October 5, 2015 — Today, the Ninth Circuit ruled Michelle Norsworthy’s case moot due to her release on parole, but remanded the case to the district court to determine the status of April’s historic preliminary injunction order requiring the state to provide Michelle adequate medical care, including gender-confirming surgery, as promptly as possible. Usually, when an appeal is mooted, the initial order is vacated, but not in cases where the appellant “has by his own act caused the dismissal of the appeal.” In its ruling, the court noted that “the circumstances of Norsworthy’s release are somewhat unusual,” and that there is “at least some chance” that the state “influenced the parole process” in an effort to have Michelle’s case dismissed.
“Michelle’s victory this past spring sent a clear message that the state cannot casually deny transgender women the medical care they need,” said Flor Bermudez, Detention Project Director at Transgender Law Center. “No matter what happens with the district court, that ruling will continue to carry significant weight that other jurisdictions can use as persuasive. The ‘unusual’ timing of Michelle’s release only underscores the urgency for the state to adopt a clear policy regarding gender-affirming medical care and humane treatment of all transgender inmates.”
A similar pattern to Michelle’s release occurred in Georgia, where a transgender woman, Ashley Diamond, was released on parole before the conclusion of her case. In Diamond’s case, even the Department of Justice argued that the failure to provide individualized and appropriate medical care for inmates suffering from gender dysphoria violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
Michelle Norsworthy added: “Even though I have been released, there are still so many transgender people in prison who have been denied the medical care they need. My April court victory is a recognition that transgender people’s medical needs are real and cannot be dismissed by the state just because of who we are.”