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Dismissal for IFP Prisoner’s Failure to Provide Copies for Service Improper

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Minnesota federal district court’s order of dismissal, which was predicated on the plaintiff prisoner’s failure to comply with the Court’s order to submit additional copies of the amended complaint.

While confined in a Minnesota sex-offender treatment program, Elliott Holly sought in forma pauperis (IFP) status to file a civil rights action against treatment center employees. Holly was granted IFP status and the clerk was ordered to issue summons with the United States Marshall being ordered to effect service. All costs of service would be advanced by the United States.

Holly then moved to amend his complaint. That motion was granted with orders to provide one copy of the amendment to the Court for each defendant Holly named. Four days after the time in the Court’s order expired, Holly advised the Court that he had been transferred to prison and did not have his legal materials with him. Six weeks later, the Court dismissed the action with prejudice for failing to comply with the Court’s order.

The Eighth Circuit held that dismissal was an abuse of discretion. First, the record does not reflect that Holly intentionally failed to submit extra copies of his complaint. It is not even clear whether Holly retained a copy of his complaint because he requested the district court to provide him a copy of it.

Finally, the record shows Holly was in state custody and only had $2.87 in his state account when granted IFP status. Thus, he may not have the means to make the additional copies. The matter was reversed “because the district court should not require a person who has been granted IFP status to prepare copies of the complaint for service.” See: Holly v. Anderson, 467 F.3d 1120 (8th Cir. 2006).

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Related legal case

Holly v. Anderson