Case Filing FAQs
Q. How are the judical district and counties in Iowa divided?
Q. Where are the offices of the Clerk located?
Q. Which days will the Clerk's Office be closed for business?
Q. What are your filing fees?
Q. How do I file a civil case? Is there a charge?
Q. How do I file a criminal case?
Q. Where should I file my pleadings?
Q: How are judges assigned to cases?
Q: How can I check on the status of my case? Can I review case files?
Q: When will the court reach a decision in my case?
Q: Can the Clerk's Office tell me how to proceed with my case?
Q: How can I find a lawyer?




Q. How are the judical district and countied in Iowa divided? (back to top)
Please see our county map.

Q. Where are the office of the Clerk located? (back to top)
Please see our locations.

Q. Which days will the Clerk's Office be closed for business? (back to top)
The Clerk's Office will not be open for business on Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays. Legal holidays include:

New Year's Day
Labor Day
Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
Columbus Day
Washington's Birthday
Veterans Day
Memorial Day
Thanksgiving Day
Independence Day
Christmas Day

Q. What are your filing fees? (back to top)
Please click here for our fee schedule.

Q: How do I file a civil case? Is there a charge? (back to top)
A civil action is commenced by the filing of a complaint. Parties instituting a civil action in a district court are required to pay a filing fee pursuant to Title 28, U.S. Code, Section 1914. The current fee is $350. Complaints may be accompanied by an application to proceed in forma pauperis, meaning that the plaintiff is incapable of paying the filing fee.

Q: How do I file a criminal case? (back to top)
Individuals do not file criminal charges in U.S. district courts. A criminal proceeding is initiated by the government, usually through the U.S. attorney's office in coordination with a law enforcement agency. Allegations of criminal behavior should be brought to local police, the FBI, or other appropriate law enforcement agency.

Q: How do I file for bankruptcy? Is there a charge? (back to top)
Please check with Bankruptcy Court - www.ianb.uscourts.gov.

Q. Where should I file my pleadings? (back to top)
If not required to file electronically, pleadings in the Northern District of Iowa should always be filed with the Clerk's Office. The Clerk's Office maintains staffed offices in Cedar Rapids and Sioux City. In civil matters, pleadings should be filed in the office of the Clerk designated in Local Rule 3.

Q: How are judges assigned to cases? (back to top)
The basic considerations in making assignments are to assure equitable distribution of caseload and avoid judge shopping. By statute, the chief judge of each district court has the responsibility to enforce the court's rules and orders on case assignments. Each court has a written plan or system for assigning cases. The majority of courts use some variation of a random drawing. One simple method is to rotate the names of available judges. At times judges having special expertise can be assigned cases by type, such as complex criminal cases, asbestos-related cases, or prisoner cases. The benefit of this system is that it takes advantage of the expertise developed by judges in certain areas. Sometimes cases may be assigned based on geographical considerations. For example, in a large geographical area it may be best to assign a case to a judge located at the site where the case was filed. Courts also have a system to check if there is any conflict that would make it improper for a judge to preside over a particular case.

Q: How can I check on the status of my case? Can I review case files? (back to top)
Your lawyer, who likely is familiar with local court practice, is your best resource. Generally, all documents filed with a court are public records and are available through the Clerk's Office. By way of exception, some documents are sealed by special court order, and some documents are confidential by operation of law, such as grand jury materials and criminal files relating to juveniles.
As the keeper of court records, the Clerk's Office responds to most inquiries on the status of a case once given the specific case name or docket number. Inquiries for information and requests to examine dockets, case files, exhibits, and other records are made at the intake area in the Clerk's Office. Inquiries are often made by phone.

An automated system that allows for the search and retrieval of case-related information is available through a personal computer at the public counter in the Clerk's Office. Automated access to case-related information at the public counter is available free of charge. Searching and retrieving case-related information is also available through PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records).

Thus, most information may be obtained by:
  • accessing the PACER system and searching our Electronic Case Filing system by case number or party name;
  • visiting the Clerk's Office and using the personal computer at the intake counter to conduct a search of our Electronic Case Filing system; or contacting the Clerk's Office by telephone (Cedar Rapids 319-286-2300 and Sioux City 712-233-3900).

Q: When will the court reach a decision in my case? (back to top)
Most cases are handled in an expeditious manner. The Speedy Trial Act of 1974 establishes standard time requirements for the timely prosecution and disposition of criminal cases in district courts. There is no similar law governing civil trial scheduling, and as a result, the scheduling of criminal cases is assigned a higher priority.

In 1990, Congress enacted legislation that directs each district court to devise and adopt a civil expense and delay reduction plan. One goal established under the legislation is for each civil case to be scheduled for trial within 18 months of filing the complaint.
Litigants should keep in mind that judges have many duties in addition to deciding cases. The average district court judge has more than 400 newly filed cases to contend with each year. In addition to trials, judges conduct sentencings, pretrial conferences, settlement conferences, motions hearings, write orders and opinions, and consider other court matters both in the courtroom and in their chambers.
There are numerous reasons for delay, many of which are outside of a court's control. Attorneys and/or litigants may be responsible. Cases may be delayed because settlement negotiations are in progress. Some courts also experience shortages in judges or available courtrooms.

Q: Can the Clerk's Office tell me how to proceed with my case? (back to top)
Clerk's Office staff cannot give "legal advice" or "practice law" since they are prohibited under Title 28, U.S. Code, Section 955. Therefore, when asked, Clerk's Office staff cannot:
  • explain the meaning of a specific rule;
  • make an interpretation of case law (i.e., how a party is affected by events in a case or how a party should proceed
  • explain the result of taking or not taking an action in a situation;
  • answer whether jurisdiction is proper in a case (e.g., is this a federal question or diversity case?)
  • answer whether the complaint properly presents a claim (e.g. did I say the right thing and is it enough information?); or
  • answer what the best procedures are to accomplish a particular objective (e.g., how do I subpoena a witness in a case?).

Q: How can I find a lawyer? (back to top)
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


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 302Des 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)