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In re Turkowski

District of Columbia Court of Appeals


December 09, 1999

IN RE: WOJCEICH M. TURKOWSKI.

Before Steadman and Glickman, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

(Hon. Ronald P. Wertheim, Trial Judge)

Wojceich M. Turkowski filed the appeal pro se.

Appellant Wojceich M. Turkowski filed this appeal seeking review of a trial court order denying his motion to proceed in forma pauperis in conjunction with an application to change his name. The trial court denied the motion to proceed in forma pauperis on the grounds that there was "no legal necessity for change of name at public expense." Appellant noted an appeal and filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis in this court, which we construe as a motion seeking summary reversal. *fn1

D.C. Code § 15-712(a) (1999 Supp.) provides that District of Columbia courts "may authorize the commencement, prosecution or defense of any non-criminal suit, action or proceeding, or appeal therein, without prepayment of fees and costs or security therefor . . . by a person who is unable to pay such costs or give security therefor without substantial hardship to himself or herself or his or her family, as established by affidavit or other proof satisfactory to the court." In Green v. Green, 562 A.2d 1214, 1215 (D.C. 1989), this court noted: "This statute effectuates the fundamental principle that every litigant should be provided equal access to the courts without regard to financial ability." In order to qualify for in forma pauperis status, the litigant does not have to be absolutely destitute, but must file a motion and affidavit stating that "one cannot because of his poverty pay or give security for the costs." Harris v. Harris, 137 U.S. App. D.C. 318, 322, 424 F.2d 806, 810 (quoting Adkins v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 339 (1948)), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 826 (1970). *fn2 In this instance, appellant would qualify for in forma pauperis status based upon the affidavit submitted.

The "obvious intent of the indigency statute is to make available to the indigent, in common with his fellow citizen, the full range of civil remedies contrived by court or legislature . . . ." Harris, supra, 137 U.S. App. D.C. at 322-23, 424 F.2d at 810-11. In Lewis v. Fulwood, 569 A.2d 594 (D.C. 1990), the trial court denied a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis on the ground that the statute "does not require the court to waive costs in order to allow the filing of a purely frivolous civil action." We summarily reversed, ruling that the statute "does not provide for the denial of in forma pauperis status based upon the lack of merit of the underlying action." 569 A.2d at 595. Rather, we said, if the complaint is frivolous, the trial court should subsequently dismiss it upon proper application. Thus, we severed consideration of the in forma pauperis application from appropriate forms of relief available in any court action regardless of the party's financial status. *fn3

Likewise, in the matter before us, the trial court erred in considering the legal necessity of appellant's name change as a basis for denying appellant's application to proceed in forma pauperis. In essence, the court must grant the request for in forma pauperis status if a proper application is made, *fn4 and, having done so, thereafter treat the case as any other, including, of course, any appropriate dispositive actions. *fn5

Consequently, the trial court's order is hereby summarily reversed and the trial court shall enter an order granting the motion to proceed in forma pauperis. The granting of such motion allows appellant to proceed in this matter without prepayment of fees and costs to the Superior Court. However, it is another matter whether the court will incur the costs of publication. See D.C. Code § 16-2502 (1997). *fn6 We decline to reach that issue on the record presently before the court. See Harris, supra, 137 U.S. App. D.C. at 325, 424 F.2d at 812; see also In re Holmes, 112 Daily Wash. L. Rptr. 277 (D.C. Super. Ct. January 6, 1984). Cf., e.g., Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371 (1971).

So ordered.


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