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 are 94 district courts. What district you should file in is determined by the law of “venue.” The main venue rule for a Section 1983 or Bivens lawsuit is Section 139(b) of Title 28 of the United States Code.
It is usually easiest to file in the district “in which the claim arose.” That is, you should file in the district that includes the prison where your rights were violated. To determine what district this is and to get the address of the district court, locate your state in Appendix L, and then check to see which district covers the county your prison is in.
You do not have to say in your complaint why you decided to file in a particular district. It is up to the defendants to challenge your choice of venue if they think you filed in the wrong place. However, the district court often will return your papers if the judge decides you sued in the wrong court. For this reason, we have included a sentence on “venue” in our sample complaint in Section C, Part 1 of this chapter.