Frequently Asked Questions

Before You File

A “Civil Complaint” should comply in form and manner with Local Rule 11 of this Court. Click here for instructions on how to file a civil action by a non-prisoner. 

Please refer to 28 U.S.C. § 1446 for guidance on the procedures for removal of a civil action. A “Notice of Removal” should comply in form and manner with Local Rule 11 of this Court. Generally, only a defendant may remove a civil action from state court to a federal district court.  When filing a notice of removal, remember to attach a copy of the complaint served upon you in state court as an exhibit to your notice of removal.

Your complaint/removal must be accompanied by a Civil Cover Sheet, Certification and Notice of Interested Parties, and a filing fee payment or a fee waiver application.  A summons is not required when filing a complaint. However, it is often beneficial to submit a summons with your complaint.

Public Counsel’s website also provides useful guides and forms that may assist you when filing a complaint.

Currently, only attorneys are authorized to file cases electronically; if you are not represented by a lawyer, please file your complaint/removal in paper. See Local Rule 5-4.2(a)(1). A complaint/removal may be filed in person or by mail at any of the divisional offices. You must bring or send an original and one copy of every document to be filed. You may provide an extra copy for the clerk to file stamp and return to you. If filing by mail, you must also provide a self-addressed, stamped envelope for this file-stamped copy to be returned to you.

Under Local Rule 5-4.1.1, after making a first appearance, a non-incarcerated pro se litigant may seek leave of Court to file documents electronically (e-file). In order to e-file, you must first demonstrate to the Court that you meet all the technical requirements necessary to access and utilize the CM/ECF System. For more information, please review the Court’s Electronic Filing for Pro Se Litigants page.

After You File

The judges’ specific procedures and case management policies are described in their “standing orders.” The Court’s Procedures and Schedules page provides a listing of each judge’s standing orders. The docket sheet for your case should also contain the assigned judge’s standing orders.

Pro se litigants, or people without lawyers, may file a document in person or by mail at any of the divisional offices.
Documents filed by mail will be processed more quickly if you send them directly to the division where the case is "pending." For a more detailed explanation on how to determine where your case is pending, please visit the Court’s “Civil Filing Procedures.”


Pro se litigants, or people without lawyers, are eligible to register to receive notification by e-mail when documents are filed in their case(s). Click here for more information.

If you have not signed up to receive electronic notice, any court-generated form or order will be mailed to you. Any motion or pleading filed by the other party will be served upon you through the mail as well.

Your case’s docket will include the most recent information about your case.  Docket information for cases filed in the Central District is available through Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), an electronic public access service that provides case and docket information.

Generally, a hearing is scheduled when a party files a motion.  To select a hearing date for a motion, first review the presiding judge’s Procedures and Schedules page, which indicates the day of the week on which the judge hears such motions (as well as the time at which such motions are heard). Next, visit the Court’s Motion Calendar, which lists hearing dates that have been closed. You may not select a hearing date that has been closed. Unless the judge’s Procedures and Schedules page indicates otherwise, it is not necessary to clear a motion date with the Courtroom Deputy Clerk.  Please refer to Local Rule 6-1 for information regarding computation of time for motion papers.

The court will mail you all of the orders filed in your case. However, if you have signed up for electronic notice, you will receive an email notification when an order is filed instead of receiving a copy through the U.S. Mail. Click here to learn more about electronic notification.


You can find a State Bar-certified lawyer referral service in your county through the Lawyer Referral Services Program (LRS) of The State Bar of California.

The American Bar Association also has a helpful website regarding how to obtain legal assistance.

If you cannot afford to pay for legal services, you might consider asking the court to appoint a lawyer for you. However, there is no constitutional right to free legal representation in civil cases in federal court, and the court usually does not appoint lawyers. To learn about how to ask the court to appoint you a lawyer, please make an appointment at one of the federal pro se clinics nearest you.

Your local county law library is a good resource for accessing legal materials. In addition, many websites provide free legal resources such as guides and outlines. For example, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s website contains guides regarding various areas of law including social security and 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. Both FindLaw and Nolo provide basic summaries of the law by topic. Cornell University Law School‘s website provides access to various legal resources including federal and state statutes. For a fee, you can also conduct legal research on-line through websites such as Westlaw and LexisNexis.

Docket information for cases filed in the Central District is available through Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER). PACER provides access to dockets (case information) via the Internet for a fee of $0.10 per page. To establish a PACER account, contact the PACER Service Center (800/676-6856) or register online.

If you do not have access to a computer, the court’s intake lobby provides computer terminals with access to PACER. Docket information cannot be obtained over the phone from the Clerk's Office.

The Court’s Schedule of Fees provides a listing of the court’s various filing fees.

The Clerk’s Office will accept business or corporate checks, checks drawn on business or client trust accounts, and credit cards (Mastercard/Visa, Discover, and American Express) for filing fees and miscellaneous fees. No personal checks or checks drawn on non-business accounts will be accepted from either attorneys or the public. The Clerk’s Office will also accept all federal, state, and local government-issued checks, bank certified checks, and U.S. Postal Service money orders. Make checks payable to: Clerk, U.S. District Court.

If you are a non-prisoner, you may file a Request to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. A judge will review your application and determine whether your financial status and the nature of your case permit you to proceed without having to pay the filing fees associated with the litigation of your case.

If you are a prisoner, you may file a Request to Proceed Without Prepayment of Filing Fees. A judge will review your case and determine whether to waive your filing fees.  Even if your request is granted, you will still have to pay the full amount of the filing fees through monthly payments.  However, if your application is granted, you will not have to pay the filing fees in one lump sum.

There is no guarantee your request will be approved.