Connecticut: judges can review fee waivers

by Walter Olson on October 17, 2013

Pro se (lawyerless) litigants in Connecticut with low income have been allowed to sue without paying the ordinary $350 filing fee, and some have made the most of the situation by filing scads of suits. In May, following publicity about the high cost and hassle imposed on targets, the state adopted a law which “allows judges to review the details of a lawsuit before granting a plaintiff… a waiver from filing fees.” A former courthouse employee who testified in favor of the bill was himself named in a subsequent lawsuit by a litigants whose activities he had mentioned, along with various other defendants including the New London Day and one of its reporters. [WFSB via @SickofLawsuits]

According to research by Yale law professor Donald Elliott, early American civil practice empowered judges to review the details of a lawsuit for adequacy at its outset, and before a target was faced with major costs of response. That practice — dropped later during the purported modernization of our legal system — would come in handy in screening out ill-founded or tactical suits, and not just regarding in forma pauperis (indigent-filed) cases.

{ 4 comments }

1 Laura Ferrin 10.17.13 at 4:18 pm

It would come in handy if that was still handled by judges. People will always look for ways to exploit the system.

2 En Passant 10.17.13 at 4:45 pm

From Professor Elliott’s Atlantic article, the 1792 Process Act appears to require a preliminary ex parte hearing after filing, akin to a hearing on a demurrer, but on the court’s motion since the defendant is as yet unserved.

Prof. Elliot notes that the 1938 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure eliminated this rule. It would be interesting to know why that happened.

3 gitarcarver 10.18.13 at 2:44 pm

I have a tendancy to look at this slightly differently.

While this post deals with the waiving of fees, I wonder why the fees are so high to begin with.

4 Ron Miller 10.22.13 at 1:18 pm

I would be fine with this. But I think there would have to be real checks and balances. Maybe a panel of 3 judges who had to write written opinions in those cases that the reject. I’m not entirely sure I even agree with what I’m saying here because I’m not thinking it through. But it might be possible to fashion something that would make everyone happy (except for the extremists on both sides).

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