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In re Brown

Supreme Court of Virginia

April 16, 2015

IN RE: ROBERT FLOYD BROWN, JR

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY. Nathan C. Lee, Judge.

Robert Floyd Brown, Jr., Pro Se.

PRESENT: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, Millette, Mims, McClanahan, and Powell, JJ., and Koontz, S.J. OPINION BY CHIEF JUSTICE DONALD W. LEMONS. JUSTICE McCLANAHAN, dissenting.

OPINION

Page 495

DONALD W. LEMONS, CHIEF JUSTICE

In this appeal, we consider whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying an application for a name change filed under Code § 8.01-217 by Robert Floyd Brown, Jr. (" Brown" ). While Brown's appeal to this Court was pending, the Court granted an appeal in a similar case from a decision of the same trial judge. That case was styled: In Re: Steven Roy Arnold (Rec. No. 131447). Pro bono counsel accepted appointment to represent Arnold and the Attorney General filed an amicus brief in support of Arnold. Oral argument in Arnold's case was heard on January 5, 2015. Brown's appeal was originally considered together with Arnold's appeal. However, the day before the Court was to render its opinion in Arnold's case as a combined opinion with Brown's appeal, the Court was notified that Arnold had committed suicide while incarcerated in federal prison. Arnold's appeal has been rendered moot. Brown's appeal remains to be decided, which we do in this opinion.

I. Facts and Proceedings

On February 8, 2013, Brown filed an application in the Circuit Court of Prince George County (" trial court" ) to change her[1] name to Alicia Jade Brown. Brown has been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (" GID" ) and is transitioning from the male gender to the female gender. Brown is an inmate in a federal prison located in Petersburg. Attached to Brown's application was a medical record from the Federal Bureau of Prisons confirming her diagnosis of GID. The trial

Page 496

court refused to grant the application, finding no good cause existed. Brown appealed to this Court, and we granted her petition for appeal.

We issued an order on December 12, 2013, holding that there was error in the trial court's order denying Brown's application. We reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded the case to the trial court with direction to enter judgment in accordance with our holding in Stephens v. Commonwealth, 274 Va. 157, 645 S.E.2d 276 (2007). Despite the direction from this Court, the trial court issued an order on March 26, 2014, in which the trial court again declined to accept Brown's application, finding that good cause did not exist because Brown's " stated reasons for the name change do not outweigh the potential negative impact on the community. Given that the name change reflects a shift in gender identity of a federal prisoner, the court declines to accept the application pursuant to Section 8.01-217(A)." Brown appeals that decision to this Court. Brown's assignment of error to this Court states:

1. For the second time, upon remand from this Court, the circuit court erred in denying the application for a change of name where appellant provided ample evidence of " good cause" for the application, and the record contained no evidence of fraudulent purpose within the meaning of Virginia Code § 8.01-217.

II. Analysis

A. Standard of Review


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