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Opinion of the Court

tyre returned to lock inmate Mike Hernandez's cell door after the two black inmates stepped out. I watch[ed] all this activity from the hallway and my cell door.

“On January 27th, 1984, I was again on my way to the shower, when I noticed the same correctional officer as he unlocked inmate Mike Hernandez's cell door, and also saw as two black inmates stepped inside inmate Mike Hernandez's cell. Then I knew right away that both they and Officer McIntyre were up to no good. After this last incident, I became convinced that Officer McIntyre was deliberately unlocking my friend, Mike Hernandez's cell as he [lay] asleep, so that these two black inmates could sexually assault him in his cell.” Exhibit

H in No. CIV S-85–0084, Brief for Respondent 9. Hernandez also attempted to amend one complaint to include an affidavit signed by fellow inmate Harold Pierce, alleging that on the night of July 29, 1983, he "witnessed inmate Dushane B-71187 and inmate Milliard B-30802 assault and rape inmate Mike Hernandez as he lay ... asleep in bed 206 in the N-2 Unit Dorm.” See Exhibit G to Motion to Amend Complaint in Hernandez v. Denton, et al., No. CIV S–83– 1348 (June 19, 1984), Brief for Respondent 6.

The District Court determined that the five cases were related and referred them to a Magistrate, who recommended that the complaints be dismissed as frivolous. The Magistrate reasoned that“ each complaint, taken separately, is not necessarily frivolous,”” but that “a different picture emerges from a reading of all five complaints together.' Id., at 11. As he explained: “[Hernandez] alleges that both guards and inmates, at different institutions, subjected him to sexual assaults. Despite the fact that different defendants are allegedly responsible for each assault, the purported modus operandi is identical in every case. Moreover, the attacks occurred only sporadically throughout a three year period. The facts thus appear to be "wholly fanciful” and justify this court's dismissal of the actions as frivolous.””

Opinion of the Court

Ibid. By order dated May 5, 1986, the District Court adopted the recommendation of the Magistrate and dismissed the complaints.

Hernandez appealed the dismissal of three of the five cases (Nos. CIV S–83–0645, CIV S-83–1348, CIV S-85–0084; see n. 1, supra). Reviewing the dismissal de novo, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded. Hernandez v. Denton, 861 F. 2d 1421 (1988). In relevant part, Judge Schroeder's lead opinion concluded that a district court could dismiss a complaint as factually frivolous only if the allegations conflicted with judicially noticeable facts, that is, facts “capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.'” Id., at 1426 (quoting Fed. Rule Evid. 201). In this case, Judge Schroeder wrote, the court could not dismiss Hernandez's claims as frivolous because it was impossible to take judicial notice that none of the alleged rapes occurred. 861 F. 2d, at 1426. Judge Wallace concurred on the ground that Circuit precedent required that Hernandez be given notice that his claims were to be dismissed as frivolous and a chance to amend his complaints to remedy the deficiencies. Id., at 1427. Judge Aldisert dissented. He was of the opinion that the allegations were “the hallucinations of a troubled man,” id., at 1440, and that no further amendment could save the complaint, id., at 1439–1440.

We granted petitioners' first petition for a writ of certiorari, 493 U. S. 801 (1989), vacated the judgment, and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration of our intervening decision in Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U. S. 319 (1989). On remand, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed its earlier decision. 929 F. 2d 1374 (1991). Judge Schroeder modified her original opinion to state that judicial notice was just “one useful standard” for determining factual frivolousness under $ 1915(d), but adhered to her position that the case could not be dismissed because no judicially noticeable fact could contradict Hernandez's claims of rape. Id., at

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1376. Judge Wallace and Judge Aldisert repeated their earlier views.

We granted the second petition for a writ of certiorari to consider when an in forma pauperis claim may be dismissed as factually frivolous under $ 1915(d). 502 U. S. 937 (1991). We hold that the Court of Appeals incorrectly limited the power granted the courts to dismiss a frivolous case under § 1915(d), and therefore vacate and remand the case for application of the proper standard.


In enacting the federal in forma pauperis statute, Congress “intended to guarantee that no citizen shall be denied an opportunity to commence, prosecute, or defend an action, civil or criminal, in any court of the United States, solely because ... poverty makes it impossible ... to pay or secure the costs” of litigation. Adkins v. E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 335 U. S. 331, 342 (1948) (internal quotation marks omitted). At the same time that it sought to lower judicial access barriers to the indigent, however, Congress recognized that "a litigant whose filing fees and court costs are assumed by the public, unlike a paying litigant, lacks an economic incentive to refrain from filing frivolous, malicious, or repetitive lawsuits.” Neitzke, supra, at 324. In response to this concern, Congress included subsection (d) as part of the statute, which allows the courts to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint "if satisfied that the action is frivolous or malicious."

Neitzke v. Williams, supra, provided us with our first occasion to construe the meaning of “frivolous" under $ 1915(d). In that case, we held that “a complaint, containing as it does both factual allegations and legal conclusions, is frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Id., at 325. In Neitzke, we were concerned with the proper standard for determining frivolousness of legal conclusions, and we determined that a complaint filed in forma pauperis

Opinion of the Court

which fails to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) may nonetheless have “an arguable basis in law” precluding dismissal under $ 1915(d). 490 U. S., at 328– 329. In so holding, we observed that the in forma pauperis statute, unlike Rule 12(b)(6), “accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.Id., at 327. “Examples of the latter class,” we said, “are claims describing fantastic or delusional scenarios, claims with which federal district judges are all too familiar.” Id., at 328.

Petitioners contend that the decision below is inconsistent with the “unusual" dismissal power we recognized in Neitzke, and we agree. Contrary to the Ninth Circuits assumption, our statement in Neitzke that $ 1915(d) gives courts the authority to “pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations” means that a court is not bound, as it usually is when making a determination based solely on the pleadings, to accept without question the truth of the plaintiff's allegations. We therefore reject the notion that a court must accept as “having an arguable basis in fact,” id., at 325, all allegations that cannot be rebutted by judicially noticeable facts. At the same time, in order to respect the congressional goal of “assur[ing] equality of consideration for all litigants,” Coppedge v. United States, 369 U. S. 438, 447 (1962), this initial assessment of the in forma pauperis plaintiff's factual allegations must be weighted in favor of the plaintiff. In other words, the $ 1915(d) frivolousness determination, frequently made sua sponte before the defendant has even been asked to file an answer, cannot serve as a factfinding process for the resolution of disputed facts.

As we stated in Neitzke, a court may dismiss a claim as factually frivolous only if the facts alleged are “clearly baseless," 490 U. S., at 327, a category encompassing allegations

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that are “fanciful,” id., at 325, "fantastic," id., at 328, and “delusional,” ibid. As those words suggest, a finding of factual frivolousness is appropriate when the facts alleged rise to the level of the irrational or the wholly incredible, whether or not there are judicially noticeable facts available to contradict them. An in forma pauperis complaint may not be dismissed, however, simply because the court finds the plaintiff's allegations unlikely. Some improbable allegations might properly be disposed of on summary judgment, but to dismiss them as frivolous without any factual development is to disregard the age-old insight that many allegations might be “strange, but true; for truth is always strange, Stranger than fiction.” Lord Byron, Don Juan, canto XIV, stanza 101 (T. Steffan, E. Steffan, & W. Pratt eds. 1977).

Although Hernandez urges that we define the “clearly baseless” guidepost with more precision, we are confident that the district courts, who are “all too familiar” with factually frivolous claims, Neitzke, supra, at 328, are in the best position to determine which cases fall into this category. Indeed, the statute's instruction that an action may be dismissed if the court is "satisfied” that it is frivolous indicates that frivolousness is a decision entrusted to the discretion of the court entertaining the in forma pauperis petition. We therefore decline the invitation to reduce the “clearly baseless” inquiry to a monolithic standard.

Because the frivolousness determination is a discretionary one, we further hold that a § 1915(d) dismissal is properly reviewed for an abuse of that discretion, and that it was error for the Court of Appeals to review the dismissal of Hernandez's claims de novo. Cf. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U. S. 364, 365, n. (1982) (per curiam) (reversing dismissal of an in forma pauperis petition when dismissal was based on an erroneous legal conclusion and not exercise of the "broad discretion” granted by $ 1915(d)); Coppedge, supra, at 446 (district court's certification that in forma pauperis appellant is taking appeal in good faith, as required by $ 1915(a),

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