Aaron Ellis v. Daniel I. Werfel, No. 22-6401 (4th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Four inmates at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, Virginia, commenced this action pro se against agents of the IRS, alleging that the IRS unlawfully denied them all or part of their COVID-19 stimulus payments. The complaint alleged that the IRS was categorically denying payments to inmates on account of their incarcerated status. The four inmates contended that the IRS had “violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection of the law,” and they sought an injunction requiring the IRS to disburse the proper payments to them. The four inmates filed a motion to amend it by adding five additional inmates with the same claims. The three inmates whose claims were severed from the original action filed these appeals, challenging the legal and factual underpinnings of the district court’s order. They contend that the district court erred both in applying Section 1915(b)(1) as they were not proceeding in forma pauperis and in making factual findings that were not supported by the record.
The Fourth Circuit vacated the court’s order severing Plaintiffs’ claims and its order denying amendment and remanded. The court explained that Section 1915(b)(1), by its explicit terms, is restricted to in forma pauperis actions. The court wrote that because Plaintiffs here did not proceed in forma pauperis, the court should not have construed Section 1915(b)(1) and applied it to them, and it was an error to have done so.