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Lamb v. Norwood

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 6, 2017

MICHELLE RENEE LAMB, a/k/a THOMAS LAMB Plaintiff,
v.
JOE NORWOOD, JOHNNIE GODDARD, PAUL CORBIER, KANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, and CORIZON HEALTH SERVICES, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ERIC F. MELGREN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Michelle Renee Lamb is currently serving three consecutive life sentences for two counts of kidnapping and one count of murder. Michelle Renee was born Thomas Preston; she changed her name in 2007.[1] She has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria; although she was born a biological male, she considers herself female. Michelle brings this action against the Kansas Department of Corrections (“KDOC”); Joe Norwood, [2] the Secretary of Corrections, in his official capacity; Johnnie Goddard, [3] Deputy Secretary of Corrections, in his individual capacity; Corizon Health Services; and Dr. Paul Corbier. She asserts that the Defendants are violating the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment by failing to adequately treat her gender dysphoria. She also alleges that her constitutional rights are being violated by the conditions of her confinement. Accordingly, she seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. Specifically, she seeks more comprehensive treatment of her gender dysphoria, access to more female items in prison, recognition of her name change, and transfer to a female-only prison facility.

         Corizon and Dr. Corbier have each filed a motion for summary judgment (Docs. 35 and 38), arguing that they are not violating the Eighth Amendment because they are not deliberately indifferent to Lamb's medical needs. KDOC, Norwood, and Goddard (the “Prison Officials”) have also filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 46). They also argue that Lamb cannot demonstrate deliberate indifference to her medical needs. Furthermore, they contend that Lamb's conditions of confinement are constitutional. For the reasons stated below, the Court agrees with the Defendants and grants all three motions for summary judgment.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background[4]

         In December 1969, Thomas Lamb abducted and murdered a young woman named Karen Sue Kemmerly. Shortly thereafter, in January 1970, Thomas Lamb abducted another young woman named Patricia Ann Childs and sought a ransom in exchange for her release. While in Thomas Lamb's custody, Childs' hands were bound and on several occasions, she was forced to engage in sexual intercourse with Thomas. Shortly after the ransom was paid and Childs was released, Thomas Lamb was apprehended. Thomas Lamb was convicted of two counts of kidnapping and one count of first degree murder, and is now serving three consecutive life sentences in prison.

         While in prison, Thomas Preston Lamb began going by Michelle Renee Lamb. And in 2007, that name change was made official. Michelle Lamb has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria: she was born a biological male, but self identifies as a female transsexual. Lamb is in the custody of the KDOC. At the time she filed this action, Johnnie Goddard was the acting Secretary of Corrections. Currently, that position is held by Joe Norwood. KDOC contracts with Corizon to provide medical care to its inmates. Since either 2012 or 2014, [5] Lamb has been seen by Dr. Paul Corbier. Dr. Corbier is Corizon's Regional (Kansas) Medical Director.

         Lamb receives weekly counseling and therapy sessions. Every week, she meets with Brandon Pratt, a licensed psychologist employed by Corizon. She also receives hormone treatments. Specifically, she takes estrogen and a testosterone-blocking medication. Dr. Corbier asserts that he and a panel of practitioners have deemed that Lamb's treatment is appropriate. In January 2016, Lamb was allowed access to jewelry-specifically earrings-and was also given female undergarments. Pratt explains that access to these items is meant to be therapeutic for Lamb's gender dysphoria. Dr. Corbier stated that Lamb's condition will not decline if her current treatment regimen continues, and in his opinion, “the relative risks and benefits of sexual reassignment surgery render surgery [an] impractical and unnecessary option when more conservative therapies are available and effective.” Lamb does not feel that her gender dysphoria is being treated. Lamb contends that the weekly sessions and hormone treatments only treat the depression that results from her untreated gender dysphoria. She claims that various medical doctors and gender dysphoria experts recommend that she receive much more comprehensive treatment. She also asserts that the treatment she is currently receiving falls short of the standard of care set forth by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (“WPATH”).

         Lamb brings this action under § 1983 against Corizon, Dr. Corbier, and the Prison Officials. She alleges that the current treatment that she is receiving for her gender dysphoria violates her Eighth Amendment rights. She seeks injunctive relief, asking the Court to direct that the Defendants provide Lamb with treatment conforming to the WPATH's standard of care. That treatment would include (1) castration surgery; (2) transfer to a female prison facility; (3) a name change on all of KDOC's official documents; (4) genital sex reassignment surgery; (5) access to all canteen and property items that are currently available to female inmates; (6) female voice therapy, electrolysis, and/or laser hair removal; and (7) an adjustment of Lamb's hormone therapy.

         Dr. Corbier and Corizon have each filed a motion for summary judgment. The Prison Officials have also filed a motion for summary judgment. In their motions, all of the Defendants argue that the facts show that they are not deliberately indifferent to Lamb's medical condition because she is receiving adequate treatment. Furthermore, the Prison Officials also argue that Lamb's constitutional rights are not violated by the conditions of her confinement.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[6]A fact is “material” when it is essential to the claim, and issues of fact are “genuine” if the proffered evidenced permits a reasonable jury to decide the issue in either party's favor.[7] The moving party bears the initial burden of proof, and must show the lack of evidence on an essential element of the claim.[8] If the moving party carries this initial burden, the non-moving party that bears the burden of persuasion at trial may not simply rest on its pleading but must instead “set forth specific facts” from which a rational trier of fact could find for the non-moving party.[9] These facts must be clearly identified through affidavits, deposition transcripts, or incorporated exhibits-conclusory allegations alone cannot survive a motion for summary judgment.[10] To survive summary judgment, the non-moving party's evidence must be admissible.[11] The Court views all evidence and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment.[12]

         Lamb is proceeding pro se. The Court therefore reviews her pleadings, including those related to Defendants' motion, “liberally and holds them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys.”[13] The Court, however, cannot assume the role of advocate for the pro se litigant.[14] Likewise, Lamb's pro se status does not relieve her from the obligation to comply with procedural rules, including the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[15]

         III. Analysis

         Lamb seeks declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 is not a source a substantive rights; it merely provides a mechanism for enforcing rights secured elsewhere under federal law.[16] And so to invoke § 1983, Lamb must first show that she has been deprived of a right secured under federal law.[17] Specifically, she alleges that all of the defendants are violating her Eighth Amendment rights by failing to acknowledge and treat her serious medical condition. She also alleges that the conditions of her confinement are violating her constitutional rights. She seeks an injunction directing the Defendants to properly treat her condition, and requests changes to the condition of her confinement, primarily, transfer to a female-only facility.

         A. Lamb's hormone treatments and weekly therapy sessions do not violate the Eighth Amendment.

         Lamb contends that all of the Defendants are violating her Eighth Amendment rights by treating her in a manner that falls short of WPATH standards. She asserts that the Eighth Amendment requires that she receive the following treatments: castration surgery; genital sex reassignment surgery; female voice therapy, electrolysis, and/or laser hair removal; and an adjustment to the hormone treatment that she is currently receiving. She argues that anything short of the above treatments-such as the care she is currently receiving-constitutes deliberate indifference to her medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

         “A prison official's deliberate indifference to an inmate's serious medical needs is a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”[18] The deliberate indifference standard involves two components: “an objective component requiring that the pain of deprivation be sufficiently serious; and a subjective component requiring that [prison] officials act with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.”[19] For the purposes of this motion only, the defendants concede that the deprivation of gender dysphoria treatment is sufficiently serious. Therefore, their motion turns on the subjective component.

         “A mere ‘negligent failure to provide adequate medical care, even one constituting medical malpractice, does not give rise to a constitutional violation.' ”[20] Nor does a prisoner's disagreement with a diagnosis or prescribed course of treatment constitute an Eighth Amendment violation.[21] “Where a doctor ‘orders treatment consistent with the symptoms presented and then continues to monitor the patient's condition, an inference of deliberate indifference is unwarranted under [Tenth Circuit] case law.' ”[22] With that in mind, “the subjective component is not satisfied, absent an extraordinary degree of neglect, where a doctor merely exercises his considered medical judgment.”[23]

         The Defendants argue that they acknowledge and are treating Lamb's condition. Dr. Corbier-a board certified medical doctor-asserts that he is aware of Lamb's gender dysphoria diagnosis. He asserts that her diagnosis and treatment regimen has been reviewed and approved by a panel of practitioners that includes specialists in psychiatry and behavioral psychology. Lamb receives weekly counseling and therapy sessions, hormone treatments, and has been provided access to female clothing and accessories, which Brandon Pratt-Corizon's psychologist-claims is intended to be therapeutic. Dr. Corbier states that Lamb's condition will not decline if her current treatment regimen continues. In Dr. Corbier's opinion, “the relative risks and benefits of sexual reassignment surgery render surgery [an] impractical and unnecessary option when more conservative therapies are available and effective.” Lamb attempts to controvert many of Dr. Corbier's assertions, but she mostly does so improperly. Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party attempting to controvert a fact must do so by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record.”[24] This District's local rules also require that in a memorandum opposing summary judgment, “[e]ach fact in dispute must be numbered by paragraph, [and] refer with particularity to those portions of the record upon which the opposing party relies.”[25] Lamb mostly fails to cite to the record with any degree of particularity in attempting to controvert the Defendants' facts. Nevertheless, Lamb did support her complaint with a declaration that she swore to under penalty of perjury. Such a document can be treated as an affidavit and serve as evidence in consideration of a motion for summary judgment.[26] And so the Court will look to Lamb's declaration to see if a genuine dispute of material fact exists.

         Lamb primarily attempts to controvert the assertions of Pratt and Dr. Corbier by arguing that the weekly sessions and hormone treatment only treat depression, and not gender dysphoria. She claims that other medical professionals have told her that her hormone dosage is too low and have recommended gender reassignment surgery. She sets forth various opinions and recommendations related to both her and other individuals' gender dysphoria. Ultimately, she asserts that her treatment falls short of the standard set forth by various experts as well as the WPATH standard of care. Therefore, she argues that the treatment she is receiving is wholly inadequate.

         But under Tenth Circuit precedent, Lamb's treatment satisfies the Eighth Amendment. In 1986, the Tenth Circuit decided Supre v. Rickets.[27] In Supre, the Court noted that prison officials must provide treatment to transgender prisoners.[28] But the Court also noted that in that case, the prison was justified in withholding hormone treatment.[29] Specifically, the Court stated:

While the medical community may disagree among themselves as to the best form of treatment for plaintiff's condition, the Department of Corrections made an informed judgment as to the appropriate form of treatment and did not deliberately ignore plaintiff's medical needs. The medical decision not to give plaintiff estrogen until further study does not represent cruel and unusual punishment.[30]

         In her response to the motions for summary judgment, Lamb states that “[e]very conjecture made in Supre v. Ricketts, has now been debunked by the Medical and Behavioral Science Community through scientific & Medical research in gender identity disorder.” But the Tenth Circuit has favorably cited Supre as recently as 2015 in Druley v. Patton.[31] In Druley, the Tenth Circuit considered an argument similar to that advanced by Lamb.[32] Specifically, the prisoner in Druley argued that treatments that fell short of WPATH's standard of care violated her Eighth Amendment rights.[33] The Court noted that “[t]he WPATH Standards of Care are intended to provide flexible directions for the treatment” of gender dysphoria.[34] Druely reflects the reality that the treatment of gender dysphoria is a highly controversial issue for which there are differing opinions. Dr. Corbier exercised his medical judgment to determine a course of treatment for Lamb, and in doing so, he has not violated her Eighth Amendment rights.[35] Lamb obviously disagrees with Dr. Corbier's treatment decisions, but “disagreement does not give rise to a claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.”[36]

         Because the Defendants have recognized Lamb's medical condition and are treating her for it, they have not been deliberately indifferent towards her medical needs. Accordingly, the treatment of Lamb's gender dysphoria does not violate the Eighth Amendment.

         B. Lamb's conditions of confinement do not violate the Constitution.

         Lamb also objects to certain conditions of her confinement. She seeks an injunction ordering the Prison Officials to provide her access to all female canteen and property items in prison and to refer to her as Michelle, and not Thomas. She also seeks transfer to an all-female prison facility. The Prison Officials seek summary judgment, arguing that Lamb's conditions of confinement satisfy the Constitution.

         1. Canteen ...


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