Metro Weekly

Trans Inmate to Receive $2.5 Million Following Denial of Surgery

Adree Edmo successfully argued in court that the denial of her gender confirmation surgery violated her Eighth Amendment rights.

Adree Edmo – Photo: National Center for Lesbian Rights

A federal judge has ordered Idaho and its prison medical care provider, Corizon Correctional Healthcare, to pay more than $2.5 million in legal fees to a transgender inmate who was forced to sue after she was denied gender confirmation surgery.

The inmate in question, Adree Edmo, who has been in custody since 2012, sued the Idaho Department of Correction and Corizon LLC, which contracts with the department to provide medical services to prisoners, in 2017, after she was denied gender confirmation surgery — even though her doctors claimed that the procedure was necessary to treat her gender dysphoria.

Edmo claimed, in her lawsuit, that the department and Corizon had violated her Eighth Amendment right to be free from “cruel and unusual punishment” when it refused to provide her with medically necessary surgery. She also asked the judge to order the Department of Correction to transfer her to a women’s prison, and to allow her access to “gender appropriate” clothing, in addition to the surgery.

In 2018, a federal judge ordered that Edmo be allowed to receive surgery, saying that her inability to receive it would place her at risk of “irreparable harm.” The state appealed that ruling, with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Edmo’s favor. Lawyers for the state of Idaho demanded that the full 9th Circuit rehear the case, but the court rejected that request, prompting the state to petition the Supreme Court in hope of overturning the 9th Circuit’s ruling. But the high court refused to take up the case.

Despite the delays, Edmo was eventually able to receive the surgery in June 2020, becoming the second person in the United States to undergo gender confirmation surgery while incarcerated. She was later transferred to a women’s prison to serve out the remainder of her term, and released from prison in 2021, reports The Associated Press.

Having won her case, Edmo subsequently asked the state to pay more than $2.8 million in legal fees she incurred when she enlisted the help of several different law firms, as well as the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, to sue in order to receive the surgery. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill subsequently reduced that amount to $2.5 million, ruling that some of the charges were too high, including hourly rates for a few hearings attended by multiple attorneys.

However, the cost of Edmo’s legal fees will not be shouldered by the state of Idaho, but by Corizon. During the appeal process, the 9th Circuit dismissed one of Edmo’s claims that Department of Correction employees and officials were “deliberately indifferent” to her medical needs, but did find that a Corizon physician was deliberately indifferent.

Corizon and the Idaho Department of Correction reached an agreement last December, under which Corizon would pay the costs of any legal fees awarded to Edmo, and in exchange, the state would not ask Corizon to cover the cost of the legal fees it incurred while trying to defend itself from Edmo’s lawsuit. 

According to the AP, Corizon’s contract with the state includes wording that says it must defend and “hold harmless” the state from any claims or costs incurred because of negligent or wrongful acts of Corizon employees. Because in Edmo’s case, it was a Corizon physician who was “deliberately indifferent” to her need for surgery, Corizon therefore must foot the bill.

The same year that Edmo brought her lawsuit, Corizon was sued by Jessica Hicklin, a transgender inmate in Missouri who was denied hormone therapy under the Missouri Department of Corrections “freeze-frame” policy, which only allows those transgender people who had been receiving medical care for gender dysphoria prior to their incarceration to continue receiving it while serving their sentences.

A federal court eventually ruled in favor of Hicklin, striking down the “freeze-frame” policy for violating her Eighth Amendment rights. Because Missouri and Corizon did not have an agreement similar to the one negotiated between Corizon and the Idaho Department of Correction, Missouri ended up paying Hicklin more than $301,000 in legal fees, as well as an additional $8,935 in other costs associated with the lawsuit, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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