Louisiana

In Forma Pauperis--When You Can't Afford Court Costs

Authored By: Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (Hammond Office, including information about applying for help online) LSC Funded
Contents
When you can't pay court costs in advance -- questions and answers about In Forma Pauperis. Link to Federal Register Table with Income Guidelines for Legal Services Corporation Programs

When you can't pay court costs in advance -- questions and answers about In Forma Pauperis.

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Information not legal advice. This document has been prepared for general information purposes only. This is not legal advice. Legal advice depends on the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state to state, so that some information may be correct for your jurisdiction. Finally, the information contained is not guaranteed to be up-to-date. Therefore, this information cannot replace the advice of a competent legal representative licensed in your state.

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You usually have to pay a fee to the clerk of court to file a civil lawsuit. You often have to pay a fee to file other important papers with the court.

There are exceptions. Here are two: it is free to file for a protective order against domestic violence and it is free to file a petition for judicial review if you are denied unemployment compensation benefits.

If a court clerk tries to charge you a fee for one of these lawsuits, ask to speak with a supervisor. There is more information below.

For most other lawsuits, you must pay a filing fee unless you can show the court that you are too poor to pay the fee. This is called filing "in forma pauperis."

Some of the major laws about in forma pauperis are in the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure, at articles 5181 - 5188.

Depending on your situation, the court may let you file in forma pauperis instead of paying your court fees in advance.

Keep reading for more information, plus a link to the in forma pauperis application form posted on the website for the Louisiana Supreme Court.

How can I tell if I might qualify for in forma pauperis?

Louisiana law has some general guidelines about who should qualify for in forma pauperis. The court has to look into your situation and decide if you qualify, and the law says that your opponent or the clerk of court can challenge your request to file or proceed in forma pauperis.

The law about who qualifies for in forma pauperis is in the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure at article 5183 (B). That law says you get a "rebuttable presumption" that you qualify if you give the court "supporting documentation" to show the court one or both of these two things:

  • that you receive "public assistance benefits;"
  • your income is less than or equal to 125% of the "federal poverty level."

If you have papers to show you get public assistance (SSI, welfare, food stamps, etc.) or to show your income is less than 125% of the federal poverty level, it is important to attach copies of those papers to the in forma pauperis application.

Financial help from friends or relatives who have no duty to support you does not count toward your income. Hollier v. Broussard, 220 So. 2d 175, 177 (La. App. 3d Cir. 1969); State in Interest of Garrison, 242 So.2d 110, 111 (La. App. 4th Cir. 1970).

How do I ask the court for in forma pauperis status?

You must apply to the court to ask for a court order letting you go ahead and file your case in forma pauperis.

You also have to apply for in forma pauperis to get an order to let you file other court papers without paying fees in advance. For example, you need to pay or get an in forma pauperis order if the clerk charges fees to file an answer a lawsuit or to file papers about some other legal proceeding or court action.

For the clerk to file your papers with the court, you have to have either the signed court order letting you file in forma pauperis or the money to pay the filing fees. Make sure you have the in forma pauperis order or you have paid the fees before any deadline.

When you ask the court for an in forma pauperis order, you must submit the form, which has two affidavits. One part of the form is your affidavit where you swear that you can't afford to pay court costs in advance. Another part of the form is an affidavit from your witness, often a relative or friend, who is over 18 and who knows enough about your money situation to swear that he or she believes that you cannot pay court costs in advance.

Generally, you should use the in forma pauperis affidavit form posted on the website of the Louisiana Supreme Court for all state district courts. Click here to get a copy of the form posted on the website of the Louisiana Supreme Court. You can also look at Appendix 8 to the Louisiana District Court Rules on www.lasc.org.

You can also get an in forma pauperis application form at one of your local courts. Some clerk's offices have their own in forma pauperis forms they prefer to use.

If you are on public assistance or have income less than 125% of the federal poverty level, attach papers to your in forma pauperis application that explain this to the court. These extra papers could be things like your public assistance award letter or a pay stub. You should black out your Social Security Number on wage stubs or public assistance papers or other documents that you attach to your in forma pauperis application.

The added papers you attach to your in forma pauperis application help show the court that there is a legal presumption that you qualify for in forma pauperis.

If you are involved in a case that is already going on, you can apply at any later stage of the case if you then become unable to pay the court costs. Bates v. Dept. of Culture, 694 So. 2d 294 (La. App. 1st Cir. 1996). You should apply before the costs are due from you.

Can I qualify for  in forma pauperis if my income is above 125% of the federal poverty level?

Even if your income is more than 125% of poverty, you may qualify for in forma pauperis.

The court that gets your in forma pauperis application is supposed to look at whether you really can pay court fees and costs in advance.

The Louisiana Supreme Court said this when finding that a person did not have to get rid of a modest home and its furniture to come up with the money for court costs: "the courts have taken a realistic view as to the litigant's actual ability to advance or secure court costs out of net income available for that purpose, after payment of reasonable living expenses and debts, and in view of unencumbered [no mortgages or liens] property other than a modest family residence." Benjamin v. National Super Markets, Inc., 351 So. 2d 138, 140 (La. 1977).

Who decides my application for in forma pauperis?

Generally, the court will review your in forma pauperis application and enter an order either granting or denying it.

What if the court says no and denies my in forma pauperis application?

You may apply to the correct appellate court for "supervisory writs" to try to get that higher court to overturn the trial court's denial of your in forma pauperis application.

The appellate court must consider your supervisory writ application on an in forma pauperis denial without asking you to pay a filing fee. Riebow v. Riebow, 705 So.2d 1086 (La. 1998).

A writ application should be filed quickly. In cases involving district or city courts, a supervisory writ application must be filed by the earlier of the deadline set by the trial court or 30 days after the date of the court's ruling. Be sure to file within 30 days of the court's first ruling to be on the safe side.

What costs are covered if the court says yes to my in forma pauperis application?

Virtually all costs. For example, the fees of the clerk, sheriff, court reporter, witness fees, jury costs and costs of a devolutive appeal and supervisory writs are covered by law. See Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure, Article 5185(A).

In a Louisiana state court lawsuit, in forma pauperis status will not entitle you to a suspensive appeal without a bond or an interlocutory injunction which requires a bond.

For example, if you lose in an eviction case in state court, you will still need to post a bond for a "suspensive" appeal, which "suspends" the judgment. For example, a suspensive appeal prevents your landlord from using the eviction judgment to throw you out while the higher court is reviewing the case.

In a federal court case, these bonds may be waived for in forma pauperis litigants.

May the court order me to make monthly payments for court costs?

If you have qualified as in forma pauperis, the Court may not order you to make monthly payments toward the court costs. Brownell v. Brownell, 799 So.2d 587 (La. App. 3rd Cir. 2001)

Can the court deny a judgment until the costs have been paid?

No, if you are in forma pauperis, the court may not deny your judgment for failure to pay costs. Savoy v. Doe, 315 So.2d 875 (La. App. 3d Cir. 1975). Nor may the court or clerk's office deny you a certified copy of the judgment. Carline v. Carline, 644 So.2d 835 (La. App. 1st Cir. 1994).

Can the court make me pay the court costs if I win?

No. If an in forma pauperis party wins, the law says that the party on the other side has to pay the court costs. Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 5186; Styles v. Styles, 729 So.2d 177 (La. App. 4th Cir. 1999).

Will I have to pay court costs later if I am in forma pauperis?

If you lose the case, you may get charged with court costs.

The court has room to waive the costs under Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure articles 1920 and 5188 in some cases, where the court decides this is the "equitable" thing to do.

A settlement or dismissal of a case prior to judgment cannot be "effected," or officially completed, until all costs have been paid. This law is Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure, article 5187.

The rule is different in some domestic violence or unemployment compensation cases.

  • A person asking for court protection from domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault can't be asked to prepay costs or be charged court costs for a temporary restraining order (TRO), preliminary injunction, permanent injunction, or protective order. This law is Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure, article 3603.1.
  • A person who is claiming unemployment compensation benefits cannot be charged any court costs to get judicial review of his or her case, unless the court decides that the court case was frivolous; this law is Louisiana Revised Statutes, section 23:1692.

Jimenez v. Jimenez, No. 05-645 (La. App. 5 Cir. 1/31/06), 922 So.2d. 672; Landry v. Shell Oil Co., 597 So.2d 521 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1992).

Where can I get more information about Louisiana in forma pauperis?

You can read this article, which may be at a law library: C. Delbaum, In Forma Pauperis in Louisiana: The Nuts and Bolts, 45 Louisiana Bar Journal 528 (April 1998).

 

Information not legal advice. This document has been prepared for general information purposes only. This is not legal advice. Legal advice depends on the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state to state, so that some information may be correct for your jurisdiction. Finally, the information contained is not guaranteed to be up-to-date. Therefore, this information cannot replace the advice of a competent legal representative licensed in your state.

Link to Federal Register Table with Income Guidelines for Legal Services Corporation Programs: www.federalregister.gov