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Home » Pro Se » FAQs ProSe

Find answers to the most common questions

  • A lot of the terminology used by the court and attorneys is hard to understand. Is there a glossary or list?
    We've provided a glossary, or list, of legal terms for you.
  • Is there a referral service for local attorneys?
    If you are unable to find an attorney on your own, you are encouraged to contact the Alabama State Bar Lawyer Referral and Information Service. You may also reach this service by telephone at 800-354-6154 or (334) 269-1515.
  • Will the court appoint a lawyer to represent me?
    Unlike criminal cases where there is a right to counsel, a person involved in a civil case has no legal right to have the court appoint a lawyer to assist him or her. You may file a motion with the court for appointment of counsel but such requests are rarely granted.
  • How do I bring criminal charges against someone?
    Only the United States Attorney's Office may file criminal charges in this court. If you believe you have been the victim of a crime or if you have knowledge that a crime has been committed, you should contact your local police or the appropriate federal law enforcement agency. Examples of federal law enforcement agencies are: Federal Bureau of Investigation (bank robbery, kidnapping); Drug Enforcement Agency (drug crimes); Secret Service (credit card fraud); and Postal Inspector (postal fraud).
  • Is there special information about employment discrimination cases?
    Yes. A very common action filed by pro se litigants in federal court is alleged employment discrimination. Prior to filing an employment discrimination complaint, the plaintiff is required to follow specific administrative procedures. NOTE: This is not a complete statement of the law or the administrative procedures to follow in an employment discrimination case. The procedures are complicated, and it is the pro se litigant's responsibility to make sure that all procedures are followed correctly and within the applicable time ...
  • What is a Magistrate Judge and why has my case been referred to a Magistrate Judge?
    In this district, Magistrate Judges hold scheduling conferences, issue pretrial scheduling orders, and hear and determine most pretrial matters. The District Judge may refer motions to dismiss or summary judgment motions to the Magistrate Judge who will issue a Report and Recommendation. The District Judge will issue a decision after reviewing the Report and Recommendation and any objections filed. A Magistrate Judge may determine dispositive motions without the need for a Report and Recommendation if the parties consent to have ...
  • Is it possible for you to speak directly to a judge or judge's staff about your case?
    You are prohibited from all private, or ex parte, communication with the Judge to whom your case is assigned. Ex parte communication occurs when one of the parties to a lawsuit, or when that party's attorney, exchanges information with the assigned Judge without the opposing party, or his or her attorney, being present or without the knowledge and consent of the opposing party or his or her attorney. Because of this prohibition, a judge will refuse, with very few exceptions ...
  • How is the Clerk's Office able to assist you?
    Because the Clerk's Office cannot offer legal advice, we have constructed a worksheet that will remind you what our office can and cannot do to assist you. We have a worksheet detailing how our office can and cannot assist you..
  • If you call, may you speak with the Clerk of Court?
    Yes, but typically, questions can be answered by a deputy clerk. When you call with a question, it is best to be prepared with your case number so that you can be directed to the appropriate deputy clerk most familiar with your case.
  • Why can't the Clerk's Office give legal advice?
    Court employees cannot give legal advice because they must remain neutral to protect the integrity and independence of our federal courts. Court employees can answer general questions about court procedures, and you may contact the Clerk's Office for such assistance.
  • Why do I have to include my name, address and telephone number and sign everything I submit to the court?
    Rule 11(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that every document filed with the court be signed by the person filing the document. Rule 11(a) also requires that every document filed with the court must state the name, address and telephone number of the person who signed the document.
  • If you wish to appeal the court's decision on any order entered in your case, what steps should you take?
    There may be times during the pendency of your case in which the Judge issues an order with which you disagree and which you may think an appellate court should review immediately. You should be aware, however, that most orders issued while a case is still ongoing cannot be appealed immediately. You will have to wait until a final judgment has been entered in your case before the order(s) can be considered by an appellate court. The Federal Rules of ...
  • How can one view a case's docket activity?
    The Clerk's Office maintains an automated record, or docket, for every case. This docket is a chronological summary of all significant events in the history of the case. For example, each time you file a document or appear for a hearing, an entry summarizing the event is added to the case docket. You may view the docket (and specific documents) on the public access terminal located in the Clerk's Office at the public computer desk. The Clerk's Office is prepared ...
  • Can I use the court's electronic filing system?
    The Alabama Middle District does not allow pro se litigants to file using the Electronic Case Filing (ECF) system.
  • What is the procedure for submitting documents to the court?
    You should submit for filing with the Clerk of Court an original of motions or pleadings. It is your responsibility to maintain copies of whatever you have filed with the court for your own records. If you should need copies of a document you have filed, the cost is $.50 a page. Any costs must be paid in advance. You may file pleadings with the court in person or by mail. The Clerk's Office is open to the public from ...
  • Should one mail or bring filings to the Clerk's Office?
    It is not necessary to file your documents in person. If you wish to mail your documents via U.S. Mail or have them delivered by messenger, or by express service (UPS, FedEx), please use this address: United States District Court Middle District of Alabama One Church Street Montgomery AL 36104
  • What must a certificate of service show?
    The certificate of service must show the name and address of each attorney and/or party on whom the pleading, motion or other paper was served.
  • Are forms and sample formats available for filing Pro Se?
    The court has many forms and samples that pro se litigants may use.
  • Does the court require a specific format for documents that are filed?
    The first page of any document you file with the court should always contain a case caption. Rule 10(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure explains how the caption should look. Basically, you name the plaintiff(s) (you and any other persons bringing the suit or another party who has brought a suit against you) and the defendant(s) (if you are the person being sued, this is you, or if you are initiating the lawsuit, the persons you believe have ...
  • Can a complaint or any other pleading to the Judge be in the form of a letter?
    The Alabama Middle District does not allow letter pleadings. Please be sure to use proper formats for your pleadings.
  • What fees or costs are covered under the application to proceed in forma pauperis?
    The application to proceed in forma pauperis only applies to the filing fee. Generally, all other costs, for example, attorney fees, transcript fees, etc., will still be your responsibility.
  • If you cannot afford the costs for filing a new case, how do you proceed?
    If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you may be allowed to pay the filing fee on a payment plan if you file (1) a motion to proceed IFP, (2) fill out an application to proceed in forma pauperis, and (3) file them with the court (typically filed with the complaint). The Financial Affidavit is required so that the assigned Judge can make a determination of your inability to pay the entire filing fee at one time. Bear ...
  • Does the court accept personal checks?
    The court does not accept personal checks. The Clerk's Office accepts money orders, cashiers' checks, and cash. Please note that the Clerk's Office does NOT make or keep change for case payments. Please do not send cash through the mail.
  • Are there costs involved in filing a new case or for other services?
    Yes, there are costs involved. There is a filing fee for new cases, a fee to get copies, and fees for witnessess and mileage, for instance. To see the current fees and other court costs, see the court's fee schedule. Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure prohibits filing lawsuits that are clearly frivolous or filed merely to harass an individual. If after reviewing your complaint, the court determines that you have filed a lawsuit for an improper ...
  • What happens once the defendant(s) has been served?
    Once the defendant has been served with a copy of the complaint, the defendant must file with the court an answer or some response within a specified number of days. Under the rules governing service of process, each defendant is required to provide a copy of the response to the plaintiff.
  • When must a new case be served on the defendant(s) and who can serve my complaint?
    Plaintiffs may not serve the complaint and related documents until the court has issued an order directing the pro se plaintiff to do so. You must consult Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 4 to determine how to serve each defendant. Rule 4 outlines different rules for serving certain types of defendants, such as business entities, government officials, and minors. Generally, anyone over the age of 18 years, who is not a party to the lawsuit, can serve the complaint ...
  • What do I do after filing the complaint?
    After filing the complaint, you should wait to receive instructions from the court about your next steps. You should not serve your complaint on the defendants unless the court tells you to do so. The requirements for serving the complaint are explained in detail in the Simple Guide to Filing a Civil Action.
  • 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 ...
  • Is there a simple, step-by-step guide that can help you get started in filing a case?
    Yes, we have the Simple Guide to Filing a Civil Action. This may answer many of your initial questions. You may download it, or you can come to the Clerk’s Office for a copy.
  • How long will it take to go to trial?
    The length of time it takes for each case to prepare for trial varies and will depend on a number of factors.
  • Is this the appropriate court to hear your dispute?
    Federal courts can only hear certain types of cases. Like all other federal trial courts, this court is only authorized to hear disputes that fall into the following categories: Those that deal with a question involving the United States Constitution; Those that involve questions of federal law, as opposed to state law; Those that involve the United States of America as a party, whether plaintiff or defendant; or, Those that involve a dispute among citizens of different states with an ...
  • Is there a time limit for filing my complaint (statute of limitations)?
    There is a time limit, called a statute of limitations, which is a deadline to bring a claim in a civil lawsuit. Each alleged violation of a law has its own statute of limitations. In other words, if you allege more than one violation of law, each claim has its own statute of limitations, which may be different from each other. The Clerk's Office cannot tell you the deadline for filing claims in your lawsuit because this information is legal ...
  • What are motions?
    Either party, the plaintiff or the defendant, may request that the court take specific action related to the case. To do so, the party prepares a formal request or what is referred to as a motion. The party then signs the motion, submits it, with a certificate of service, and files it with the Clerk of Court and sends a copy to the opposing party, or the opposing party's attorney. The opposing party, or his or her attorney, may then ...
  • Can I get back any documents I file with the Clerk's Office?
    No. All documents that are filed with the Clerk's Office become part of the court record and usually are not returned. If you attach any exhibits to your filings or other court documents, you should file a copy of the exhibit and keep the original for your records. You should also keep a copy of anything you file with the court for your records.
  • How long do I have to answer once I have been served with a lawsuit?
    You should read the summons that was served on you when you received the complaint. The summons will let you know how many days you have to answer. Remember, the Clerk's Office cannot interpret the language in the complaint for you or give legal advice; however, Clerk's Office staff can tell you how many days you have to respond to a complaint and possibly help with the computation of an answer date. You must also send a copy of your ...
  • If you decide to represent yourself, what are some basic things to remember?
    It is important that you fully understand your obligation to prosecute your case once it is filed or after you have been served. You are required to diligently prosecute your lawsuit. Unless and until you hire an attorney to represent you, it is your responsibility to do everything necessary to prepare your case for trial. This includes, but is not limited to, responding to discovery requests and motions. It is also your responsibility to try your case in court. You ...
  • Can you work things out with the persons you think are responsible for your injury?
    Consider talking to the people you think might be responsible for causing the problem. People may respond in a positive way if they are approached respectfully and given a real opportunity to talk. They are certain to be less likely to respond positively after being served with a formal complaint.
  • Are you sure you've been wronged?
    Things are not always what they seem at first. Acts that appear to have been done on purpose may have been done unintentionally. Better information may help you decide whether a lawsuit is advisable.
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