Tripati v. Tucker – 7/29/2009

August 18, 2009

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two Holds That A Plaintiff Claiming Indigency has the Burden of Proof When a Defendant Challenges Plaintiff’s Status Under A.R.S. § 12-302.

Tripati filed four lawsuits, which the court later consolidated.  Tripati successfully claimed he was indigent and was therefore able to defer the payment of filing fees. The defendants later challenged Tripati’s claims of indigence and, after a hearing on the issue under A.R.S. § 12-302(G), the court found he was not indigent, revoked Tripati’s fee deferral, and ordered him to pay all filing fees.  Tripati failed to pay the fees, causing the court to dismiss the four cases with prejudice.

In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed.  First, the Court held that the trial court properly placed the burden to prove indigency on Tripati.  The Court explained that, although the statute did not expressly identify which party had the burden of proof at an A.R.S. § 12-302(G) hearing, the statute required Tripati to prove indigency in other circumstances, such as the original claim of indigence.  Because nothing in the statute stated that the burden switches, the Court interpreted the statute to require Tripati to prove his claims of indigence.  Moreover, the Court agreed that Tripati failed to carry his burden because the evidence indicated that he had substantial financial support.

Second, the Court held that the trial court did not err by considering the incomes of Tripati’s relatives or his status as a vexatious litigant.  The Court noted that the statute does not limit what evidence may be considered.  Furthermore, because these were civil cases, the constitutional concerns that limit a court’s ability to consider a criminal defendant’s family members’ incomes were not relevant.  Finally, a court could consider Tripati’s litigious past because it showed that he had financial resources.

Judge Espinosa authored the opinion; Judges Howard and Pelander concurred.