On January 12, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Bruce v. Samuels. The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 provides that those prisoners qualified to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) must nonetheless pay an initial partial filing fee, set as “20 percent of the greater of” the average monthly deposits in the prisoner’s account or the average monthly balance of the account over the preceding six months. They must then pay the remainder of the fee in monthly installments of “20 percent of the preceding month’s income credited to the prisoner’s account.” The initial partial fee is assessed on a per-case basis, i.e., each time the prisoner files a lawsuit. This case involves a dispute over the calculation of subsequent monthly installment payments when more than one fee is owed. Petitioner Antoine Bruce, a federal inmate, contends that he should only have to pay 20 percent of his monthly income without regard to the number of cases filed for which fees are owed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed and adopted the per-case approach advocated by the government, in which a prisoner must pay 20 percent of his monthly income for each case he has filed.
Granting certiorari to resolve a split in the Courts of Appeals on this issue, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the judgment of the D.C. Circuit. Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court, holding that monthly installment payments, like the initial partial fee, are to be assessed on a per-case basis.
To discuss the case, we have Elbert Lin, who is the Solicitor General of West Virginia.