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.