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How do you establish (file) your case in our court?

The plaintiff, or person bringing the lawsuit to court, files a complaint. The complaint outlines a problem or reason for the lawsuit, also known as a cause of action. Your complaint should be prepared in English and should be either typewritten or legibly handwritten in black ink using white 8½" x 11" (letter size) paper. The contents must include the following:

  • A short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction depends.
  • A short and plain statement of the claim showing that you are entitled to relief, and a demand for judgment for the relief to which you deem yourself entitled.
  • The complaint (and any other type of pleadings that are filed such as motions, etc.) must contain a caption setting forth the name of the court, the title of the action, the case number (if already assigned), and the title of the document such as “Complaint,” etc.
  • You must clearly identify all defendants by name and address. It is your responsibility to determine the identity of any and all defendants you wish to sue. Check to see that you have included all relevant names, addresses and dates in your complaint. You may attach as an exhibit any written instrument you have referred to in your complaint which you would like to make a part of the complaint. You must sign the complaint and state your address and phone number. If there is more than one plaintiff, each must sign the complaint as well as all future pleadings. Remember, if you are proceeding pro se, you can only represent yourself; you may not represent a corporation or another person or party.
  • The words "JURY DEMAND" if you would like the case to be decided by a jury.

For assistance in completing a complaint, you may use one of the court's complaint forms. The Alabama Middle District requires a plaintiff to submit only the original signed complaint, however, you are responsible for making copies of the complaint and exhibits for your records. That original complaint must be signed by an individual plaintiff. If there is more than one plaintiff, each individual plaintiff must sign the original complaint. A corporation cannot proceed pro se, therefore, the complaint must be signed by an individual.

Along with the complaint, you must submit either the filing fee or an application to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP). In forma pauperis is a Latin phrase that means "as an indigent person," that is, a person who cannot afford to prepay the filing fee. (We've compiled some commonly used terms for your convenience.) An application to proceed in forma pauperis is a form completed by the person starting the lawsuit asking the court to establish a payment plan for the filing fee. However, if the court grants permission to proceed in forma pauperis, the filing fee is NOT waived. Instead, the entire amount of the filing fee is broken into payments (prisoners may have a percentage of their income deducted) based on a number of factors explained more fully in the application to proceed in forma pauperis. The court may also direct a plaintiff to pay an initial partial filing fee (based on income) before being allowed to proceed with a case. Prisoners must also include a trust fund account statement if they request to proceed in forma pauperis. If a prisoner pays the full filing fee with the filing of the complaint, he or she does not need to supply trust fund account information.

All complaints must be filed with the Clerk's Office either by mail or in person. Once the Clerk's Office has received the original complaint and the filing fee, or application to proceed in forma pauperis, a case number will be assigned and the case will be assigned to a judge. Do NOT serve your papers on any of the named defendants until you have been given further instruction from the court.