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Skipper v. Saul

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

October 21, 2019

Dianne Wilson Skipper, Plaintiff,
Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Dianne Skipper seeks, through counsel, judicial review of the Commissioner's administrative decision denying benefits. Skipper has submitted an Application to Proceed Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (Form AO 240), also known as a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”). See 28 U.S.C. § 1915. At the undersigned's direction, Skipper supplemented that motion with a long-form application (Form AO 239). Skipper's supplemented motion is now before the undersigned. See Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(b) (D.S.C.). For the following reasons, the undersigned recommends the Court deny Skipper's motion.[1]


         A plaintiff may pursue a civil action in federal court without prepayment of the filing fee if she submits an affidavit that identifies all her assets and demonstrates she cannot afford to pay the required filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). The purpose of the IFP statute is to assure that indigent persons have equal access to the judicial system by allowing them to proceed without having to pay the filing fee. Bruce v. Samuels, 136 S.Ct. 627, 629 (2016). A plaintiff does not have to prove she is “absolutely destitute” to obtain IFP status. Adkins v. E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 339 (1948). Rather, IFP status is available to a person who proves that, because of her poverty, she cannot pay the court costs and still be able to provide herself and her dependents life's necessities. Id.

         Determining whether someone should be granted IFP status is not a formulaic exercise. Anderson v. Greenville Cty. Sch. Dist., No. 6:19-cv-93-DCC-JDA, 2019 WL 1644966, at *2 (D.S.C. Jan. 17, 2019) (quoting Carter v. Telectron, Inc., 452 F.Supp. 939, 942 (S.D. Tex. 1976)), report and recommendation adopted, 2019 WL 1620967 (D.S.C. Apr. 16, 2019). Instead, the Court must carefully scrutinize all the relevant facts in each case. Id. (quoting Carter, 452 F.Supp. at 942).


         Skipper reports she has no money in the bank, but her husband has $697.00 in two bank accounts, as well as $266, 442.00 in a 401(k) account. (Dkt. No. 8-1 at 2.) The Skippers have two vehicles-a 2015 truck worth $30, 000 and a 2005 sedan worth $1, 500-as well as a 2019 camper worth $38, 000.00. (Id. at 3.) They also own a house worth $195, 000.00. (Id.) They do not have any dependents. (Dkt. No. 4 at 2.)

         Skipper states her husband's average monthly gross income was $6, 350.00 last year. (Dkt. No. 8-1 at 1.) She qualifies that, however, by stating her husband was working “quite a bit of overtime” last year, and the opportunity for him to continue picking up overtime work has diminished; he is now expected to gross $4, 027.00 per month going forward. (Id. at 1, 6.) According to Skipper, her husband's work earnings are their only income source. (See Id. at 1-2.)

         Skipper reports she and her husband's total monthly expenses total $4, 375.06. (Dkt. No. 8-1 at 5.) Those expenses include $1, 040.00 for mortgage, taxes, and property insurance; $383.00 for utilities, including $82.00 for satellite television; $50.00 for home maintenance; $500.00 for food; $50.00 for clothes; $400.00 for medical and dental expenses; $240.00 on transportation costs; $130.00 on recreation and entertainment; $257.50 for insurance; $114.00 for taxes on the two vehicles and the camper; $488.56 for installment payments on the truck; $354.00 for installment payments on the camper; $240.00 for credit card payments; and $128.00 in checking account overdraft fees. (Id. at 4; Dkt. No. 4 at 2.)[2]

         Based on the information before the Court, Skipper does not appear to be eligible for IFP status. She and her husband's assets include a brand-new recreational camper that has significant value. Nothing suggests the Skippers need the camper for shelter; to the contrary, presumably they live in the house they own. The monthly payment on the camper nears the $400.00 in fees Skipper would have to pay to file her case. Moreover, it appears the Skippers spend an average of $128.00 per month on overdraft fees, and another $130.00 on recreation and entertainment. They could pay the Court's filing fees by avoiding those unnecessary costs for two months. Finally, the Skippers' home and 401(k) account each have significant value; presumably, if need be, they could cover the filing fees with a small loan against those assets. It therefore does not appear that paying the $400 would render Skipper destitute or force her to forego a basic human need.

         The “‘privilege to proceed [IFP] is reserved to the many truly impoverished litigants, who, within the District Court's sound discretion, would remain without [a] legal remedy if such privilege were not afforded to them.'” Anderson, 2019 WL 1644966, at *2 (quoting Brewster v. N. Am. Van Lines, 461 F.2d 649, 651 (7th Cir. 1972)). The information Skipper has provided demonstrates she is not in that situation. Therefore, the undersigned recommends that the Court deny Skipper's IFP motion (Dkt. No. 4) and give her thirty days thereafter to pay the filing fees.


         The parties' attention is directed to the Important Notice on the next page.

         Notice of Right to File Objections to Report ...

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