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Wilson v. Southeast Alabama Medical Center

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

July 24, 2015

Jaquala Wilson
v.
Southeast Alabama Medical Center

         Released for Publication April 28, 2016.

          Appeal from Houston Circuit Court. (CV-14-71). Brady E. Mendheim, Trial Judge.

         For Appellant: Mitchell D. Dobbs of Legal Services Alabama, Inc., Dothan.

         Pittman, Thomas, and Donaldson, JJ., concur. Moore, J., dissents, with writing, which Thompson, P.J., joins.

          OPINION

Page 1166

          PER CURIAM.

         Southeast Alabama Medical Center (" SAMC" ) sued Jaquala Wilson in the Houston District Court, small-claims division, seeking a judgment for past-due medical bills Wilson had failed to pay. The district court entered a judgment in favor of SAMC, and Wilson filed a notice of appeal to the Houston Circuit Court, together with an affidavit of financial hardship seeking a waiver of the requirement of prepayment of the filing fee, also known as a request to proceed in forma pauperis (" IFP request" ), on July 23, 2014.[1] Wilson

Page 1167

also filed a demand for a trial by jury. The circuit court denied Wilson's IFP request on July 23, 2014, and it ordered that she pay the filing fee for her appeal within 14 days. Wilson paid what she characterized as the $100 jury-demand fee,[2] but, on August 7, 2014, she sought reconsideration of the circuit court's denial of her IFP request. The circuit court refused to reconsider its denial of Wilson's IFP request, and it ordered that Wilson pay the " balance" of the filing fee within 30 days.

         SAMC filed a motion for a summary judgment on August 19, 2014. Wilson filed a second motion seeking reconsideration of the circuit court's denial of her IFP request on September 8, 2014. On the same date, the circuit court refused to reconsider its denial of Wilson's IFP request, but it granted Wilson an additional 14 days to pay the " remainder" of the filing fee. Wilson responded to SAMC's motion for a summary judgment on September 25, 2014, and the trial court entered an order on September 29, 2014, stating that it would consider the summary-judgment motion once Wilson paid the " remainder" of the filing fee. That same order required Wilson to pay the " remainder" of the filing fee within 30 days or face dismissal of her appeal.

         On November 3, 2014, the circuit court entered an order dismissing Wilson's appeal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, stating specifically that it lacked jurisdiction over the appeal because Wilson had not paid the required filing fee. Wilson timely appealed the dismissal of her appeal to the circuit court to this court, arguing that the circuit court erred in failing to grant her IFP request and in concluding that it lacked jurisdiction over her appeal. We affirm.

         We will first consider Wilson's argument that the circuit court erred by failing to grant Wilson's IFP request. A trial court's decision to deny an IFP request is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See Ex parte Wyre, 74 So.3d 479 (Ala. 2011); Ex parte Holley, 883 So.2d 266, 269 (Ala.Crim.App. 2003).

         In her brief on appeal, Wilson first argues that the denial of her IFP request conflicts with former Ala. Code 1975, § 30-5-5(f), which, before its amendment in 2003, governed the determination of IFP

Page 1168

status for plaintiffs seeking relief under the Protection from Abuse Act, codified at Ala. Code 1975, § 30-5-1 et seq. Former § 30-5-5(f) stated that receipt of " Aid to Families with Dependent Children payments, food stamps, or Supplemental Security Income shall serve as prima facie evidence demonstrating substantial hardship on the part of the plaintiff." Wilson acknowledges that § 30-5-5(f) has since been amended, but she argues that the former statute embodied a legislative policy " to be employed by courts when considering affidavits of substantial hardship and requests for waiver of filing fees. Receiving food stamps should serve as prima facie evidence demonstrating financial hardship." Section 30-5-5(f) no longer refers to food stamps or other aid as a benchmark for determining IFP status.[3] Even if § 30-5-5(f) read as it did before its 2003 amendment, however, Wilson's argument would still be unconvincing. Section 30-5-5(f), before its amendment in 2003, governed the assessment of filing fees for petitions seeking protection from abuse. Wilson is pursuing an appeal from a debt-collection action, not a protection-from-abuse order. Thus, we cannot agree that former § 30-5-5(f) provides a basis for reversal of the circuit court's denial of Wilson's IFP request.

         Wilson next argues that constitutional law provides a basis for reversal of the denial of her IFP request. She relies mainly on Boddie v. Connecticut,401 U.S. 371, 91 S.Ct. 780, 28 L.Ed.2d 113 (1971), in which the United States Supreme Court held that indigent litigants could not be foreclosed from pursuing divorce actions by the requirement that they prepay a filing fee.[4] Wilson's constitutional arguments were not raised in the circuit court; thus, we need not consider Wilson's constitutional arguments further. See Robinson v. State, 587 So.2d 418, 419 (Ala.Civ.App. 1991) (stating that an appellate court will not consider a constitutional issue that was not first presented to the trial court). We note, however, that Wilson's argument is unavailing, in part ...


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