Gibbs v. Jackson, No. 22-40731 (5th Cir. 2024)Annotate this Case
In this case, Larry Donnell Gibbs, a pro se plaintiff, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against five officers of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He alleged that two officers allowed him to bleed for 45 minutes after being stabbed by another inmate, and three other officers used excessive force against him in retaliation for filing a grievance about the incident. Gibbs attempted to proceed in forma pauperis, which would have allowed service to be made by a United States marshal, but the district court denied this on the basis that he had already paid the filing fee, had sufficient funds in his inmate trust account to serve the defendants, and had not provided the addresses of the defendants.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that the district court had abused its discretion by denying Gibbs's in forma pauperis status. It held that a person who is not a pauper at the commencement of a suit may become one during or prior to its prosecution. The court also found that the district court had arbitrarily determined that the funds in Gibbs's inmate trust account were sufficient for him to serve the defendants and that there's no requirement for an individual to be absolutely destitute to enjoy the benefit of in forma pauperis status. The court also held that a district court's determination of whether a party may proceed in forma pauperis must be based solely upon economic criteria and not on the lack of addresses for the defendants. The court concluded that the denial of Gibbs's in forma pauperis status had prejudiced his chances of effecting service. The case was remanded to the district court with instructions to permit Gibbs to proceed in forma pauperis.