The Indiana Court of Appeals decided Monday that the Bartholomew Circuit Court erred when it gave an inmate only 30 days to pay a court filing fee and subsequently dismissed the complaint the inmate had tried to file.
In January 2016, Charles Davis filed a complaint against Bartholomew County Clerk Jay Phelps for an alleged violation of the Indiana Access to Public Records Act and filed a motion for waiver of the filing fees because he was incarcerated. The Bartholomew Circuit Court denied that motion on March 2 and order Davis to pay $17.18 in filing fees within 30 days.
On April 5, the court entered an order dismissing Davis’ complaint because he had not yet paid the filing fee. The court received Davis’ check on April 11, but returned it because his complaint had been dismissed.
Phelps appealed, but never filed a brief in the appeal. In its Monday opinion, the Indiana Court of Appeals wrote that it would reverse the trial court’s decision without a brief from Davis only if he was able to prove prima facie error.
Davis was able to prove such error, the appellate court wrote, because Indiana Code requires that an incarcerated offender whose request for a waiver of filing fees is denied must be given at least 45 days from the time of the denial to pay the fee. The trial court can give an offender more time to pay, if necessary, but can never shorten the time, as the Bartholomew Circuit Court did when it gave Davis only 30 days to pay, the appellate court wrote.
Further, the Court of Appeals noted that the trial court received Davis’ check on April 11, which would have met the 45-day deadline. Thus, the appellate court reversed the Bartholomew Circuit Court’s decision to dismiss Davis’ complaint and remanded the case with instructions to Davis to re-send the $17.18 check within 45 days.
The case is Charles J. Davis, Sr. v. Jay Phelps, Bartholomew County Clerk, 03A01-1604-PL-928.