A mediation hearing is set to resolve a lawsuit Alfie Pettit filed against Dr. Mark Vincent Sonofio

A Los Angeles-based judge will preside over a mediation hearing on Friday, March 5 in an attempt to resolve a lawsuit Alfie Pettit filed last year against Dr. Mark Vincent Sonofio, a Rancho Mirage-based plastic surgeon. In the lawsuit Pettit alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress and discrimination because he is HIV positive, according to court documents.

The Honorable Michael Marcus will preside.

Pettit declined to comment for this story. Sonofio did not return request for comment.

In summary, Pettit, a former candidate for the Palm Springs City Council, claims that Sonofio and members of his discriminated against him based on their knowledge that he is HIV positive by refusing to provide him with radiofrequency (RF) INTRAcel micro-needling treatment.

Alan “Alfie” Pettit, 51, of Palm Springs, has been HIV positive since he was 19 years old.  Alfie gained notoriety with a drag queen performance as “Arial TramPway” at the Hard Rock Hotel and Carnival Cabaret for many years. He is being represented by civil rights attorney Frank E. Marchetti of Marchetti Law.

Sofonio is a plastic surgeon specializing in cosmetic surgery procedures and maintains an office in Rancho Mirage. He is being represented by Laurie DeYoung and Kelsey Wong of Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, LLP.

The parties have exchanged some written discovery.  Depositions were noticed in October, but taken off calendar.  The parties have agreed to hold off on depositions pending the outcome of this mediation hearing.

On Oct. 27, 2020, Pettit made a settlement demand of $270,000.  Sofonio responded with an offer of $1,500.  There have been no further negotiations.

Pettit discovered Radiofrequency (“RF”) Microneedling as a potential solution to remove the scarring on his neck known as mycobacterium avium complex (“MAC”), an HIV opportunistic infection.

The INTRAcel RF Microneedling device has been established as an effective device for improving scarring such as that Pettit suffered, according to court documents.  The device uses applies a large number of microneedles to a 1cm area of the skin and delivers RF heat energy into the middle layer of the skin, which triggers a repair response from the body.

Mediation Hearing Set for Pettit, Plastic Surgeon

Alfie Pettit

Pettit had been a regular patient of Dr. Sofonio for various skin treatments including Botox and fillers, IPL Laser treatments and ultherapy, and made an appointment to undergo RF Microneedling on July 18, 2018.  Pettit had previously met with Dr. Sofonio’s nurse Patti Owens on June 11, 2018 to discuss the procedure. Nurse Owens was trained on the INTRAcel RF Microneedling device and was to be the one conducting the procedure. However, on July 10, 2018, just two hours after he scheduled the appointment for July 18, 2021, Pettit received a call from Nurse Owens who informed Alfie that his appointment was being cancelled due to his HIV status, according to court documents  When Pettit asked why his HIV status meant the appointment had to be cancelled, Nurse Owens responded that it was “out of her hands” and that the provider of the INTRAcel RF Microneedling device did not allow the procedure to be used on immunocompromised/HIV positive patients, according to court documents.  She refused to answer Alfie’s question regarding whether this was due to a fear of transmission.

Pettit began contacting other cosmetic surgeons who also used these same INTRAcel RF Microneedling device and they each confirmed that Alfie’s HIV status would be no issue in treatment and that there was little to no risk of transmission, according to court documents.  They indicated that as long as Pettit was in good health, there would be no problem with conducting the procedure.

Pettit sent a letter of complaint to Dr. Sofonio on Aug. 1, 2018 via certified mail. Adding insult to injury, the letter was returned to him, designated “refused.”  Dr. Sofonio demonstrated complete indifference to Alfie’s concerns by not even receiving and considering his letter of complaint, according to court documents.

On Aug. 27, 2018, Dr. Sofonio sent a letter to Alfie because he had learned that Alfie was still complaining about his office’s discriminatory refusal to treat Alfie, according to court documents. Dr. Sofonio strongly urged Alfie to undergo laser treatments that do not involve needles and potential bleeding by the patient rather than the INTRAcel RF Microneedling treatment.  Dr. Sofonio’s letter further confirmed what Alfie had already determined – that Nurse Owens had lied to Alfie when she said that going forward with the procedure was “out of her hands” because the provider of the device did not allow the procedure to be used on immunocompromised/HIV positive patients. Dr. Sofonio represented that the hand piece (also known as a “wand”) of the device would not be able to be decontaminated after treating an HIV positive patient and would risk infection of other patients.  In his letter, Dr. Sofonio stated that if Alfie insisted on going forward with the INTRAcel RF Microneedling treatment, he (rather than Nurse Owens) would perform the treatment, with the following caveat: “However, we will be required to purchase a new headpiece just for you.  This will involve a significant increased cost.”

Dr. Sofonio’s statement that Pettit would have to pay to have his own hand piece used was beyond insulting and left him feeling like a diseased pariah, according to court documents.  With universal precautions adopted by the healthcare industry over the past four decades to treat patients without knowledge regarding their HIV (or other infectious diseases) status, there should be no need to require Pettit and only Pettit to have to pay more than other patients.  Pettit saw this offer for what it was- further discriminatory treatment and a further attempt to dissuade Alfie from going through with the treatment because Dr. Sofonio and Nurse Owens did not want to treat Alfie because of their unreasonable AIDS-phobia.

As a result of Dr. Sofonio’s discriminatory conduct, Pettit experienced extreme mental anguish, humiliation, depression, and grief, according to court documents.  Emotionally, he was taken back to when he was first diagnosed with HIV and every time since then that he has been discriminated and treated as a pariah. He began isolating and went “off the grid” for many months.  He gave away his cherished pug “Petunia.” He experienced excessive fatigue and gained weight.  The stress caused him to engage in erratic behavior.  He gave away his Drag collection, which was directly connected to his entertainment persona and livelihood.  He packed up his entire house to either move it or store it, then three weeks later had everything unpacked and returned to its place in his home.

Pettit seeks general damages for the mental anguish and emotional distress that he suffered as a result of the discriminatory conduct of Dr. Sofonio and his office, according to court documents.  The Unruh Civil Rights Act allows Pettit to recover treble damages.  Defendant’s conduct was malicious and oppressive in its disregard for Pettit’s civil rights and Pettit will be seeking punitive damages.  Additionally, Pettit will seek attorney’s fees and costs, which are recoverable under the Unruh Civil Rights Act.  Comparable jury verdicts have resulted in judgments averaging $650,000 to $750,000.





Image Sources

  • Alfie Pettit: Alfie Pettit
  • Mediation: Shutterstock