105 F.3d 274 (6th Cir. 1997), 96-3991, Floyd v. United States Postal Service

Docket Nº:96-3991.
Citation:105 F.3d 274
Party Name:Dorothy FLOYD, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, Donald Harants, Postmaster, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:January 23, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 274

105 F.3d 274 (6th Cir. 1997)

Dorothy FLOYD, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, Donald Harants, Postmaster,

Defendants-Appellees.

No. 96-3991.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

January 23, 1997

Argued Dec. 2, 1996.

Rehearing Denied March 4, 1997.

Page 275

David A. Friedman (argued and briefed), Kathleen A. Pakes, Taustine, Post, Stosky, Berman, Fineman & Kohn, Louisville, KY, for plaintiff-appellant.

Dorothy Floyd, Cleveland, OH, pro se.

Marcia W. Johnson, Asst. U.S. Attorney, Office of the U.S. Attorney, Cleveland, OH, Barbara L. Herwig, Jacob M. Lewis (argued and briefed), U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, Appellate Staff, Washington, DC, for defendants-appellees.

Before: MARTIN, Chief Judge, and ENGEL and COLE, Circuit Judges.

BOYCE F. MARTIN, Jr., Chief Judge.

This appeal involves the in forma pauperis scheme that has been revised by Congress in the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Pub.L. No. 104-134, Title VIII, 110 Stat. 1321--66 (PLRA). We are here faced with the question of whether 28 U.S.C.A. § 1915 (1996) allows individuals who are not prisoners to litigate a case without the payment of filing fees. Having reviewed the legislative history of the Act, applied the basic axioms of statutory interpretation, and used a little common sense, we conclude that § 1915 permits individuals who are not incarcerated to continue to proceed as paupers in federal court.

Section 1915(a)(1) provides:

Subject to subsection (b), any court of the United States may authorize the commencement, prosecution or defense of any suit, action or proceeding, civil or criminal, or appeal therein, without prepayment of fees or security therefor, by a person who submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all assets such prisoner possesses that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor. Such affidavit shall state the nature of the action, defense or appeal and affiant's belief that the person is entitled to redress.

The quandary posed by the statute is what Congress intended by the phrase "prisoner possesses."

When the legislation was originally introduced, only minor changes were proposed to this paragraph of the statute. S. 866, 104th Cong. § 2 (1995) (enacted). Throughout the congressional debates, these minimal modifications remained unchanged. 141 Cong.Rec. S7525 (daily ed. May 25, 1995) (statement of Sen. Dole); 141 Cong.Rec. S14416 (daily ed. Sept. 27, 1995) (statement of Sen. Dole). Then, without explanation, the bill's conference report added the phrase "that includes a statement of all assets such prisoner possesses." H.R. Conf.Rep. No. 104-378, at 73 (1995).

Despite the use of the term "prisoner possesses," we conclude that a typographical error in the final version of the statute occurred and that Congress actually intended the phrase to be "person possesses." We reach this conclusion from several avenues.

First, the purpose of the PLRA, as reflected by its title, is to curtail inmate litigation. See H.R.Rep. No. 104-378, at 166 (1995) (the prison litigation reforms are intended to "discourage frivolous and abusive prison lawsuits"); see also Green v. Nottingham, 90 F.3d 415, 417 (10th Cir.1996). The emphasis of the title is prison litigation, not pauper litigation.

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Furthermore, nowhere in the legislative history of the PLRA is there a modicum of evidence that Congress intended to prevent indigent non-prisoners from proceeding in forma pauperis in the federal courts. To the contrary, the legislation was enacted to require only prisoners to pay the entire sum of their fees and costs. 144 Cong.Rec. S7525 (daily ed. May 25, 1995) (statement of Sen. Dole). Congress expressly wanted to prevent "convicted criminals" from getting "preferential treatment" and to force prisoners to face the same "economic downside" as the "average law-abiding" citizen. Id. The thrust of the legislation was to impede inmates from initiating frivolous legal proceedings. Given the plethora of legislative history establishing...

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