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Federal Court Filing Fees Increased, Cost of Justice Too High for Many Prisoners

As of April 10, 2006, the fee for filing civil complaints in U.S. District Courts, or having state cases removed to federal court, increased from $250 to $350. Note that this increase applies to lawsuits and related civil claims, but not to habeas petitions.

Similarly, beginning April 10, the filing fee for docketing an appeal in the federal circuit courts increased from $250 to $450. This is in addition to the $5 fee for filing a notice of appeal, which remains unchanged.

These increases were authorized by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (Pub.L. No. 109-171). Parties filing an application for allowance of an interlocutory appeal in a circuit court under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) are not charged the filing fee unless the appeal is permitted, in which case the $450 fee becomes payable.

These new filing fees amount to a 40% increase in district courts and an 80% increase on the appellate level. The last filing fee increase in the federal courts occurred on Nov. 1, 2003; since that time, over a period of 2½ years, and including the most recent increases, federal court filing fees have soared 350% in district courts and 450% in the circuit courts.

Under thje Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) prisoners must pay the entire filing fee of their suits, in installments if they cannot afford it themselves. Prison wages, of course, have largely remained the same, with the result that some prisoners are being priced out of the judicial system due to the high cost of filing lawsuits and appeals. It is worthy of note that the increased filing fees are higher than the annual wages that many prisoners receive for prison labor. No fees are charged to the United States when the government files a complaint or appeal in the federal courts. Prevailing parties can, however, recoup their filing fees as a cost from the defendants.

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