United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
SCOTT COOGLER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Court has received Plaintiff Williamson's Complaint (doc.
1), motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis
(doc. 2), as well as her response (doc. 4) to the Court's
show cause order (doc. 3). For the reasons stated below,
Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma
pauperis (doc. 2) is due to be granted and this action
is due to be DISMISSED without PREJUDICE.
is a transgender veteran living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Williamson alleges she has been harmed by the Department of
Veteran Affairs' (“the VA”) 2016 decision to
forgo a proposed regulation change which would have reversed
its official policy of not providing gender alterations as a
Spring of 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs proposed a
rule change entitled “Removing Gender Alterations
Restriction From the Medical Benefits Package” which
would enable the VA to begin covering gender transition
surgery for veterans. While the VA “currently provides
many services for transgender veterans [including] hormone
therapy, mental-health care, preoperative evaluation and
long-term care following sex reassignment surgery, ”
the Department has been barred from covering the total gender
alteration procedure since 1999. (Doc. 4-1 at 5.) The
proposed change was removed from the official fall 2016
Unified Agenda in November of 2016 due to budget constraints.
See Id. In an official statement, the VA indicated
that it “has been and will continue to explore a
regulatory change that would allow VA to perform gender
alteration surgery…” and the proposed rule
change would be delayed until such a time as “when
appropriate funding [becomes] available.” (Doc. 4-1 at
4.) Plaintiff appears to seek injunctive relief and requests
that the Court “direct the VA to immediately reverse
[the] harmful policy. . . .” (Doc. 4 at 3.)
argues that because the VA currently provides most
transition-related medical care for transgender veterans who
have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, it should also
provide and perform gender reassignment surgery.
Specifically, she avers “there is no rational
justification to withhold or limit necessary or appropriate
care for transgender veterans and service personnel, ”
and that “by refusing the medically necessary care, as
deemed necessary by her doctors, the VA is causing great and
lasting harm to [her] health and well-being. . . .”
(Doc. 1 at 5; Doc. 4 at 3.) She asks this Court to instruct
the VA to either provide the complete medical care for
transgender veterans, or if unprepared to provide these
services in house, to provide coverage for the services.
Though it is somewhat unclear, Williamson appears to argue
that by providing gender reassignment surgery, transgender
veteran care would be more holistic, and by enabling the VA
to oversee and control all aspects of treatment would in turn
precipitate a decrease in costs overall.
Standard of Review
III of the United States Constitution allows federal courts
to only adjudicate “cases or controversies of
sufficient concreteness to evidence a ripeness for
review.” Digital Properties, Inc. v. City of
Plantation, 121 F.3d 586, 590 (11th Cir. 1997); U.S.
Const. art. III, § 2 cl. 1 et seq. When
assessing whether a claim is ripe for judicial review, courts
must take both constitutional and prudential concerns into
consideration. A claim for relief is not yet ripe for
adjudication when it rests upon “contingent future
events that may not occur as anticipated . . . .”
Thomas v. Union Carbide, 473 U.S. 568, 581 (1985).
In Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, the Supreme Court
stated that the rationale of ripeness:
is to prevent the courts, through avoidance of premature
adjudication, from entangling themselves in abstract
disagreements over administrative policies, and also to
protect the agencies from judicial interference until an
administrative decision has been formalized and its effects
felt in a concrete way by the challenging parties.
387 U.S. 136, 148 (1967) (emphasis added) (overruled on
other grounds by Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 97
(1977)). Engaging in a “[s]trict application of the
ripeness doctrine prevents federal courts from rendering
impermissible advisory opinions and wasting resources through
review of potential or abstract disputes.”
National Advertising Co. v. City of Miami,
402 F.3d 1335 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Digital, 121
F.3d at 590). The ripeness determination “goes to
whether the district court ha[s] subject matter jurisdiction
to hear the case.” Digital, 121 F.3d at 591
(citing Greenbriar, Ltd. v. City of Alabaster, 881
F.2d 1570, 1573 n. 7 (11th Cir.1989).
this action is due to be dismissed as not yet ripe, this
Opinion does not reach whether the pro se Plaintiff
has stated a claim or whether the action is frivolous under
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). See 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2) (“Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any
portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall
dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . .
. the action is frivolous or malicious [or]. . . fails to
state a claim on which relief may be granted.”).
attempts to maintain this suit on her belief that the VA
should have gone through with its proposed rule change
removing the restriction which prevents the VA from
performing gender reassignment surgery to veterans.
Williamson avers the VA is denying her medically necessary
care by refusing to provide her with total sex reassignment
surgery. (Doc. 4-1 at 5.) However, the Department has not
definitively precluded a rule change in the future. On the
contrary, it has indicated it will only delay pursuit of such