Frequently Asked Questions
for Filing a Complaint on Your Own Behalf

Q: Can I file a case on my own behalf without an attorney?
Q: How do I file a case on my own behalf (Pro Se)?
Q: Can I file a case without paying the $350 filing fee?
Q: Can I pay the $350 filing fee in installments?
Q: If I file a case and request to proceed IFP, will that stop the running of the statute of limitations or other deadlines?
Q: What happens after I am assigned a case number?
Q: Can someone tell me before I decide to pay the filing fee whether the Court will allow me to proceed IFP?
Q: How long will it take the Court to determine if I can proceed IFP?
Q: What if my IFP motion is denied?
Q: Can I add claims to my complaint after I have filed it?
Q: Once the defendant(s) receives a copy of the complaint, how long does he/she have to reply?
Q: After filing my case, how do I go about getting facts and information from the defendant(s) so that I can prepare for trial?
Q: I tried to file a motion with the Court but it was returned to me because it did not contain a certificate of service. What is a certificate of service?
Q: Can Clerk’s Office personnel answer legal questions or provide legal advice?
Q: Will the Court provide me with an attorney?
Q: Can you provide me with the names of attorneys who could help me?
Q: My case has been assigned to a Magistrate Judge. What is a Magistrate Judge?
Q: Can I get a copy of this Court’s Local Rules?
Q: Where can I find legal materials such as case law and rules of civil procedure?
Q: Can I file a criminal case against someone?
Q: Could there be additional costs involved in litigating my lawsuit besides paying the $350 filing fee?
Q: What type of civil action can be filed in the District Court?
Q: What can I do if the Court dismisses my case?




Question: Can I file a case on my own behalf without an attorney? (back to top)
Answer: Yes, filing a case on your own behalf without an attorney is referred to as filing “Pro Se.” You should be aware that if you proceed pro se, you will be required to follow the same Court rules as an attorney.

Question: How do I file a case on my own behalf (Pro Se)? (back to top)
Answer: A case is started by filing a complaint. You should refer to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this Court’s Local Rules for information about the proper form of your complaint. The Court requires a civil cover sheet (available from the Clerk’s Office) and a complaint that includes an original signature and your address. You must also either pay the $350 filing fee or request the Court to allow you to file the case without paying the filing fee. This is referred to as proceeding in forma pauperis (“IFP”).

Question: Can I file a case without paying the $350 filing fee? (back to top)
Answer: Maybe. You must submit an IFP motion and an affidavit in which you will tell the court about your income and other financial information. These forms are available from the Clerk’s Office or from this website.

Question: Can I pay the $350 filing fee in installments? (back to top)
Answer: No, you must pay the full $350 filing fee or file an IFP motion and affidavit.

Question: If I file a case and request to proceed IFP, will that stop the running of the statute of limitations or other deadlines? (back to top)
Answer: Yes, if your complaint is accompanied by a completed IFP motion and affidavit.

Question: What happens after I am assigned a case number? (back to top)
Answer: If you paid the filing fee, you will need to have a copy of the complaint delivered to each person you have named as a defendant. The way in which a copy of the complaint is delivered to the defendant(s) is called “service.” The Clerk’s Office can provide assistance on how to do this. If you did not pay the filing fee, the Court will review your IFP motion and decide if you can proceed without paying the filing fee. The Court will also review your complaint to determine whether a copy of the complaint should be delivered to the defendant(s). If the Court decides that you do not have to pay the filing fee and determines that the complaint should be delivered to the defendant(s), the Clerk’s Office will have a copy of your complaint delivered to the defendant(s).

Question: Can someone tell me before I decide to pay the filing fee whether the Court will allow me to proceed IFP? (back to top)
Answer: No. Eligibility for IFP will be decided only when a Judge rules on your motion.

Question: How long will it take the Court to determine if I can proceed IFP? (back to top)
Answer: Usually, between thirty (30) and sixty (60) days.

Question: What if my IFP motion is denied? (back to top)
Answer: The Court will notify you in a written order that your motion has been denied.

Question: Can I add claims to my complaint after I have filed it? (back to top)
Answer: Yes, if the defendant has not filed anything in response to your complaint, you may add more claims. This is called amending your complaint. If the defendant(s) has replied to your complaint, then you must receive permission from the Court to amend.

Question: Once the defendant(s) receives a copy of the complaint, how long does he/she have to reply? (back to top)
Answer: The defendant(s) has twenty (20) days to respond if the plaintiff delivers the complaint with a notice that a lawsuit has been filed. This notice is called a summons. If the defendant(s) agrees that the complaint can be delivered without a summons, then he/she has sixty (60) days from the date of mailing to respond.

Question: After filing my case, how do I go about getting facts and information from the defendant(s) so that I can prepare for trial? (back to top)
Answer: The process of getting facts and information is called discovery. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 controls discovery and you should refer to this rule for the methods you can use to obtain facts and information.

Question: I tried to file a motion with the Court but it was returned to me because it did not contain a certificate of service. What is a certificate of service? (back to top)
Answer: Each document that you file with the Court must contain your signature and a certificate of service. A certificate of service indicates to the Court that you have delivered a copy of the document to the other parties. The certificate of service states the name and address of the attorney or party served with the document, the manner of service, and the date of service.

Question: Can Clerk’s Office personnel answer legal questions or provide legal advice? (back to top)
Answer: No, Clerk’s Office personnel may not give legal advice. The Clerks Office will not be able to advise you on such things as:
  • explaining the meaning of rules
  • answering questions as to whether this is the proper Court in which to file your complaint
  • commenting on your case
  • recommending how you should proceed
  • predicting a decision a judicial officer might make
  • answering questions as to how long you have to file a complaint in this court.

Question: Will the Court provide me with an attorney? (back to top)
Answer: In civil proceedings the Court does not have to appoint counsel for you and in most cases it does not. You can, however, ask the Court to appoint you counsel by filing a motion for appointment of counsel. If you file a motion for appointment of counsel, you must still proceed with your case and not wait for the Court to make its decision on your motion.

Defendants in criminal proceedings have a right to a lawyer, and are entitled by the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) to have counsel appointed at government expense if they are financially unable to obtain adequate representation by private counsel. The CJA, which is set forth in Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 3006A, requires a court determination that a person is financially eligible for court-appointed counsel. A court may determine that a defendant is partially eligible for court-appointed counsel and order the defendant to contribute to the cost of representation. Counsel assigned to a defendant may be a private lawyer, who is a member of the court's panel of attorneys receiving CJA appointments, or, in many districts, an attorney who works for a federal defender organization. The clerk's office has forms that can be used to apply for the appointment of counsel.

Question: Can you provide me with the names of attorneys who could help me? (back to top)
Answer: No, the Clerk’s Office cannot provide you with the name of an attorney. In Iowa there are limited resources and programs available to provide free legal assistance.

Iowa Legal Aid has ten regional offices that serves various areas of the state. When you call a program to request assistance, you will be screened for eligibility. A client is eligible for assistance if their income falls within the established guidelines and if the case fits within the priorities set by the program. Not all clients who financially qualify will be able to receive assistance because of the limited staff or volunteer resources of the programs. An intake interview of your case may take place. The program will then assess your case to determine if they may be able to assist you. Your case may be handled by one of the staff attorneys at the program. In some circumstances your case will be referred to a private attorney who has volunteered their time to a pro bono program. A client should not contact the pro bono program directly for assistance as the intake needs to be conducted prior to referral to a volunteer.

When you call a program to request assistance, you will be screened for eligibility. A client is eligible for assistance if their income falls within the established guidelines and if the case fits within the priorities set by the program. Not all clients who financially qualify will be able to receive assistance because of the limited staff or volunteer resources of the programs. An intake interview of your case may take place. The program will then assess your case to determine if they may be able to assist you. Your case may be handled by one of the staff attorneys at the program. In some circumstances your case will be referred to a private attorney who has volunteered their time to a pro bono program. A client should not contact the pro bono program directly for assistance as the intake needs to be conducted prior to referral to a volunteer.

Iowa Legal Aid, Administrative Headquarters
1111 9th Street, Suite 230
Des Moines, IA 50314
(515) 243-2151
http://www.iowalegalaid.org/ia/homepage.html

Iowa Legal Aid Waterloo Regional Office
607 Sycamore, Suite 708
Waterloo, IA 50703
(319) 235-7008 or (800)772-0039


Iowa Legal Aid Southwest Iowa Regional Office
532 First Avenue, Suite 300
Council Bluffs, IA 51503
(712) 328-3982 or (800)432-9229

Iowa Legal Aid Southeast Iowa Regional Office
112 East Third Street
Ottumwa, IA 52501
(641) 683-3166 or (800)452-0007

Iowa Legal Aid Northwest Iowa Regional Office
520 Nebraska Street, Suite 337
Sioux City, IA 51101
(712) 277-8686 or (800)352-0017

Iowa Legal Aid Northeast Iowa Regional Office
799 Main Street, Suite 280
Dubuque, IA 52001
(563) 588-4653 or (800)942-4619

Iowa Legal Aid North Central Iowa Regional Office
600 1st Street N.W., Suite 103
Mason City, IA 50401
(641) 423-4651 or (800)392-0021

Iowa Legal Aid Iowa City Regional Office
430 Iowa Avenue
Iowa City, IA 52240
(319) 351-6570 or (800)272-0008

Iowa Legal Aid Central Iowa Regional Office
1111 9th Street, Suite 380
Des Moines, IA 50314
(515) 243-1193 or (800)532-1503

Iowa Legal Aid Cedar Rapids Regional Office
305 Second Street SE, Suite 400
Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
(319) 364-6108 or (800)332-0419

HELP Legal Assistance
736 Federal Street, Suite 1401
Davenport, IA 52803
(563) 322-6216

Muscatine Legal Services
210 E. 2nd Street
Muscatine, Iowa 52761
(563)263-8663

Story County Legal Aid Society
937 6th Street
Nevada, Iowa 50201
(515)382-2471

Drake University Legal Clinic
2400 University Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50311
(515)271-3851

University of Iowa Clinical Law Program
University of Iowa Law School
386 Boyd Law Building
Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1113
(319)335-9023

Polk County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project
521 E. Locust, Suite 302
Des Moines, Iowa 50309

Iowa Legal Aid Volunteer Lawyers Project
1111 9th Street, Suite 230
Des Moines, Iowa 50314

Pro Bono Project of HELP Legal Assistance and the
Scott County Bar Association
736 Federal Street, Suite 1401
Davenport, IA 52803

Iowa State Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project
521 E. Locust, Suite 302
Des Moines, Iowa 50309

Legal Hotline For Older Iowans
(800)992-8161 or (515)282-8161
(providing statewide service to Iowans 60 years and older)

Question: My case has been assigned to a Magistrate Judge. What is a Magistrate Judge? (back to top)
Answer: Magistrate Judges are judicial officers appointed by the Court to assist in the work of the Court. They can also decide civil cases when both parties agree to have the case heard by a Magistrate Judge instead of a District Judge. If your case is assigned to a District Judge, you will receive a form that gives you the option to have your case heard by the Magistrate Judge.

Question: Can I get a copy of this Court’s Local Rules? (back to top)
Answer: Yes, Local Rules can be downloaded from this link.

Question: Where can I find legal materials such as case law and rules of civil procedure? (back to top)
Answer: You can find legal materials at local law and public libraries. You can also find links to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, and Federal Rules of Evidence on this Court’s website.

Question: Can I file a criminal case against someone? (back to top)
Answer: You cannot file a criminal case against anyone. The United States Attorney’s Office is responsible for filing federal criminal cases. Allegations of criminal behavior should be brought to the attention of the local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or other appropriate law enforcement agency.

Question: Could there be additional costs involved in litigating my lawsuit besides paying the $350 filing fee? (back to top)
Answer: Yes, for example, you may have to pay someone to deliver your complaint. Also there may be costs for getting documents and information from witnesses and the defendant(s). Finally, the losing party may have to pay for some of the winning party’s expenses.

Question: What type of civil action can be filed in the District Court? (back to top)
Answer: Federal District Courts can only hear certain types of cases. Generally, only civil cases that involve diversity of citizenship (parties in the case live in different states and the amount in controversy is greater than $75,000), a federal question (lawsuits that have been authorized by Congress), or have the United States as a party can be filed in Federal Court.

Question: What can I do if the Court dismisses my case? (back to top)
Answer: If you are dissatisfied with the Court’s decision to dismiss your case, you may appeal your civil case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. You must file your notice of appeal in the District Court Clerk’s Office. Generally, you have thirty (30) days from the date the judgment is entered to file your notice of appeal. The filing fee for a notice of appeal is $455 and is paid to the Clerk of the District Court.