Guidelines for A Pro Se Plaintiff
U.S. District Court
Eastern District of Texas
Most parties are represented by an attorney, although it is not required. Please find links to legal services that may be of interest here (the list is not exhaustive, and the court does not endorse any provider): Legal Services | Eastern District of Texas | United States District Court (uscourts.gov). Should you intend to represent yourself in a civil matter, the notes below may be helpful to you. Please keep in mind that court staff are prohibited from giving legal advice.
- Rules: There are two sets of rules that control civil cases filed in this court: the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Fed. R. Civ. P.) and the Local Rules for the Eastern District of Texas - Civil Rules (LR CV). Once your case is filed, you need to comply with the provisions in both along with any orders issued by the judge in your case.
- Complaint: The first step in bringing a suit against someone is the filing of a complaint. (Custom complaint forms available for use in filing an EEOC or social security case are also available on the Pro Se Forms page of our website.) If you have determined that your case is subject to federal jurisdiction, and you are filing in the appropriate venue, you may use one of the forms offered on our website (typewritten or neatly handwritten in ink, please). Please ensure that you have complied with the redaction requirements in Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2. The responsibility for redacting personal identifiers rests solely with the parties. The clerk will not review each pleading for compliance with this rule. See Filing and Redaction of Sensitive Information. After you sign the complaint, hand-deliver or mail it to the appropriate Clerk’s office for filing.
- Filing Fee: The current Civil Filing Fee amount is required to file a civil complaint. A person who cannot afford to pay this fee may request to proceed “in forma pauperis” (referred to as “IFP”). To seek permission to proceed IFP, a motion must be completed and submitted with the complaint. (Prisoner litigants may have additional requirements and/or a different form available in their unit’s law library.)
- Civil Cover Sheet: Form JS 44 is required to be submitted with the complaint (LR CV-4).
- Summons: Unless the defendant agrees to waive service, the plaintiff must “serve” the defendant with a copy of the complaint.
If the filing fee was paid, the Plaintiff is required to prepare the summons(es) for the clerk’s issuance and to follow Fed. R. Civ. P. 4 to accomplish service. After service is done, the person who performed the service must provide proof of service by completing the pertinent section on the summons form and returning it to the Plaintiff so it can then be filed with the Clerk. If certified or registered mail service was accomplished under Tex. R. Civ. P. 106, by a person authorized to perform service under Tex. R. Civ. P. 103, the certified mail card (the green card) should be attached to the proof of service.
If the Plaintiff was granted IFP status, the clerk will wait until the Court determines that service of process should commence before issuing summonses. At that time, the clerk may send the Plaintiff forms to complete and return so that the U.S. Marshal’s Office can initiate service.
- Answer: In most cases, the defendant has 21 days to answer unless the defendant is the United States or an employee thereof, in which case the defendant has 60 days to answer.
- Certificate of Service: After the complaint, any document you send to the clerk for filing (vs. being electronically filed by you after obtaining the Court’s permission under LR CV-5(a)(2)(b)), must include a “Certificate of Service.” Any paper that fails to include a required certificate of service may be subject to the provisions of LR CV-10(d). A certificate of service looks like this:
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
I hereby certify that a true and correct copy of the foregoing instrument has been forwarded by [authorized method used to serve] to each attorney/party of record on this [date].
- Judge: Once your case is filed, it will be assigned to a United States District Judge and may be referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for further action. Depending on the type of case, the Clerk of Court may also send a notice that allows you, if you desire, to consent to the assigned magistrate judge to preside over the case and conduct the trial. If all parties consent to this and the district judge approves, the case will be assigned to the magistrate judge, who will later enter the final judgment. Any appeal taken by any party will be heard by the applicable appellate court.
If you wish to communicate with a judge assigned to your case, you must file a document with the Clerk of Court and send a copy to the other side. Ex parte correspondence addressed to the judge not in the form of a filing is usually transmitted to the clerk with instructions to file the document so that it is publicly available and accessible to both sides. Ensure everything you transmit to the court that will be publicly filed complies with the redaction requirements found in Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2.
- Change of Address: Your complaint and all other papers filed with the Clerk of Court must be signed by you. Your signature block should include your address and telephone number. You are required to keep the Clerk of Court and the other side informed of your current address and telephone number during the entire case. Should you need to update your contact information, file a written notice in your case (LR CV-11(d)). Failure to keep the Clerk apprised of your current address may cause you not to receive orders and notices of hearings, which could result in your case being dismissed.