1 Introduction

All litigants deserve their day in court. The right to access the judicial system is supported by lofty frameworks found within federal and state constitutions.1  Despite the breadth of these constitutional provisions (and broad statutory protections designed to give low-income litigants access to the courts), real-world practicalities limit litigant access. Chiefly, the lack of adequate financial resources bars the courthouse doors to many would-be litigants.

In 2021, 37.9 million people in the United States—11.6% of the population—lived in poverty.2  A higher proportion of people in Louisiana live in poverty than in all but one other state.3  One scholar recently presented the stark reality: “Forty percent of American adults report not having the savings to cover a $400 emergency—the same amount it costs to file a case in federal court.”4

To prevent court access from being merely a right on paper for those lacking financial means, federal and state legislation has long provided litigants with the ability to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP). From the Latin “in the form of the pauper,”5  IFP status permits “a litigant to proceed without prepayment of costs or furnishing of bond.”6  Nearly a century ago, the Court of Appeal of Orleans Parish summarized the legislation’s purpose: “It is essentially the poor man’s legislation, without which the remedies afforded him by law would be vain and useless.”7

  • 1On these constitutional provisions, see Section 2.
  • 2 Joseph Dalaker, Cong. Rsch. Serv., R47354, Poverty in the United States in 2021 at 1 (2022).
  • 3Id. at 13 (reporting Louisiana’s 17.3% poverty rate as second only to Mississippi’s 18.1%).
  • 4Andrew Hammond, Pleading Poverty in Federal Court, 128 Yale L.J. 1478, 1481 (2019).
  • 5Martin v. Martin, 39,631, p. 11 (La. App. 2 Cir. 5/18/05), 903 So. 2d 619, 625.
  • 6Benjamin v. Nat’l Super Markets, Inc., 351 So. 2d 138, 140 (La. 1977); see also La. C.C.P. art. 5181 (“[A]n individual who is unable to pay the costs of court because of his poverty and lack of means may prosecute or defend a judicial proceeding in any trial or appellate court without paying the costs in advance or as they accrue or furnishing security therefor.”).
  • 7Singleton v. First Nat’l Life Ins. Co., 157 So. 620, 622 (Orleans Ct. App. 1934).

Disclaimer: The articles in the Gillis Long Desk Manual do not contain any legal advice.