Chapter Five: How to Start Your Lawsuit

This chapter explains how to start a lawsuit under Section 1983 or Bivens. It explains what legal papers to file, when, where, and how to file them, and it provides forms and examples to guide your writing. It also explains what to do in an emergency, when you need immediate help from the court.

All documents that you submit to the court must be signed by you personally if you are not represented by a lawyer. Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that you sign your name, your address, your email address, and telephone number. Obviously, you might not have all of these, and it […]

Ordinarily a federal lawsuit goes on for months or years before the court reaches any decision. But you may need help from the court long before that. A U.S. District Court Judge has the power to order prison officials to stop doing certain things while the judge is considering your suit. The judge can do […]

Besides sending your summons and complaint to the district court, you also have to “serve” both papers on each defendant in the case. The way to serve papers is explained in Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. You can have a friend or family member serve papers for you, or you can […]

As you will see, a lawsuit requires a lot of paperwork. There are two basic papers for starting any federal lawsuit: a summons and a complaint. They are described in Part 1, below. If you have little or no money, you will also want to request that the court allow you to sue “in forma […]

You will file your lawsuit at the federal trial court, called a “district court.” This is where all Section 1983 and Bivens cases start. Some states, such as Alaska, only have one district. Others have several. New York, for example, is composed of four districts: the Northern, Western, Eastern, and Southern Districts. In total, there […]

If you are trying to stop an official policy or practice within the prison, you will, of course, want to act as quickly as possible. If a rule has been issued or an official decision has been made, you do not need to wait until the new procedure is put into effect. You can sue […]