De'Lonta v. Angelone, 01-8020.

Citation330 F.3d 630
Decision Date27 May 2003
Docket NumberNo. 01-8020.,01-8020.
PartiesOphelia Azriel DE'LONTA, a/k/a M. Stokes, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Ronald J. ANGELONE; M.V. Smith; R. Hulbert, Dr.; Colin C.J. Angliker, Dr.; Doctor Wray, Defendants-Appellees, and Donald Swetter, M.D., Defendant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
330 F.3d 630
Ophelia Azriel DE'LONTA, a/k/a M. Stokes, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Ronald J. ANGELONE; M.V. Smith; R. Hulbert, Dr.; Colin C.J. Angliker, Dr.; Doctor Wray, Defendants-Appellees, and
Donald Swetter, M.D., Defendant.
No. 01-8020.
United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.
Argued: April 3, 2003.
Decided: May 27, 2003.

Page 631

ARGUED: Kelly Marie Baldrate, Victor M. Glasberg & Associates, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant. Peter Duane Vieth, Wootenhart, P.C., Roanoke, Virginia, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Victor M. Glasberg, Victor M. Glasberg & Associates, Alexandria, Virginia; Rebecca K. Glenberg, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellant. George W. Wooten, Wootenhart, P.C., Roanoke, Virginia; William W. Muse, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellees.

Before WILKINS, Chief Judge, and MOTZ and KING, Circuit Judges.

Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Chief Judge WILKINS wrote the opinion, in which Judge DIANA GRIBBON MOTZ and Judge KING joined.


WILKINS, Chief Judge:

Virginia inmate Ophelia Azriel De'lonta (born Michael A. Stokes) appeals a district court order dismissing for failure to state a claim, see 28 U.S.C.A. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) (West Supp.2002), her complaint under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (West Supp.2002) claiming prison officials have denied her adequate medical treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Because we conclude that it does not appear beyond doubt that De'lonta cannot prove facts to support her claim, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.


De'lonta suffers from gender identity disorder (GID) (also known as gender dysphoria or transsexualism), a disorder characterized by a feeling of being trapped in a body of the wrong gender. She2 has undergone

Page 632

various procedures to make herself appear more feminine, including dermabrasions and a chemical face peel. She has also received estrogen treatment to slow hair growth, soften her skin, and develop breasts and other female characteristics.

De'lonta has been in the custody of the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) since 1983. Since the beginning of her imprisonment, VDOC doctors have consistently diagnosed her as suffering from GID, and De'lonta received estrogen therapy for the disorder in 1993 while in Greensville Correctional Center. This treatment continued until 1995, when De'lonta was transferred to Mecklenburg Correctional Center and her hormone treatment was terminated pursuant to a then-recently created VDOC policy ("the Policy"). The Policy is outlined in a memo dated September 19, 1995, from VDOC Chief Physician M. Vernon Smith:

It is the policy of the Department of Corrections [] that neither medical nor surgical interventions related to gender or sex change will be provided to inmates in the management of [GID] cases.

If an inmate has come into prison and/or is currently receiving hormone treatment, he is to be informed of the department['s] policy and the medication should be tapered immediately and thence discontinued.

Inmates presenting with [GID] should be referred to the institution[']s mental health staff for further evaluation.

J.A. 28.

In contravention of the directive that hormone treatment be tapered off, De'lonta's hormone treatment was terminated abruptly, causing De'lonta to suffer nausea, uncontrollable itching, and depression.

The most harmful effect of the cessation of the hormone treatment, however, was that De'lonta developed an uncontrollable urge to mutilate her genitals. Although she had engaged in some self-mutilation previously, it had consisted primarily of cutting her arms and hands. Since termination of the hormone treatment, however, she has stabbed or cut her genitals on more than 20 occasions. She has repeatedly requested resumption of the hormone therapy and treatment by a gender specialist. To date, however, her requests have been denied, and her self-mutilation has continued.

In 1999, De'lonta filed suit against Dr. Smith, other Virginia prison doctors, and VDOC Director Ron Angelone (collectively, "Appellees"), alleging that Appellees have inflicted cruel and unusual punishment on her, in violation of her Eighth Amendment rights, by denying her adequate medical treatment for her GID. She sought an injunction requiring Appellees to arrange for her to be treated by a doctor with expertise in transsexualism and to allow her to resume her hormone therapy until that treatment commenced. She also requested declaratory and monetary relief, including punitive damages.

Angelone responded by filing a summary judgment motion with an attached affidavit. The other Appellees moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The district court dismissed De'lonta's claims against all Appellees pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), concluding that the record demonstrated beyond doubt that she could not plead facts that would state a valid Eighth Amendment claim. Regarding De'lonta's entitlement to adequate treatment for her GID, the court ruled that the record was clear that De'lonta was receiving some treatment. The court concluded that the gravamen of De'lonta's claim was simply a disagreement with the medical judgment concerning what treatment was appropriate and that such a disagreement did not state a

Page 633

claim under the Eighth Amendment. The court also concluded that the failure of the VDOC to follow its tapering policy in 1995 did not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation. The court further ruled that any claim for equitable relief from that conduct had become moot, and any legal claim was time-barred.

In addition, the court denied a motion by De'lonta to amend her complaint, concluding that amendment would be futile. Finally, although the court stated that it was "unable to conceive of any set of facts under which the Eighth Amendment would entitle" De'lonta to relief, the court dismissed her complaint without prejudice "[t]o avoid complicating any future actions with issues of collateral estoppel or claim preclusion."3 J.A. 183, 188.


De'lonta has not challenged the district court ruling that the abruptness of the termination of her hormone therapy did not violate the Eighth Amendment. She does argue, however, that the district court erred in dismissing her remaining claims. The standards for reviewing a dismissal under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) are the same as those for reviewing a dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 611-12 (7th Cir.2000). Thus, we review a § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) dismissal de novo. See id. "A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted unless after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those...

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