United States v. Kras (1973)

Bankruptcy protection is not a fundamental right, therefore the court denies neither due process nor equal protection to require even indigent debtors to pay a filing fee which bears a rational basis to sustaining the bankruptcy court system for its users.

Citation: 409 U.S. 434 (1973)
Date decided: Jan 10, 1973
Longer case name: United States v. Kras
Law type: Civil
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: New York
Topic(s):Access to courts, Bankruptcy, Court fees, Due process, and Equal protection
Lists:Important cases
Attorneys:Kalman Finkel argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief was Leon B. Polsky. (Kras obtained free legal representation from attorneys at the Legal Aid Society in New York City.)
Others involved:
More info:

Case Importance

Henry Rose, “Denying the Poor Access to Court: United States v. Kras”, in “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”, edited by Failinger & Rosser, University of Michigan Press, 2016: “Though the Supreme Court did not directly address the important constitutional argument he raised, the effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling against Kras was that in some cases, the poor can be denied access to court when they cannot afford to pay court filing fees. The case reflects both tensions among the Supreme Court justices over the nature of Kras’ claim and, as is sometimes the case in poverty law decisions, the Court’s skepticism about Kras’ own story.”

Case Details

(The syllabus is not part of the opinion, but is a summary prepared by the court reporter as a convenience.)



Appellee, an indigent who filed a voluntary petition in bankruptcy, sought discharge without payment of the fees, aggregating no more than $50, that are a precondition to discharge in such a proceeding. The District Court, relying primarily on Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371 (where the Court held that a State could not consistently with due process and equal protection requirements, deny access to divorce courts to indigents unable to pay filing and other fees), held the bankruptcy fee provisions, as applied to appellee, an unconstitutional denial of Fifth Amendment rights of due process, including equal protection. Held: This case is not controlled by Boddie, supra. For here access to courts is not the only conceivable relief available to bankrupts; the filing-fee requirement does not deny an indigent the equal protection of the laws, since there is no constitutional right to obtain a discharge of one’s debts in bankruptcy; the right to a discharge in bankruptcy is not a “fundamental” right demanding a compelling governmental interest as a precondition to regulation; and there is a rational basis for the fee requirement. Pp. 443-450.

331 F. Supp. 1207, reversed.

From the opinion

Robert William Kras presented his voluntary petition in bankruptcy to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York on May 28, 1971. The petition was accompanied by Kras’ motion for leave to file and proceed in bankruptcy without payment of any of the filing fees as a condition precedent to discharge. The motion was supported by Kras’ affidavit containing the following allegations that have not been controverted by the Government:

1. Kras resides in a 2 1/2-room apartment with his wife, two children, ages 5 years and 8 months, his mother, and his mother’s 6-year-old daughter. His younger child suffers from cystic fibrosis and is undergoing treatment in a medical center.

2. Kras has been unemployed since May 1969 except for odd jobs producing about $300 in 1969 and a like amount in 1970. His last steady job was as an insurance agent with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. He was discharged by Metropolitan in 1969 when premiums he had collected were stolen from his home and he was unable to make up the amount to his employer. Metropolitan’s claim against him has increased to over $1,000 and is one of the debts listed in his bankruptcy petition. He has diligently sought steady employment in New York City, but, because of unfavorable references from Metropolitan, he has been unsuccessful. Mrs. Kras was employed until March 1970, when she was [409 U.S. 434, 438] forced to stop because of pregnancy. All her attention now will be devoted to caring for the younger child who is coming out of the hospital soon.

3. The Kras household subsists entirely on $210 per month public assistance received for Kras’ own family and $156 per month public assistance received for his mother and her daughter. These benefits are all expended for rent and day-to-day necessities. The rent is $102 per month. Kras owns no automobile and no asset that is non-exempt under the bankruptcy law. He receives no unemployment or disability benefit. His sole assets are wearing apparel and $50 worth of essential household goods that are exempt under 6 of the Act, 11 U.S.C. 24, and under New York Civil Practice Laws and Rules 5205 (1963). He has a couch of negligible value in storage on which a $6 payment is due monthly.

4. Because of his poverty, Kras is wholly unable to pay or promise to pay the bankruptcy fees, even in small installments. He has been unable to borrow money. The New York City Department of Social Services refuses to allot money for payment of the fees. He has no prospect of immediate employment.

5. Kras seeks a discharge in bankruptcy of $6,428.69 in total indebtedness in order to relieve himself and his family of the distress of financial insolvency and creditor harassment and in order to make a new start in life. It is especially important that he obtain a discharge of his debt to Metropolitan soon “because until that is cleared up Metropolitan will continue to falsely charge me with fraud and give me bad references which prevent my getting employment.”

Last modified: 2022-12-27 12:59
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
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