 24, 2003); Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. v. Heath, Civ. Action No. 95-509, 1995 WL 258317, at *1 (E.D. La. Apr. 27, 1995).

         Third, even if the defendants had been in default, and even if a default had been entered, entry of a default judgment still would not be warranted. Entry of a default judgment is matter of discretion, and “a party is not entitled to a default judgment as a matter of right, even where the defendant is technically in default. In fact, default judgments are a drastic remedy, not favored by the Federal Rules and resorted to by courts only in extreme situations.” Lewis v. Lynn, 236 F.3d 766, 767 (5th Cir. 2001) (citations, quotation marks, and brackets omitted); accord Griffin, 2003 WL ...

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