MARK A. GRETHEN
ARNOLD DAVID ROBINSON, CHIEF OF CORRECTIONS OPERATIONS, VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL.
THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF CHESAPEAKE John W. Brown,
PRESENT: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, Mims, McClanahan, Powell, and
McCullough, JJ., and Koontz, S.J.
STEPHEN R. McCULLOUGH JUSTICE
Grethen, an inmate, challenges the trial court's
determination that he could not proceed in forma
pauperis with his petition for a writ of mandamus. We
conclude that he should have been afforded in forma
pauperis status under Code § 8.01-691 and,
accordingly, we will reverse the trial court's judgment.
is an inmate in the Virginia Department of Corrections
("the Department") - as well as a prolific
litigator. On June 23, 2016, he filed a petition for a writ
of mandamus in the Circuit Court for the City of Chesapeake,
complaining of lack of access to computers, an inadequate
legal database, and denial of photocopy services. He sought
to file his mandamus petition in forma pauperis,
that is, without paying the filing fee that ordinarily must
be paid to institute a case. He submitted an affidavit in
forma pauperis averring that he had no available funds
with which to pay the fee.
with Code § 8.01-691, Grethen attached several documents
to his petition that detailed the history of his inmate trust
account. A "Trust Certificate of Account History"
generated by the Department showed "total deposits"
of $25.14 and "total withdrawals" of $25.14 for the
period beginning on February 12, 2016, and ending on May 17,
2016. The same documents showed a zero balance at the end of
each month, as well as an "average monthly balance"
of zero dollars. Another Trust Certificate of Account History
for the period of February 1, 2015, to February 1, 2016,
showed "total deposits" of $183.37 and "total
withdrawals" of $183.39, along with a zero balance at
the end of each month and an "average monthly
balance" of zero dollars. His "offender monthly
trust statements" showed postage loans for legal mail,
loans for "medical co-pay, " and loans for legal
photocopies. Grethen also filed with the court a
"Response to Trust Certificate of Account History,
" arguing that the trust account statements generated by
the Department inaccurately reflected his financial
court denied Grethen's request to proceed in forma
pauperis, holding that Grethen had to pay the filing and
services fees or the action would be dismissed without
prejudice. This appeal followed.
§ 8.01-691 provides in relevant part:
A prisoner seeking in forma pauperis status shall provide the
court with a certified copy of his inmate trust account for
the preceding twelve months. . . . If the court determines
the prisoner has had no deposits in his inmate trust account
for the preceding six months, the court shall permit the
prisoner to proceed without paying the filing fee and costs.
review a trial court's interpretation of a statute de
novo. Conyers v. Martial Arts World of Richmond,
Inc., 273 Va. 96, 104, 639 S.E.2d 174, 178 (2007).
Department's policies and procedures explain the
"loans" and "deposits" that appear on
inmate trust account documentation.
who was seeking in forma pauperis status,
"provide[d] the court with a certified copy of his
inmate trust account for the preceding twelve months."
Code § 8.01-691. The statements from his trust accounts
reflect "deposits" and "loans" but also
show a zero balance from month to month. The Virginia
Department of Corrections' Operating Procedure governing
offender finances explains what these "deposits"
and "loans" mean. See Virginia ...