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Williams v. State

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 14, 2017

CATHERINE WILLIAMS
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JACKSON, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. 120) filed by Catherine Williams ("Plaintiff'), seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis with her appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs motion is DENIED.

         I. DISCUSSION

         On March 7, 2014, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this action alleging race and gender discrimination under Title VII. (Doc. 1). The action proceeded to a jury trial on August 19, 2016, and, after the close of evidence, the trial was temporarily delayed due to historic flooding in East Baton Rouge Parish and surrounding areas. When the trial resumed on August 29, 2016, the Court granted the State of Louisiana's ("Defendant's") motion for judgment as a matter of law and dismissed Plaintiffs remaining claims. After the Court denied Plaintiffs Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. 117), Plaintiff filed her Notice of Appeal on February 27, 2017, appealing "the final judgment (Doc. 110) entered...on September 2, 2016 and the Ruling and Order denying Plaintiffs Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. 117) entered...on January 30, 2017" as well as various adverse evidentiary rulings by the Court. (Doc. 118). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a transcript request and the instant motion, seeking assistance in paying the remaining costs associated with her appeal, including the costs of obtaining the Court's transcripts. (See Docs. 119, 120).

         The statute authorizing the Court to grant in forma pauperis status to an indigent party requires that the party demonstrate an inability to pay fees associated with the action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Further, and relative to the instant request, Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure ("Rule") 24 requires a party who desires to pursue an appeal as a pauper to attach an affidavit that, among other things, shows the party's inability to pay or to give security for fees and costs. Fed.R.App.P. 24(a)(1). Attached to Plaintiffs motion is an affidavit delineating Plaintiffs income, assets, liabilities, and expenses. (See Doc. 120-2).

         Generally, the execution of an affidavit of indigence does not automatically entitle a litigant to proceed in forma pauperis. Rather, the Court enjoys limited discretion to grant or deny a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis based upon the financial statement set forth within the applicant's affidavit. See Adkins v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co., Inc., 335 U.S. 331, 337 (1948); Green u. Estelle, 649 F.2d 298, 302 (5th Cir. Unit A June 1981); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Typically, a district court must inquire as to whether the costs of an appeal would cause an undue financial hardship to the litigant, a standard that requires a showing of more than an inconvenience to the applicant. Prows v. Kastner, 842 F.2d 138, 140 (5th Cir. 1988); see also Walker v. Univ. of Tex. Med. Branch, No. 08-417, 2008 WL 4873733, at *1 (E.D. Tex. Oct. 30, 2008) ("The term 'undue financial hardship' is not defined and, therefore, is a flexible concept. However, a pragmatic rule of thumb contemplates that undue financial hardship results when prepayment of fees or costs would result in the applicant's inability to pay for the 'necessities of life.'") (citing Adkins v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 339 (1948)).

         Based on the financial information provided, the Court finds that Plaintiff is not indigent and is capable of paying the remaining costs associated with her appeal without sacrificing the necessities of life, and would consequently not suffer an undue financial hardship should she proceed with her appeal. The financial information submitted in the affidavit in support of Plaintiffs request to proceed in forma pauperis reflects that Plaintiff is presently employed and receives monthly retirement benefits and rental income, resulting in a total monthly income of $3, 775.65. (See Doc. 120-2 at p. 1). Plaintiff also has approximately $3, 300.00 in bank accounts or other financial institutions, and Plaintiffs asset list includes a 2007 Honda Accord, although the affidavit does not list a specific value. (See Doc. 120-2 at p. 2).[1] Plaintiffs monthly expenses, including utilities, insurance, and property taxes, total $4, 119.56 per month.[2] (Doc. 120-2 at p. 4). Plaintiffs affidavit further suggests that she has a total yearly income of $45, 307.80, which is well above the official poverty guidelines for a family of her size.[3] On the whole, Plaintiffs income would allow her to pay fees and costs associated with her appeal without undue hardship.

         II. CONCLUSION

         Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that the Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. 120) filed by Catherine Williams is DENIED.

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Notes:

[1] Interestingly, Plaintiff lists real property income in her calculation of monthly income and property taxes in her calculation of monthly expenses, yet claims no home or real estate assets.

[2] That Plaintiffs monthly income is approximately $343.91 less than her combined monthly expenses is not inconsistent with the Court's finding that Plaintiff can proceed with her appeal without experiencing undue financial hardship. Several courts within the Fifth Circuit have denied in forma pauperis status to litigants with similar financial circumstances. For example, the court in Buckhaulter u. Bank of America Corporation found that a party with a monthly income of §3, 600.00 and monthly expenses totaling $3, 840.00 could not proceed in forma pauperis where the plaintiff had several hard assets and $200.00 each in cash and in a bank account. Buckhaulter v. Bank of America Corp., No. 3:14-CV-545, 2014 WL 4370619 (S.D. MS. Aug. 29, 2014). Additionally, a district court has found that an annual income of approximately $20, 000, 00 was sufficient to deny in forma pauperis status to a litigant. Sears, Roebuck and Co. v. Charles W. Sears Real Estate, Inc., 865 F.2d 22 (2d Cir. 1988;; see also Ponder v. Schitltz, No. 3:02-CV-1353, 2002 WL 31114054 (N.D. TX. Sept. 20, 2002) (finding that a combined monthly income of $2, 876.00 was enough to deny in forma pauperis status). In another case, the plaintiff was denied in forma pauperis status because he had a monthly income of $3, 025.00, owned a home and two cars (one of which belonged to his spouse), and had a savings account with $76.00. The plaintiffs only dependent was his spouse. Duran v. Macias-Price, No. 1:07-cv01209, 2007 WL 2462066 (E.D. CA. Aug. 27, 2007).

[3] Plaintiffs affidavit indicates that she has one minor granddaughter who is dependent on Plaintiff for support. Assuming, based on this information, that Plaintiffs household has two persons, the applicable poverty guideline would be $16, 240. See U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Poverty ...


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