Drafting the Complaint
You start a lawsuit by filing a complaint. In some circumstances, you file a petition or a motion.
The court has several complaint forms that you may use in drafting your complaint. The forms are available online and at the Pro Se Intake Unit. You may also write your own complaint without using a court form.
All complaints must be in English on 8-1/2” x 11” paper and include:
- a caption with the court’s name,
- the title “COMPLAINT” next to the caption,
- a statement of jurisdiction,
- claims in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of facts,
- the relief sought,
- the words “JURY TRIAL DEMANDED” if you want the case decided by a jury at trial,
- your signature, address, e-mail address, and telephone number.
Complaints and all other documents submitted for filing must comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 (Signing Pleadings, Motions, and Other Papers; Representations to the Court; Sanctions).
Filing and Serving the Complaint
Once you have drafted your complaint, you must submit it either in person or by mail to the Pro Se Intake Unit, along with the filing fees or an application to proceed without prepayment of fees (in forma pauperis). Prisoners must also include a Prisoner Authorization form.
If you pay the filing fees, you must submit a completed summons to the Pro Se Intake Unit for the clerk to sign, seal, and issue. See Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(b). Once the summons is issued, you must follow the procedures in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 to serve the summons and complaint.
If you request permission to proceed without prepayment of fees and your request is granted, the ProSe Intake Unit will complete and issue a summons only if the assigned judge directs it to do so in an order of service.
Keeping Your Address Updated
All litigants, including pro se litigants, are required to let the court and other parties to the lawsuit know if their contact information changes. This is to make sure that all case filings can be sent to the correct mail (or email) address. For this reason, you must inform the Pro Se Intake Unit in writing of any change to your contact information.
Representing Yourself in Federal Court (Pro Se)
Role of the Pro Se Intake Unit
The Pro Se Intake Unit acts as a central resource for the Southern District of New York on all prose matters.
The Pro Se Intake Unit has two primary functions:
- To accept papers submitted by pro se litigants beginning with the filing of a pleading to start an action and ending with the filing of a notice of appeal.
- To provide procedural assistance to pro se litigants appearing in the Southern District of New York.
Papers Submitted by Pro Se Litigants
By standing order of the Court, all papers from pro se litigants must be submitted directly to the Pro Se Intake Unit. All papers submitted after the assignment of a judge and case number (also called a docket number) must contain the title or caption of the action and the docket number followed by the judge’s initials. The papers will be checked for compliance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and if in order, will be scanned and docketed on the ECF system. The Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) sent in conjunction with such ECF filings constitutes service upon all other Filing Users (one who has permission to file electronically) and Receiving Users (one who has registered to receive notice from the court by electronic mail). Attorneys and other pro se parties who are not Filing or Receiving Users must be served with a paper copy of any document filed with the Court.
Procedural Assistance to Pro Se Litigants
Staff in the Pro Se Intake Unit may assist pro se litigants by explaining Court procedures and filing requirements. However, they are not permitted to give advice on legal strategy, to represent litigants in court, or to participate in any discussion with pro se litigants regarding the merits of a particular case. (28 U.S.C. § 955 states that “The clerk of each court and his deputies and assistants shall not practice law in any court of the United States.”) Additionally, staff may not calculate deadlines, draft papers, fill out forms, serve papers, act as interpreters, or notarize documents.
The Pro Se Intake Unit also has a number of forms, instructions, and manuals that it provides to the public upon request.
Questions regarding this Court’s procedures should be directed to the Pro Se Intake Unit either by telephone, by mail, or in-person during normal business hours. Questions regarding the Court procedures submitted to the Court’s webmaster will not be answered.
For more information on serving legal papers, contact Undisputed Legal our New York City Process Service department at (800) 774-6922. Representatives are available Monday-Friday 8 am – 8 pm EST. If you found this article helpful, please consider donating. Thank you for following our blog, A space dedicated to bringing you news on breaking legal developments, interesting articles for law professionals, and educational material for all. We hope that you enjoy your time on our blog and revisit us! We also invite you to check out our Frequently Asked Questions About Process Servers.