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District court tosses transgender man’s name-change suit

March 13, 2017

A district court judge has dismissed a suit brought against former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and other state officials by a transgender man who claims his non-citizen status prohibits him from legally changing his name to match his gender identity.

When John Doe brought his case before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, he claimed that Pence, former Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and Marion County Clerk Myra Eldridge violated his constitutional rights under the First and 14th Amendments through a state statute prohibiting non-citizens from legally changing their names. Doe came to the United States from Mexico in 1990 and was granted in asylum in 2015 after the U.S. government determined that his status as a transgender man would put him in danger in his home country.

When Doe, whose legal name is “Jane,” visited the Marion County Clerk’s office to fill out an application to legally change his name to “John” to match his identity as a male, the clerk’s office staff informed him that his petition would not receive final approval if he could not provide proof of citizenship. Doe claimed the applicable statute, Indiana Code section 34-28-2-2.5, is a violation of his First and 14th Amendment rights, but Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson dismissed his case Monday for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The defendants, which later included Lillia Judson, the former executive director of the Indiana Supreme Court Division of State Court Administration, each moved to dismiss Doe’s case for lack of standing under Rule 12(b)(1). Specifically, the defendants alleged that because Doe never actually filled out the application to change his name, he cannot establish an actual injury. Further, the defendants argued that Doe will be able to apply for a name change once he becomes a citizen, so his legal claim is actually a question of timing.

Pence and Zoeller argued that their general roles as enforcers of state law did not give them specific authority to challenge or enforce the section of Indiana Code at issue here. Magnus-Stinson agreed, holding that because Doe did not establish that his injuries can be traced to either the former governor or attorney general, his claims against them cannot stand.

In regard to his claims against Judson, Doe held that she contributed in part to his injuries because her office published forms to “prevent or discourage non-citizens from accessing changes of legal name.” But Doe did not provide any allegations as to what role the forms play in the process of applying for and granting a name-change petition, the chief judge said, so he failed to establish a causal connection between Judson and his injuries.

Finally, with respect to Eldridge, Magnus-Stinson wrote that although her office informed Doe that his petition would not be granted, it had no authority to screen out any name-change petitions that were filed. Thus, if Doe had filed his petition, the clerk’s office would have accepted it and forwarded it to the proper court for resolution, rather than acting on it to enforce section 34-28-2-2.5.

Based on that evidence, Magnus-Stinson wrote that Doe failed to prove that any of the defendants had caused his injuries or that judgment against them would redress those alleged injuries. Thus, the 12(b)(1) motions were granted and the case was dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Barbara Baird, an Indianapolis attorney who represented Doe along with national Mexican and transgender rights groups, was not immediately available for comment Monday.  The order can be read here

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