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Filing Without an Attorney

The pro se information on the Court’s website is specifically for individuals who are representing themselves in the Northern District of Florida without the assistance of an attorney.  It is intended as an informative and practical resource for pro se litigants, and is not a substitute for legal advice from an experienced attorney. The information is procedural in nature and should be read in conjunction with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the local rules of this Court. In addition, the links to other websites are for information purposes only, and the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida is not responsible for the accuracy of the information contained on other websites. 

What does it mean to appear pro se?

Although the majority of individuals, also known as "litigants" or "parties," appearing before this court are represented by attorneys, a small percentage appears pro se. Litigants or parties representing themselves in court without the assistance of an attorney are known as pro se litigants. "Pro se" is Latin for "in one’s own behalf." 

The right to appear pro se in a civil case in federal court is contained in a statute 28 U.S.C. § 1654.  Thus, anyone can appear pro se, and anyone who appears before the Court without an attorney is considered pro se. However, there are certain limitations to self-representation, such as:

  • Corporations and partnerships must be represented by counsel. Parties planning to begin or defend an action on behalf of a corporation or partnership may not appear pro se in the Northern District of Florida, and must be represented by an attorney.  
  • Similarly, a pro se litigant may not act as a class representative in a class action. Therefore a pro se litigant may not bring a class action. 
  • Furthermore, a non-attorney parent may not appear pro se on behalf of a child, except to appeal the denial of social security benefits to such child. 

How do I start a new lawsuit without an attorney?

A lawsuit is commenced by the filing of a complaint. The Northern District of Florida requires pro se litigants to submit their complaint to the Clerk's Office, along with the civil case filing fee or, if they are unable to pay the filing fee, they may request a fee waiver by filing an application to proceed in forma pauperisPrisoners who are unable to pay the filing fee should file a prisoner application to proceed in forma pauperis.

The Clerk's Office provides complaint forms that litigants should use to file an action. For types of actions for which a form is not available, litigants must write their own complaint in English on 8-1/2" x 11" paper.

A hand-written complaint should generally follow the format of the civil rights complaint form and must contain the following:

  1. caption containing the names of the parties in the upper left-hand corner,
  2. The word "COMPLAINT" immediately below the caption,
  3. A statement of jurisdiction and venue (Explain)
  4. statement of facts
  5. A statement of the claim
  6. The remedy requested
  7. The words "JURY DEMANDED" if the party wants the case decided by a jury trial
  8. The party’s signature, printed name, address, and telephone number

As a pro se litigant, you may pay the filing fee and deliver the complaint to the Clerk's Office in person or mail the complaint and filing fee to the Clerk's Office in the division in which you are filing your case.  The Judge may direct  the Clerk's Office to issue a summons and then direct the plaintiff to serve the complaint on the defendant(s) as will be explained in a court order.  For all cases, whether submitted to the Clerk's Office by mail or delivered to the Clerk's Office in person, the Clerk's Office will review all documents for completeness. Once the documents have been reviewed, a case number has been assigned, and the case has been assigned to a magistrate judge of this Court, the Clerk's Office will instruct the litigant via mail on how to proceed.

It is extremely important for all pro se litigants to inform the Clerk's Office (as well as the other parties in the lawsuit) of any change of address immediately so that legal mail regarding the case can be sent to the correct address. All change of address notifications must be submitted in writing, using the notice of change of address.