3 IFP Status in Louisiana

IFP status is available in nearly every conceivable litigation: for litigants in criminal and civil actions, in jury and bench trials, for plaintiffs and defendants, and on direct and discretionary appeals.1  Although court access is a right for Louisiana citizens,2  IFP status is, strictly speaking, defined as a “privilege,”3  not a right. Louisiana courts have focused on this privilege language, asserting that a litigant “seeking to take advantage of this privilege must clearly be entitled to it.”4  Acknowledging the distinction of IFP status from that of a strict right, the Louisiana Supreme Court in Benjamin v. National Super Markets, Inc., nevertheless distinguished a “privilege” from a mere discretionary “luxury”:

[A]n individual’s privilege to litigate his claim in our courts is not regarded as a luxury. Rather, it is regarded as a privilege granted him in the interest of individual justice to him, and in the interest of a judicial system designed to provide justice for all. The grant of the privilege to litigate without prepayment of costs is designed to deny depriving any individual of his day in court merely because of his lack of financial means to pay or secure court costs.5

Neither an absolute right nor an unnecessary luxury, IFP status requires an initial determination of a litigant’s eligibility for the privilege. This determination is made following the Code of Civil Procedure, which requires a litigant to satisfy certain financial requirements (to prove indigency) and to complete specific procedural steps.

  • 1See La. C.C.P. art. 5181(A) (“[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 . . . .” (emphasis added)). The special requirements and restrictions apply to prisoners seeking to proceed IFP are discussed in Section 12.1.
  • 2La. Const. art. I, § 22.
  • 3See La. C.C.P.. arts. 5182 (“The privilege granted by this Chapter . . .” (emphasis added)), 5183 (“A person who wishes to exercise the privilege granted in this Chapter . . .” (emphasis added)), 5185 (“The court shall make a private inquiry into the facts and, if satisfied that the party is entitled to the privilege . . .” (emphasis added)).
  • 4Lepine v. Lepine, 17-45, p. 7 (La. App. 5 Cir. 6/15/17), 223 So. 3d 666, 672 (“Pauper status, or the ability to litigate without prior payment of costs is a privilege, not a right, and one seeking to take advantage of this privilege must clearly be entitled to it . . . .”).
  • 5Benjamin v. Nat’l Super Markets, Inc., 351 So. 2d 138, 141 (La. 1977).

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