Connecticut’s Attorney General’s Office signaled plans last week to appeal a federal court ruling from September, when a judge sided with an incarcerated transgender woman who argued she was denied gender-affirming care while in prison.
Lawyers representing state Department of Correction officials filed a notice of appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan last Tuesday.
Although the appeal has yet to be filed, the notice indicates the state plans to challenge a federal court ruling denying its motion for summary judgment in the case of Veronica-May Clark, who sued the DOC and some of its medical staff on allegations they violated a constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment by failing for years to provide adequate gender-affirming care.
In a 73-page decision last month, Judge Vanessa Bryant of the U.S. District Court of Connecticut rejected state arguments explaining delays in providing the care sought by Clark.
“[T]he Provider-Defendants’ denial of any medical care for a period of ten months followed by failing to follow the endocrinologist’s instructions, as well as failing to provide qualified health treatment, despite her repeated complaints and history of self-castration, could lead a reasonable jury to find the Provider-Defendants’ conduct was extreme and outrageous,” the judge wrote.
Clark, formerly Nicholas Clark, is serving an effective life sentence on convictions related to the 2007 murder of Erich Tabert and the serious assault of Christa Clark, to whom Clark was previously married.
The lawsuit dates back to 2019 and describes her attempts to receive treatment for gender dysphoria. The complaint alleges that the DOC provided treatment only sporadically and inconsistently after long delays despite a series of complaints and written grievances alerting the agency of the problem.
Clark suffered throughout those delays, according to the lawsuit. At one point in 2016, she made an unsuccessful attempt at self-castration with a pair of nail clippers, according to court documents.
A spokesperson for Attorney General William Tong declined Monday to comment on the expected appeal. However, in court documents prior to last month’s ruling, lawyers for the state have argued that Clark could not argue that the DOC acted recklessly because the agency took steps to address her gender dysphoria and progress her treatment.
“At best, Plaintiff’s claim appears to be that she is not getting the care she would prefer as fast as she would like—despite her highly unrealistic timeframe for which she believes such care should occur,” Assistant Attorney General Janelle Medeiros wrote.
Clark’s lawsuit remains ongoing in the District of Connecticut court and the state’s expected appeal applies only to the judge’s September ruling denying the state’s motion for summary judgment.
In an interview Monday, Elana Bildner, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut, noted that the appeal would impact a relatively narrow issue within the case pertaining to whether the state could claim qualified immunity — a legal principle that would shield the DOC employees from being liable for damages.
“At this juncture they have not and they can not appeal the entire case. They can only challenge basically whether three employees can get off the hook for paying money even though they are liable,” Bildner said. “More broadly, we are confident the district court made the correct decision, both morally and legally, in its ruling. We’re hopeful the court’s ruling in its entirety will be affirmed.”