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FAQs: Pro Se Filers
Can I file a case on my own behalf without an attorney?
Yes, filing a case on your own behalf without an attorney is referred to as filing “Pro Se.” You should be aware that if you proceed pro se, you will be required to follow the same court rules as an attorney.
How do I file a case on my own behalf (Pro Se)?
A case is started by filing a complaint. You should refer to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this Court’s Local Rules for information about the proper form of your complaint. The Court requires a civil cover sheet (available from the Clerk’s Office) and a complaint that includes your original signature and your address. You must also either pay the $400 filing fee or request the Court to allow you to file the case without paying the filing fee. This is referred to as proceeding in forma pauperis (“IFP”).
Can I file a case without paying the $400 filing fee?
Maybe. You must submit an IFP motion and an affidavit in which you will tell the Court about your income and other financial information. These forms are available from the Clerk’s Office or from this website.
Can I pay the $400 filing fee in installments?
No, you must pay the full $400 filing fee or file an IFP motion and affidavit.
What happens after I am assigned a case number?
If you paid the filing fee, you will need to have a copy of the complaint delivered to each person you have named as a defendant (this is called “service of process”.) The Clerk’s Office can provide assistance with how to do this. If you did not pay the filing fee, the Court will review your IFP motion and decide if you can proceed without paying the filing fee. The Court will also review your complaint to determine whether a copy of the complaint should be delivered to the defendant(s). If the Court decides that you do not have to pay the filing fee and determines that the complaint should be delivered to the defendant(s), the Clerk’s Office will have a copy of your complaint delivered to the defendant(s).
Can someone tell me before I decide to pay the filing fee whether the Court will allow me to proceed IFP?
No. Eligibility for IFP will be decided only when a Judge rules on your motion.
How long will it take the Court to determine if I can proceed IFP?
Usually, between thirty (30) and sixty (60) days.
What if my IFP motion is denied?
The Court will notify you in a written order that your motion has been denied.
Once the defendant(s) receives a copy of the complaint, how long does he/she have to reply?
The defendant(s) has twenty (20) days to respond if the plaintiff delivers the complaint with a summons. If the defendant(s) agrees that the complaint can be delivered without a summons (using the waiver of service procedure), then the defendant has sixty (60) days from the date of mailing to respond.
After filing my case, how do I go about getting facts and information from the defendant(s) so that I can prepare for trial?
The process of getting facts and information is called “discovery.” The Southern District of Iowa does not require discovery information to be filed with the Court. All discovery information is between the parties. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 controls discovery and you should refer to this rule for the methods you can use to obtain facts and information.
I tried to file a motion with the Court but it was returned to me because it did not contain a “certificate of service”. What is a certificate of service?
Each document that you file with the Court must contain your signature and a certificate of service. A certificate of service indicates to the Court that you have delivered a copy of the document to the other parties. The certificate of service states the name and address of the attorney or party served with the document, the manner of service, and the date of service. Example:
Certificate of Service
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing was mailed to
[Opposing Party or Counsel] at [Address] on. [Date]
Can Clerk’s Office personnel answer legal questions or provide legal advice?
No, Clerk’s Office personnel may not give legal advice. The Clerk’s Office will not be able to advise you on such things as:
- explaining the meaning of rules;
- answering questions as to whether this is the proper court in which to file your complaint;
- commenting on your case;
- recommending how you should proceed;
- predicting a decision a judicial officer might make; or
- answering questions as to how long you have to file a complaint in this court.
Will the Court provide me with an attorney?
In civil proceedings the Court does not have to appoint counsel for you and in most cases it does not. You can, however, ask the Court to appoint counsel by filing a motion for appointment of counsel. If you file a motion for appointment of counsel, you must still proceed with your case and not wait for the Court to make its decision on your motion.
Can you provide me with the names of attorneys who could help me?
No, the Clerk’s Office cannot provide you with the name of an attorney. In Iowa there are limited resources and programs available to provide free legal assistance.
Iowa Legal Aid has ten regional offices that serve various areas of the state. When you call to request assistance, you will be screened for eligibility. A client is eligible for assistance if their income falls within the established guidelines and if the case fits within the priorities set by the program. Not all clients who financially qualify will be able to receive assistance because of the limited staff or volunteer resources of the programs. An intake interview of your case may take place. The program will then assess your case to determine if they may be able to assist you. Your case may be handled by one of the staff attorneys at the program. In some circumstances your case will be referred to a private attorney who has volunteered their time to a pro bono program.
Iowa Legal Aid, Administrative Headquarters
1111 9th Street, Suite 230
Des Moines, IA 50314