Indigency: Can Your Civil Court Fees be Waived?

On March 22, 2019, Ohio Revised Code § 2323.311 became effective. Before this new statutory section was passed, Ohio law did not provide a uniform process for determining indigency (or lack of ability to pay) in civil cases, only in criminal proceedings. Without such a uniform process, low-income litigants often faced unnecessary hurdles in seeking justice through Ohio’s court systems.

Going to court can involve a variety of costs or fees. When filing a complaint in Ohio to commence a legal proceeding against another, for example, the court requires the payment of a filing fee. Filing fees may also be incurred when submitting other paperwork (e.g., a motion or counterclaim) with the court. Such costs inhibit the participation of low-income Ohioans in the judicial process.

Before this new statutory section was passed, Ohio law did not provide a uniform process for determining indigency (or lack of ability to pay) in civil cases, only in criminal proceedings.

Until now, Ohio courts may have had a process for allowing an indigent party to a case to establish their indigency to get a fee waived or reduced, but the process and criteria considered varied by the court.

With the enactment of § 2323.31, all county and municipal courts must accept indigency applications in civil cases for those who are eligible. The provision requires courts to waive advanced deposit or security fees or costs associated with civil proceedings and allows those who qualify to file documents in court without prepayment. Courts must accept waivers for people whose household income is below 187.5% of the federal poverty line and may accept waivers for those whose income is higher than the guidelines, but are not required to do so. However, court costs may still be charged at the conclusion of a case.

You can read the text of Ohio Revised Code § 2323.311 here.

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