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When you cannot afford to pay filing fees and court costs in advance- In Forma Pauper (IFP)

Authored By: Southeast Louisiana Legal Services

Filing fees, court costs, and in forma pauperis status

  • The law says an "individual who is unable to pay the costs of court because of his poverty and lack of means" may file without paying court costs. This is called filing "in forma pauperis."
  • Litigants permitted to proceed in forma pauperis have their fees deferred until the end of the case.
  • At the end of the case, one party or the other may be ordered to pay all or some of the filing fees that were deferred.
  • Depending on your situation, the court may let you file in forma pauperis instead of paying your court fees in advance. 

Filing fees and court costs

When documents are filed with the court in a lawsuit, the clerk of court collects filing fees. These fees are determined by law based on the kind of filing and, sometimes, the number of pages filed. You must pay a filing fee unless you can show the court that you do not have the means to pay the fee.

When a witness needs to be subpoenaed for court, the sheriff has to go serve the witness subpoena.  When a transcript of a hearing is needed, the court reporter has to prepare the transcript.  Court costs are the monies owed to the court officers like sheriffs and court reporters for their services. 

Guidelines for In Forma Pauperis

Louisiana law has guidelines about who qualifies for in forma pauperis (IFP). The Court has to look into your situation and decide if you qualify. If the court decides you qualify, it will grant the request; otherwise, it will deny the request.

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:

Your opponent or the clerk of court can challenge your request to file or proceed in forma pauperis. Such a challenge is called a traversal.

If you have enough extra money in the bank or elsewhere to pay the court costs (or sometimes if you own a home) the court might require you to pay the costs. 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. (Blackout any Social Security Numbers on the pages though.)

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).

To ask for in forma pauperis status, complete and file these 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. He or she is not swearing to all of what you put on the form, and need not see the information you give the court.

You should attach supporting paperwork that shows your financial situation to the affidavit.  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 show this to the court. These extra papers could be things like your public assistance award letter, a copy of your SNAP EBT card, a pay stub, or monthly bill statements. You should black out all Social Security Numbers on 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 you qualify for in forma pauperis.

It is important to know that filing the affidavit does not automatically lead to IFP status. If you file an affidavit along with a pleading, and the IFP request is denied, the clerk of court will not be able to accept your paperwork as filed until you pay the filing fee. Follow up with the court to learn whether the IFP request is granted or denied

File the application with your first-filed court document, if possible.  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.

Even if your income is more than 125% of poverty, you may qualify for in forma pauperis. The court evaluates whether you can pay court fees and costs in advance. A person does not have to get rid of a modest home and its furniture to come up with the money for court costs.  The Louisiana Supreme Court has said that "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).

A judge will review your in forma pauperis application and enter an order either granting or denying it.

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.

Virtually all costs. For example, the fees of the clerk, sheriff, the court’s 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 or a temporary restraining order, both of which require 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 stops the judgment. 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.

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).

It depends.  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).

 

However, the court may order the other side to pay the costs. A settlement or dismissal of a case prior to judgment cannot be officially completed until all costs have been paid

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 5186Styles v. Styles, 729 So.2d 177 (La. App. 4th Cir. 1999).

If you lose or settle 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 officially completed until all costs have been paid. This law is 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).

You can read this article, which is online or may be located at a law library: C. Delbaum, In Forma Pauperis in Louisiana: The Nuts and Bolts, 45 Louisiana Bar Journal 528 (April 1998), https://www.lsba.org/NewsAndPublications/BarJournal.aspx.

There are exceptions. Here are two:

  • it is free to file for a protective order against domestic violence when using the Louisiana Protective Order Registry forms 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.

This interactive tool will help you fill out the IFP. Answer a few questions about yourself and your case and receive a completed form to download and print out. It also includes detailed instructions on the process for finishing and filing your request with the court.

Last Review and Update: Oct 29, 2021
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