HOW TO FILE A LAWSUIT WITHOUT AND ATTORNEY

See Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 (General Rules of Pleading); Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10 (Form of Pleadings). 

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 Pro Se 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 pro se 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 information on serving legal papers visit www.undisputedlegal.com or call 1 (800) 774-6922 representatives are available Monday-Friday 8am-8pm

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