THE CIRCUIT COURT OF PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY W. Allan Sharrett,
WILLIAM C. MIMS, JUSTICE.
appeal, we consider whether the circuit court abused its
discretion in denying an application for a name change filed
under Code § 8.01-217.
BACKGROUND AND MATERIAL PROCEEDINGS BELOW
Allen Leonard filed an application in the Circuit Court of
Prince George County to change her∗ name to Bree Anna
Leonard. Leonard, an inmate at Federal Corrections Complex
Petersburg, has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and is
transitioning from a male to female identity. Medical records
from the Federal Bureau of Prisons detail her diagnosis and
treatments through the time of filing.
letter attached to her application, Leonard averred that she
has taken "gender confirming hormones" for two
years and "fully present[s] as female." She stated
that she intended "to further [her] transition by
getting Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS) and one of the
requirements set forth by the World Professional Association
for Transgender Health . . . is living 12 months in a gender
role that is congruent with one's gender identity before
being considered for GRS." As such, "legally
changing [her] name is a requirement for . . . taking the
next step in [her] transition." Moreover, she asserted
that a name change "will have tremendous psychological
benefits" for her because, as a person suffering from
gender dysphoria, "being called by [her] birth name is
harmful and distressing." She further stated that
receiving a name change would not interfere with her
incarceration or any other conditions of her sentences.
is presently serving a federal sentence of seventeen years
and six months for possession of child pornography. Her
incarceration in a federal facility located in Virginia is
her only tie to the Commonwealth. Leonard will be in the
Commonwealth for less than three years. Upon completing her
federal sentence in 2020, she will be transferred to a
Missouri state correctional facility to finish serving
sentences for three Missouri convictions of statutory sodomy.
receipt of the application, the circuit court appears to have
delivered a copy to the Prince George County
Commonwealth's Attorney's office. The Commonwealth
thereafter filed a response opposing Leonard's
application. In it, the Commonwealth argued that Missouri had
a greater interest than Virginia in considering the name
change and that granting the requested change would frustrate
the legitimate law-enforcement purposes of identifying and
tracking Leonard during her transition to Missouri and after
her release, as well as ensuring her registration as a sex
circuit court denied Leonard's application by preprinted
form order four days after receiving the Commonwealth's
response. It did not schedule a hearing, but ruled based
solely on the application, its attachments, and the
Commonwealth's response. The circuit court marked the
boxes on the form order indicating that Leonard is
incarcerated, is a person required to register as a sex
offender, and that "good cause does not exist for
consideration of the application. Therefore, the application
for change of name is denied and this cause is
dismissed." Left blank were the sections for ordering
the clerk to deliver a copy of the order and application to
the Commonwealth's Attorney and for setting a hearing.
Leonard noted an appeal from the denial of her application,
which we awarded.
we review a court's denial of an application for a name
change for abuse of discretion, Jordan v.
Commonwealth, 295 Va. 70, 74 (2018), determining the
procedures mandated by the Code of Virginia that a court must
follow in considering a name-change application is a question
of statutory interpretation subject to de novo review,
Boasso Am. Corp. v. Zoning Adm'r of Chesapeake,
293 Va. 203, 206 (2017). "In construing a statute,
'[o]ur central focus is to ascertain and give effect to
the intention of the General Assembly, '"
determining that intent from the words used in the statute.
Id. at 207 (quoting Miller v. Highland
Cty., 274 Va. 355, 364 (2007)). We "presume that
the General Assembly chose, with care, the words that appear
in a statute, and must apply the statute in a manner faithful
to that choice." Johnson v. Commonwealth, 292
Va. 738, 742 (2016).
§ 8.01-217 governs applications for name changes. For
most citizens, the statute speaks in fairly permissive terms,
stating that "the court, shall . . . order a change of
name" unless the evidence reveals that name change
"is sought for a fraudulent purpose or would otherwise
infringe upon the rights of others" or is not in the
best interests of a minor, if a minor is the subject of the
application. Code § 8.01-217(C); see Jordan,
295 Va. at 74. Inmates seeking name changes, however, must
satisfy a greater burden than ordinary citizens.
2014, the General Assembly passed amendments to Code §
8.01-217 creating a presumption against name changes for
probationers, persons required to register on the Sex
Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry, and inmates. The
statute sets forth a strict procedure for courts considering
applications from those individuals. See Code §
8.01-217(D). This procedure is mandatory, as the legislature
made clear in subsection (E): "The provisions of
subsection (D) are jurisdictional and any order granting a
change of name pursuant to subsection (D) that fails to
comply with any provision of subsection (D) is void ab
initio." Code § 8.01-217(E).
§ 8.01-217(D) first requires the court to determine
whether "good cause exists for consideration of [the]
application." Subsection (D) limits the court's
consideration in this good-cause analysis to only "the
reasons alleged in the application for the requested change
of name." This step is akin to a court's review of a
complaint on demurrer: the court looks to the form of the
application and assesses its sufficiency assuming that all
material facts, implied facts, and reasonable inferences from
those facts that are properly alleged in the application are
true. Cf. Assurance Data, Inc. v. Malyevac, 286 Va.
137, 143 (2013). If the application includes the required
information set forth in Code § 8.01-217(B) and alleges
legitimate, nonfrivolous ...