Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Can Magistrate Judges deny motions for leave to proceed in forma pauperis?

Minor v. Williamsburg, No. 4:10-2325-RMG-TER, 2011 WL 291247 (D.S.C. Jan. 14, 2011):

Habeas petitioner moved for leave to proceed in forma pauperis.  The filing fee was $455, but the petitioner had nearly $3000 in his prison account.

There are no clear precedents in the Fourth Judicial Circuit as to whether a magistrate judge has the authority to issue an order to deny an application to proceed in forma pauperis.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has concluded that a magistrate judge cannot issue an order to deny an application to proceed in forma pauperis.  In Woods v. Dahlberg, 894 F.2d 187 (6th Cir. 1990), the Sixth Circuit ruled that a denial of an application to proceed in forma pauperis by a magistrate judge is the functional equivalent of an involuntary dismissal, which cannot be granted by a magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).  The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth and Fifth Circuits have reached similar conclusions.  See Lister v. Dept. of the Treasury, 408 F.3d 1309, 1312 (10th Cir. 2005); Donaldson v. Ducote, 373 F.3d 622, 623-25 (5th Cir. 2004).

In this case, the magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation so that the petitioner could obtain de novo review by a district judge.

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