U.S. Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit
Civil Rights – In forma pauper litigation
It was an abuse of discretion to dismiss a prisoner’s civil rights claim for failure to pay the partial filing fee.
“Sultan argues on appeal that the court abused its discretion by dismissing his suit. We agree with him. We begin with the fact that he is not entitled on his own to disburse funds from his prison trust account. This is a well-recognized fact; prison trust ‘accounts’ are not like bank ac-counts in which the depositor has the contractual status of creditor. See Thomas v. Butts, 745 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 2014); Wilson v. Sargent, 313 F.3d 1315, 1320–21 (11th Cir. 2002); Hatchet v. Nettles, 201 F.3d 651, 652 (5th Cir. 2000). Nor to our knowledge is there any rule of priority that requires state administrators to remit payments to a federal court before they satisfy an inmate’s debt to the prison itself. (We wondered in an earlier case whether the prison might be liable if it fails to comply with a judicial order under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Lucien v. DeTella, 141 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 1998); compare Hall v. Stone, 170 F.3d 706, 708 (7th Cir. 1999) (holding federal warden in contempt for failing to remit comparable payment). As we did in Lucien, however, we can reserve this question for another day, because we have a more straightforward way to resolve the present case.) We note, however, that there is actually a systemic problem in prison lawsuits like Sultan’s: the law requires the payor (the prison) to process a drawer’s request for payment to permit the drawer to sue the payor. No such conflict of interest plagues ordinary commercial transactions. Even assuming that the prison is willing to put the court’s order for payment somewhere in the queue of Sultan’s creditors, it is entirely predictable that the prison will prefer to postpone Sultan’s ability to pursue litigation against itself.”
Vacated and Remanded.
14-1376 Sultan v. Fenoglio
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Reagan, J., Wood, J.