The opinion of the court was delivered by: TRAVIA
The petitioner moves for leave to file his petition in bankruptcy and proceed without prepayment of any of the filing fees
as a condition precedent to a discharge in bankruptcy. The motion comes directly to the Court before being referred to a Referee by the Clerk of the Court.
Under the Individual Assignment System presently operating in this District, new civil and criminal cases are filed in the Clerk's Office, given a docket number and then assigned, at random, to one Judge for all purposes. In a bankruptcy proceeding, "* * * the clerk shall, immediately upon the filing of a petition * * *, refer the case to a referee."
(Emphasis added). The issue in this proceeding is whether the Clerk shall file the petition without the payment of the filing fees. Since the Clerk has not filed the petition, the matter has not been referred to a referee and the issue is before this Court.
A decision granting the motion will, in effect, direct the Clerk of the Court to file the petition, assign the same a docket number and refer the proceeding to a Referee in Bankruptcy. A decision denying the motion will end the proceeding without giving the petitioner an opportunity to an adjudication of his rights in a bankruptcy proceeding.
According to his affidavit submitted in support of the motion,
petitioner lives in a two and one-half room apartment with his wife, his two young children, his mother, and her young child. His younger child has cystic fibrosis and, at about the time the affidavit was prepared, was in Cumberland Medical Center. Except for some minor odd jobs, petitioner has been unemployed since May 1969. His last steady employment was as an insurance agent for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (hereinafter "Metropolitan") from which he was discharged because premiums which he had collected were stolen from his home and he was unable to make up the amount. Petitioner has since attempted to secure employment but has been unsuccessful because of bad references given by Metropolitan. Petitioner's wife was employed until March 1970 when she had to stop working because of her pregnancy. She will be unable to work since all of her time will be spent caring for the younger child.
Petitioner's present financial picture is not pleasant, to say the least. He and his family, including his mother and her daughter, live on a public assistance allotment of $366.00 per month. All of this amount is required for rent and the necessities of life. Petitioner alleges he owns no non-exempt assets and that his only assets consist of $50.00 worth of essential household goods and clothing which are exempt from distribution under 11 U.S.C. § 24 and New York CPLR § 5205(a). Because of these circumstances, petitioner claims he is unable to pay the filing fee and cannot promise to pay the fee in installments.
Neither the New York City Department of Social Services nor family, relatives, or friends have been able to help petitioner raise the money to meet the cost of filing the petition. Petitioner seeks a discharge in bankruptcy of his indebtedness in the amount of $6,428.69 and states as his reason, among other things, "* * * in order to get a new start in life."
He especially seeks a discharge of his indebtedness to Metropolitan to improve his chances of securing employment elsewhere.
To secure relief, petitioner makes both statutory and constitutional arguments.
In view of the long established practice of refraining from passing on the constitutionality of Acts of Congress unless compelled to do so, Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority, 297 U.S. 288, 341, 56 S. Ct. 466, 80 L. Ed. 688 (1936, Brandeis, J. concurring), petitioner's statutory claim will be dealt with first.
Petitioner argues that the Bankruptcy Act should be liberally construed in view of its broad remedial purpose and that the federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), should be applied to bankruptcy proceedings in accordance with such construction. On its face, petitioner's argument possesses some merit. Section 1915(a) provides:
"Any Court of the United States may authorize the commencement, prosecution or defense of any suit, action or proceeding, civil or criminal, or appeal therein, without prepayment of fees and costs or security therefor, by a person who makes affidavit that he is unable to pay such costs or give security therefor. Such affidavit shall state the nature of the action, defense or appeal and affiant's belief that he is entitled to redress." (Emphasis added).
As petitioner states, "By its own terms this statute is as applicable to bankruptcy proceedings as to any other proceedings in federal court."
And since the filing fee in bankruptcy, $50.00,
is much greater than that in other civil litigation, generally $15.00,
the need for the application of § 1915 to bankruptcy proceedings is obvious. Petitioner further argues that nothing in the Bankruptcy Act or the General Orders --
"specifically requires that persons must pay the filing fee as a prerequisite to discharge even if they are so poor that they do not have at the time of filing and cannot hope to have over 9 months enough non-essential assets to pay any part of the filing fees."
Except for evidence that Congress intended to require payment of filing fees as a condition precedent to discharge in bankruptcy, this Court might be inclined to grant petitioner's motion on the ground that § 1915(a) is applicable to bankruptcy proceedings. That evidence, however, compels this Court to reject petitioner's statutory argument.
The Bankruptcy Act of 1898 provided for a waiver of fees at the time of the filing of the petition on an affidavit of inability to pay.
In 1946, Congress passed the Referees' Salary Bill
which did away ...