Texas Civil Litigation–Pro Se Handbook–Northern District of Texas–U.S. District Court

Northern District of Texas
(Revised September 13, 2010)
Office of the Clerk
Karen Mitchell
Clerk of Court
It is my honor to serve the judges, attorneys, and members of the public who use our services.
This manual is intended to provide helpful information to pro se litigants on civil cases.
You are reminded that litigation in federal court is a complex process. You must follow the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of this Court. We strive to provide all
customers with accurate assistance on available forms and filing procedures, but the Clerk’s Office
cannot give legal advice regarding the prosecution or defense of any case.
Please see our website at www.txnd.uscourts.gov for additional information, including
instructions on electronic case filing. (Non-prisoner pro se litigants may participate unless
prohibited by the presiding judge.) You will also find answers to some of the most Frequently Asked
We welcome your feedback on this manual and our services.
Karen Mitchell
Clerk, United States District Court
Northern District of Texas
1. Introduction
A. Overview
B. Public Office Hours and Locations
C. Legal Holidays
2. Questions to Ask Before Filing a Lawsuit
A. Does the law recognize my injury?
B. Have I waited too long to sue?
C. Who are the right defendants?
D. What facts and evidence support my case?
E. Have I exhausted administrative remedies?
3. Jurisdiction – Should I File My Complaint in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of
4. Basics for Filing a Case in the Northern District of Texas
A. What are the Federal and Local Rules of Civil Procedure?
B. What should I put in my Complaint?
C. Civil Case Filing Requirements
D. How much does it cost?
E. Service of Process
F. What is the Electronic Case Filing System (ECF)?
G. Consent to Proceed Before a Magistrate Judge
5. Motions – How Do I Ask the Judge to Do Things?
A. Compliance with Local Rule 7.1
B. Other Papers Required to Accompany a Motion
C. No Oral Argument or Instant Ruling on Motions
6. Serving Documents – Do I Have to Give the Defendant(s) Copies of Everything I File?
7. Discovery – How Do I Get Evidence to Help Me Prove My Case?
A. Depositions
B. Interrogatories
C. Requests for Production of Documents
D. Requests for Admission
E. Physical or Mental Examination
8. If I Can’t Find a Lawyer, But I Want One, What Should I Do?
9. Sanctions – What Are They?
10. If I Did Not Prevail, How Do I Appeal My Case?
A. General
B. Designation of Record
C. Questions About the Status of Your Appeal
11. If I Did Prevail, How Do I Enforce the Judgment?
A. Bill of Costs
B. Registration in Another District
C. Registration in the Northern District
D. Writ of Execution
E. Abstract of Judgment
12. List of Available Forms
A. Civil Complaint (General) and Civil Cover Sheet
B. Certificate of Interested Persons
C. Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees
D. Summons in a Civil Action
E. Motion to Appoint Counsel and Declaration in Support
F. Notice of Appeal
13. Glossary of Terms Used in Civil Litigation
1. Introduction
A. Overview
The Court has prepared this manual for you as someone who is interested in filing a lawsuit
or must appear in a lawsuit pro se, or without a lawyer. (“Pro se” is Latin phrase meaning “for
himself” or “for herself.”) It will help you understand the basics of the legal process but will not
teach you about the law. For that, you must do your own research. This manual is not a substitute
for having your own lawyer. You are urged to hire a lawyer, if possible.
Chapter 2 will help you decide whether you should file your lawsuit here. If you do, Chapters
3 through 10 will explain how to file it, and how it will proceed once you do. At the end, there is
a glossary of legal terms that may be unfamiliar to you.
Please visit our website at www.txnd.uscourts.gov for access to the Local Rules and Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, court forms, and Electronic Case Filing information. (When you register
for electronic filing, you may file documents from the convenience of your home, and you will
receive email notification when the opposing side files a document or the Court enters an order, as
soon as its entered on the docket.)
If, after reading this Handbook and reviewing the materials available on our website,
you still have questions about your case, you may wish to contact the Clerk’s Office. Please
understand that court employees may not give legal advice. This means they cannot interpret rules
or a judge’s order, calculate a deadline, give advice on how to proceed, or speculate on the outcome
of a matter.
B. Locations and Office Hours
The Clerk’s Office has seven divisional offices, which are open Monday through Friday,
except legal holidays. Their locations and public office hours are shown below:
Abilene – Division 1
341 Pine Street, Room 2008
Abilene, Texas 79601-5928
Phone (325) 677-6311
8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Amarillo – Division 2
205 E. Fifth Street, Room 133
Amarillo, Texas 79101-1559
Phone (806) 468-3800
8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Dallas – Division 3
1100 Commerce Street, Room 1452
Dallas, Texas 75242-1310
Phone (214) 753-2200
8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Fort Worth – Division 4
501 West 10th Street, Room 310
Fort Worth, Texas 76102
(817) 850-6600
8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Lubbock – Division 5
1205 Texas Avenue, Rom 209
Lubbock, Texas 79401-4091
8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
San Angelo – Division 6
33 East Twohig Street, Room 202
San Angelo, Texas 76903-6451
8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Wichita Falls – Division 7
1000 Lamar Street, Room 203
Wichita Falls, Texas 76301-3431
8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
If you mail a filing to the Court, address your envelope to the Hon. Karen Mitchell, Clerk of Court,
at the correct divisional office.
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C. Legal Holidays
The District Clerk’s Office is closed on the following holidays:
• New Year’s Day
• Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday
• George Washington’s Birthday (commonly referred to as President’s Day)
• Memorial Day
• Independence Day
• Labor Day
• Columbus Day
• Veterans Day
• Thanksgiving Day
• Christmas Day
If the Clerk’s Office is closed by the Court on any other day, or due to inclement weather,
closure information will be posted on the Court’s website at www.txnd.uscourts.gov.
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2. Questions to Ask Before Filing a Lawsuit
Filing a lawsuit does not necessarily mean that you will get the result you want. There
are five important questions to ask before you file a lawsuit in federal court. There are other
questions you may also need to consider, depending on your case, but the list below is a good
place to start.
A. Does the law recognize my injury?
A lawsuit requires a legal injury that the law recognizes and for which it provides a
remedy. Many things that are “wrong” are not illegal. Which statute or court decision do
you think that the defendant has violated? After you have determined that you have a legal
claim, you must decide whether this court is the proper court to hear your lawsuit.
B. Have I waited too long to file a lawsuit?
The “statute of limitations” sets a time limit within which a lawsuit can properly be
filed. If the deadline has passed before you file suit, the Court may dismiss your case.
Whether your claim is barred by a statute of limitations is a question that may require legal
research on your part.
C. Who are the right defendants?
You may only sue defendants whom you believe are responsible for the wrong you
have suffered. When you write your complaint, include facts (such as specific dates, names,
and events) that support the relief you seek against each person you have sued. Listing a
name in the caption of the complaint is not enough. If the main part (or “body”) of the
complaint does not say what a person listed in the caption did wrong, that person could be
dismissed from your case.
D. What facts and evidence support my case?
The person who brings a claim in federal court, known as the “plaintiff,” has the
“burden of proof.” That means the plaintiff must establish that some injury under law
actually happened. You should not sue someone whom you will not be able to show violated
your rights. You need facts to support your claims, and evidence, such as medical or police
reports, a witness who saw what happened, or other proof is helpful.
E. Have I exhausted administrative remedies?
If you want to appeal the decision of a governmental agency, the law may require you
to complete all of the agency’s administrative procedures for appealing its rulings before you
file a lawsuit.
For example, the denial of an application for social security benefits can be appealed
to a federal court only after a final decision on the application is issued by the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration. Similarly, a claim of employment discrimination must
be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or its partner state
agencies before a claim may proceed in federal court. Time limits often apply, so you are
encouraged to visit an agency’s website to learn more information or access available forms.
For your convenience, the Social Security Administration’s website is www.ssa.gov, and the
EEOC’s website is www.eeoc.gov. You may be able to find other agencies’ websites easily
through the federal government’s information website www.info.gov or by calling (800)
FED-INFO (800.333.4636).
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3. Jurisdiction – Should I file my complaint in the U.S. District Court, Northern
District of Texas?
There are two different court systems in the United States: state courts and federal
courts. Before you file a case in federal court, first make sure it has jurisdiction over your
potential lawsuit, which means the power to hear and decide certain cases.
State courts may hear almost any type of case, including civil, domestic (divorce, child
custody, and child support), probate and property disputes. However, federal courts, such
as the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, may only hear certain types of
cases. For a federal court to have jurisdiction over your case, one of the following must
• Your claim is that a federal law or the U.S. Constitution has been violated
(“Federal Question” jurisdiction);
• You intend to sue the United States government (“U.S. Government
Defendant” jurisdiction); or
• You are a citizen of a different state than the defendant(s) and you claim to be
owed at least $75,000 (“Diversity” jurisdiction).
If you believe that a federal court will have jurisdiction over your case, you must file
your case in the right district. Each state has one or more federal district courts. Texas has
four – the Northern District, the Eastern District, the Western District, and the Southern
Each district has one or more divisional offices that serve specific counties within the
district. The seven divisions in the Northern District of Texas serve the 100 counties below:
• Abilene Division – Callahan, Eastland, Fisher, Haskell, Howard, Jones,
Mitchell, Nolan, Shackelford, Stephens, Stonewall, Taylor, and Throckmorton;
• Amarillo Division – Armstrong, Brisco, Carson, Castro, Childress,
Collingsworth, Dallam, Deaf Smith, Donley, Gray, Hall, Hansford, Hartley,
Hemphill, Hutchinson, Lipscomb, Moore, Ochiltree, Oldham, Parmer, Potter,
Roberts, Randall, Roberts, Sherman, Swisher, and Wheeler;
• Dallas Division – Dallas, Ellis, Hunt, Johnson, Kaufman, Navarro, and
• Fort Worth Division – Commanche, Erath, Hood, Jack, Palo Pinto, Parker,
Tarrant, and Wise;
• Lubbock Division – Bailey, Borden, Cochran, Crosby, Dawson, Dickens,
Floyd, Gaines, Garza, Hale, Hockley, Kent, Lamb, Lubbock, Lynn, Motley,
Scurry, Terry, and Yoakum;
• San Angelo Division – Brown, Coke, Coleman, Concho, Crockett, Glasscock,
Irion, Menard, Mills, Reagan, Runnels, Schleicher, Sterling, Sutton, and Tom
Green; and
• Wichita Falls Division – Archer, Baylor, Clay, Cottle, Crockett, Foard,
Hardeman, King, Knox, Montague, Wichita, Wilbarger, and Young.
Generally, your lawsuit should be filed in the division where the defendant resides or
where the facts giving rise to your lawsuit occurred.
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4. Basics for Filing a Case in the Northern District of Texas
A. What are the Federal and Local Rules of Civil Procedure?
Every plaintiff and defendant must follow the rules of the court in which the case is
filed. In the Northern District of Texas there are several sets of rules you must follow.
Some rules apply in every federal court in the country. They include the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure (FED. R. CIV. P.), which control everything from the filing of the
complaint to the jury’s verdict. Other national rules include the Federal Rules of Evidence,
which control what evidence may be used to decide the case; and the Federal Rules of
Appellate Procedure, which control how you can appeal the judge’s decisions if you disagree
with them. Copies of these rules can be found on the United States’ Courts website at
http://www.uscourts.gov/RulesAndPolicies/FederalRulemaking/RulesAndForms.aspx. Due
to budget constraints, we are unable to provide copies of these rules.
In addition to the rules that apply in all federal courts, this Court also has Local Rules
that you must follow. The numbering system of the Local Rules corresponds with the
numbering system of the Federal Rules for easy reference. It is important to remember that,
as a pro se litigant, you are responsible for knowing and following the court’s Local
Rules and procedures. These rules are available on the court’s website at
http://www.txnd.uscourts.gov/rules/localrules/lr_civil.html. We can provide you a copy upon
your request.
If your case needs to be filed in another court, contact the Clerk’s Office of that court
for information regarding local rules and procedures for filing your case.
B. What Should I Put in My Complaint?
A civil case in federal court starts when you file your Complaint. Rule 8(a) and Rule
10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FED. R. CIV. P.) require you to:
1. List the names, address, and telephone number of each plaintiff, and the name
and address of each defendant;
2. Say why you believe this court has the power to decide your case (i.e., that it
has jurisdiction over your lawsuit);
3. Explain why you believe that each defendant violated the law and is
responsible for your injuries;
4. Number each paragraph in your complaint and limit, as much as possible, each
paragraph to a single set of circumstances;
5. State what legal injuries you claim to have suffered and what persons are
responsible for each such legal injury;
6. Clearly state what you are asking the Court to do if you prevail; and
7. Sign it at the bottom. (Each plaintiff must sign. See “signature block”
instructions in Section C below.)
You are not required to use a particular form of complaint, but the Clerk’s Office has
a Complaint form that you may use. See section 12 of this manual.
If you wish to demand a jury trial, you may file it as a separate document or request
it in the Complaint. (Checking the “Jury Demand” box on the Civil Cover Sheet is not
sufficient to request a jury trial.) If you request it in the Complaint, the title of the Complaint
must also state “. . . And Jury Demand.” There is no fee to file a jury demand.
C. Civil Case Filing Requirements
You must sign all documents that you file with the Clerk (see FED. R. CIV. P. 11(a)).
Each document should include a “block” of information underneath your signature that
includes your typed or printed name, address, telephone number, and fax number (if
available). If you register for Electronic Case Filing (You may register as soon as you file
your complaint!), and electronically file future documents over the Internet, you must add
your email address to the bottom of this “signature block.” To sign a document that you will
electronically file, you may print, sign, and scan your document before filing, use an
electronic graphical signature, or represent your signature as “s/ Typed Name,” above the
“signature block” of information.
In addition to preparing your Complaint, the Local Rules require you to submit a:
• Civil Cover Sheet, which helps the Clerk enter statistical data correctly;
• a separately signed certificate of interested persons, which is a list of all legal
entities that are financially interested in the outcome of the case (The judge
needs this information to determine if he or she may preside over the case or
must ask the Clerk to assign another judge to avoid a conflict of interest.);
• a Summons in a Civil Case form for each named defendant (If the filing fee
was not paid, the Clerk cannot issue a summons until the judge grants you the
right to proceed in forma pauperis, or “without payment of fee,” and directs
the clerk to issue the summons.
These forms are available as attachments to printed copies of this manual.
When you deliver or mail your complaint to the Clerk (filing by fax is never permitted
absent judge approval), a deputy clerk will assign it a case number and a judge. If the
division has more than one district judge, the Clerk will use a computerized system to
randomly select the judge. If the district judge automatically seeks the help of a magistrate
judge, the Clerk must “refer” the case. If there is more than one magistrate judge in the
division, the Clerk will use the same the system to randomly select the magistrate judge. In
those divisions, the Clerk has been ordered to follow a random assignment method and
cannot “give” anyone a specific judge.
Please see the Court’s website at www.txnd.uscourts.gov under Filing/Filing
Procedures for more information on Civil Case procedures.
D. How Much Does It Cost?
The fee to file almost any non-prisoner civil action in federal court is $400.00. If you
believe you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you may file an Application to Proceed In
Forma Pauperis and Declaration in Support (see Section 12). If the judge grants your
application, you will be allowed to proceed without prepayment of the fee. Copies of these
forms are included as attachments to the end of this manual.
E. Service of Process
To serve a defendant a copy of your Complaint, follow the procedures found under
Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Generally, a copy of the Complaint is served under a Summons issued by the Clerk.
To issue the Summons, the Clerk must sign, date, and emboss or append the Court’s seal.
Rule 4(c)(2) provides for personal service by anyone 18 years of age or older, who is NOT
a party to the suit. Other common methods of service are described below:
• Service by the United States Marshal – If you are granted in forma pauperis
status, the judge may order the U.S. Marshal to complete service for you. You
will still be required to prepare the Summons form and the USM Form 285,
and provide necessary copies of your Complaint for service.
• Service by mail – Service may be made by mailing the Summons and a copy
of the Complaint to each defendant by registered or certified mail, return
receipt requested. See FED. R CIV. P. 4(e)(1); TEX. R. CIV. P. 106.
• Service through the Secretary of State – For service on companies formed
or registered in Texas through the Secretary of State, please refer to the Texas
Long Arm Statute. See section 17.041 of the TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE.
• Service on the United States – Rule 4(i) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure governs service on the United States of America, the Attorney
General, and the agencies, officers, employees, and corporations of the United
States. The United States Attorney’s Office can be served personally or via
registered or certified mail addressed as follows:
Civil Process Clerk
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas
Division Name
City, State & Zip Code
See the Guide for Filing Federal Civil Suits Against the United States, an
Agency Official, or an Employee of the United States Government in the
Northern District of Texas on the court’s website at www.txnd.uscourts.gov
under Filing/Filing Procedures for more information on filing a civil suit
against the United States.
• Waiver of Service – Rule 4(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure says
that a defendant has a duty to avoid unnecessary expenses of serving the
summons. You must send the defendant a Notice of Lawsuit and Request for
Waiver of Service of Summons form, two copies of a Waiver of Service of
Summons form, a copy of the complaint, and a prepaid means for returning the
form. The defendant must be given a reasonable time of at least 30 days after
the request was sent – or at least 60 days if sent to the defendant outside any
judicial district of the United States, to return the executed Waiver of Service
of Summons form to you. Waiver of service is accomplished when the
defendant consents to the waiver and completes and returns a waiver form.
The defendant may decline to waive service using the same form.
F. What is the Electronic Case Filing System (ECF)?
Cases filed in the Northern District of Texas are maintained electronically through the
court’s Electronic Case Filing (ECF) system. The electronic version of the docket and
associated documents comprise the official record of the court. Remote access to the record
is granted through the court’s ECF system or the federal judiciary’s Public Access to Court
Electronic Records (PACER) system.
Under LR 5.1(e) and the court’s ECF Administrative Procedures, you must file a
Complaint on paper but must file any other pleading, motion, or other paper by electronic
means. These procedures include instructions on registration and electronic filing.
Additionally, you should refer to FED. R. CIV. P. 5.2 for the requirements to redact private
When a document is docketed, you will receive email notification as soon as its
entered on the docket, and you will be able to access the document one time, free of charge.
Docket sheets and images of this and other federal courts’ documents are also
available for a small fee through the Judiciary’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records
(PACER) system. PACER registration is free, and most documents cost only $.10 per page
to download, with a maximum charge of $2.40 per document. (Court transcripts are higher.)
See the PACER website at www.pacer.psc.uscourts.gov to register or call the PACER
Service Center at (800) 676-6856.
G. Consent to Proceed Before a Magistrate Judge
A magistrate judge may, upon the consent of all parties in a civil action, conduct any
or all proceedings, including a jury or non-jury civil trial, and order entry of a final judgment
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636. If all parties involved in a case consent, the presiding district
judge may enter an order of transfer, and reassign the case to a magistrate judge.
Your decision to consent, or not to consent, to the reassignment of the case to a
magistrate judge is entirely voluntary and without any adverse consequences if you choose
not to. Communicate your decision to the Clerk’s Office using the docket event entitled
Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge found in the ECF system.
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5. Motions – How Do I Ask the Judge to Do Things?
A. Compliance with Local Rule 7.1
A motion is an application or request made to the judge. Be aware of the Local Rules
regarding motions practice (Local Rule 56.1 for summary judgment motions, and Local Rule
7.1 for other motions). All motions must comply with the Local Rules or the court may
“strike” or disregard them. Motions are used to seek various types of relief while a lawsuit
is pending, such as a motion to amend pleadings or a motion to compel discovery. A note
of caution: motions should only be filed when necessary; multiple or frivolous motions can
result in penalties by the court.
Responses to motions must be filed with the Clerk’s Office and served on the
opposing party within at least 21 days after the motion was filed, and a reply must be filed
and served within 14 days after the response was filed. Failure to file a response or reply
within the time prescribed may subject the motion to summary ruling. Motions for summary
judgment have different time frames for briefing. See Local Rule 56.1.
The court may modify any of the above schedules.
B. Other Papers Required to Accompany a Motion
In addition to the general requirements, other papers described below, may be required
to accompany your motion:
1. Brief or Memorandum of Law
A brief in support must be filed in support of certain motions. See LR 7.1, LCrR 47.1;
http://www.txnd.uscourts.gov/rules/localrules/civilrules7.html#71. If the brief is included
in the motion, the document should be titled “Motion and Brief in Support.” Except by
permission of the presiding judge, or as provided in LR 56.5(b), your brief must not exceed
25 pages (excluding the table of contents and table of authorities). (The opposing side may
file a response with the same page limit. If you file a “reply,” it must not exceed ten pages,
and you must obtain the judge’s permission to file any other document than those addressed
in LR 7.1.)
Permission to file a brief in excess of this page limitation will be granted only for
extraordinary and compelling reasons. See LR 7.2(c) and LCrR 47(c). A brief filed in a
bankruptcy appeal must comply with the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure unless
otherwise directed by the presiding judge.
A brief exceeding ten pages must contain a table of contents and a table of authorities.
The table of authorities must include an alphabetically arranged table of cases, statutes, and
other authorities cited, with page references to the location of all citations. See LR 7.2 (d)
and LCrR 47.2 (d).
The court may modify any of the above limitations.
2. Appendix
Documentary or non-documentary evidence used to support or oppose a motion must
be included in an appendix. See LR 7.1(i) for specific appendix format requirements. The
appendix must be assembled as a separate, self-contained document. Each page of the
appendix must measure 8 1/2 x 11 inches, and each page must be numbered legibly in the
lower, right-hand corner sequentially through the last page of the entire appendix. A
non-documentary or oversized exhibit must be placed in a 9 x 12 inch envelope that is
numbered as if it were a single page.
If a party’s motion or response is accompanied by an appendix, the party’s brief must
include citations to each page of the appendix that supports each assertion regarding the
documentary or non-documentary evidence used to support or oppose the motion. See LR
3. Certificate of Conference
When you file some motions, you must contact the attorney for the defendant to
discuss your motion and state defendant’s position in a Certificate of Conference, usually
found at the end of a motion. See LR 7.1(a), LCrR 47.1(a).
4. Proposed Order Granting the Motion
Unopposed motions must be accompanied by an agreed proposed order, signed by the
attorneys or parties. In addition, an opposed motion submitted by electronic means must be
accompanied by a proposed order using the instructions found in the Proposed Order docket
A proposed order must be submitted separately from the motion, and should have a
place for the judge to sign if the motion is granted. See LR 7.1(c).
C. No Oral Argument or Instant Ruling on Motions
Local Civil Rule 7.1(g) provides that, unless otherwise directed by the presiding
judge, oral argument on a motion will not be held. It is not uncommon for district and
magistrate judges to be in trial on other matters for the duration of the day. A file and a
motion for emergency relief may not reach the judge until a break for lunch or the end of the
If your motion is not emergency in nature, it may be several days, or several weeks,
before a ruling is forthcoming, depending on the deadlines for the opposing side to respond,
the nature of the case, the judge’s trial schedule, and the judge’s docket load. Whether a
motion be emergency or not in nature, the judge will typically review the record and
pleadings on file and enter an order that will be provided to all parties of record.
There is no need to wait in the Clerk’s Office for a ruling on an emergency motion.
It is best to notify a supervisor that you have filed an emergency motion and place all of your
contact information (including your mobile phone number, if available) on your pleadings.
The supervisor will ensure that a deputy clerk contacts you immediately should the judge
need to see you or a ruling is issued in your case.
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6. Serving Documents
Do I have to give the defendant(s) copies of everything I file?
Yes! Even if you are proceeding in forma pauperis, you must serve an identical copy
of each document you file on every attorney or party who has made an appearance in the
case. (See Rule 5 of the Fed. R. Civ. P.) It is also a good idea for you to keep a copy of each
document you file. Sample language you may use to complete the Certificate of Service at the end
of each document you serve:
• On (Date) I filed the foregoing document with the clerk of court for the U.S.
District Court, Northern District of Texas, using the ECF system. I hereby certify
that I have served all counsel and/or pro se parties of record electronically or by
another manner authorized by FED. R. CIV. P. 5 (b)(2).
• I hereby certify that on (Date) , I forwarded a copy of the foregoing document to
, the attorney for (Defendant) at the address of .
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7. Discovery – How Do I Get Evidence to Help Me Prove My Case?
“Discovery” is the process by which parties exchange or acquire information about
the issues in their case before trial. There are five main types of discovery. Each main type
is discussed below:
A. Depositions: “Depositions” are question-and-answer sessions held before trial.
In them, one party to a lawsuit asks another person questions about the issues raised in the
lawsuit. Rules 30 and 31 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure explain the procedures for
taking a deposition. The person taking the deposition must pay the costs associated with it.
If the person who will answer the questions is not a party to the lawsuit, Rule 45 explains
how they can be made to appear for questioning.
B. Interrogatories: “Interrogatories” are written questions served on another
party to the lawsuit. These questions, unless subject to objections, must be answered under
oath. Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states the rules for serving
C. Requests for Production of Documents: In a “request for production of
documents,” one person asks the other person to turn over documents about the issues in the
lawsuit. The person asking for the documents must describe them in enough detail that the
other person knows which documents are being requested. Rules 34(a) and (b) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure explain how to request documents from the other side in
the lawsuit. If the person that you want documents from is not a party to the lawsuit, Rules
34(c) and 45 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure explain how to request their documents.
D. Requests for Admission: In a “request for admission,” one side writes out
statements that it wants the other side to admit are true. Rule 36 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure establishes the requirements for requests for admission.
E. Physical or Mental Examination: When the mental or physical condition of
a party is at issue in a lawsuit, Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows the
Court to order that person to submit to a physical or mental examination. The examination
must be done by someone qualified, like a physician or psychiatrist. The party who requested
the examination must pay for it.
Pursuant to LR 26.2, requests for discovery and discovery responses should generally
not be filed with the court, however, discovery related documents may be filed if necessary
for the court to resolve a discovery dispute or a pretrial motion.
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8. If I Can’t Find a Lawyer, But I Want One, What Should I Do?
Even with this handbook, representing yourself in Court may be very difficult. That
is why the Court encourages everyone to find a lawyer if possible.
There may be alternatives to representing yourself if you are without sufficient funds
to hire a lawyer to assist you. There are attorneys and organizations, such as legal aid
societies, that may be willing to represent you “pro bono,” that is, free of charge or based on
some other arrangement. Information about Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas may be found
on their website at http://www.lanwt.org/apply_howto.asp. Information about the Dallas
Vo lu n t e e r At to rn e y Pro g r am may be found on the ir webs ite a t
http://www.dallasbar.com/dvap/dvap_info.asp?InfoID=22. In addition, the State Bar of
Texas’ website provides information on how a person may be able to obtain a pro bono
attorney and provides links to pro bono providers. You may wish to visit the State Bar of
Texas’ website.
In a civil case, a party is not entitled by law to an attorney. A pro se litigant who has
been found to be indigent (typically by the granting of an in forma pauperis application) and
is unable to otherwise obtain counsel may ask by filing a written motion that the court request
a lawyer to represent him or her. You should be aware, however, that there are many more
litigants making that request than there are attorneys available to volunteer their services.
Whether a lawyer is ultimately requested to represent a litigant depends on a number of
Sometimes the judges may appoint an attorney for any number of different reasons or
purposes. The attorney may be recruited to represent you at trial, to prepare a motion or brief
for you, or to represent you at a settlement conference. What role such an attorney performs
in any particular case is entirely within the discretion of the court.
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9. Sanctions – What Are They?
A sanction is a penalty or a punishment. Pro se litigants are subject to sanctions for
some of the same reasons as licensed attorneys. When a party to a lawsuit presents a
document to the court, Rule 11(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that party
to verify the accuracy and reasonableness of that document. If a submission to the court is
false, improper, or frivolous, the party filing such a document may be liable for monetary or
other sanctions. Sanctions imposed could consist of a monetary penalty or an order to pay
the opponent’s attorney fees, which could be a substantial amount. The judge may also
restrict a person from filing any future lawsuit until and unless certain conditions have been
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10. How Do I Appeal My Case?
A. General
A party dissatisfied with the outcome of a trial in a U.S. District Court may file a
motion for new trial or a motion to alter or amend a judgment. The grounds a party must
have to prevail on and the time limits for filing such motions are found in FED. R. CIV. P. 59.
An appeal from a U.S. District Court shall be taken to the appropriate appellate court.
Most appeals from a decision of this court proceed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Circuit in New Orleans. An appeal taken prior to entry of final judgment may be considered
prematurely filed.
To initiate an appeal, file a Notice of Appeal that identifies the court to which you are
appealing, and the order that your are appealing, with the Clerk of the District Court (this
office). FED. R. APP. P. 3(a) governs the time within which a notice of appeal must be filed.
The Clerk’s Office has the responsibility to notify the appeals court and all parties that a
notice of appeal has been filed. See the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and the Local
Rules and Internal Operating Procedures of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
We will accept a Notice of Appeal without prepayment of any required fee, but a fee
may later be ordered, or your appeal dismissed for failure to pay the required appellate filing
fee. If you pay the fee to this office by check, make it payable to “Clerk, U.S. District
If you file an appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, you will be required to
complete the Transcript Order Form for Appeal, even if a trial or hearing was not held.
This Court’s staff does not have access to any appellate court’s computer system.
Questions about the status of your appeal before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals should
be directed to their staff in New Orleans, Louisiana at (504) 310-7700. You may visit their
website at www.ca5.uscourts.gov.
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11. Enforcement of a Judgment
A. Bill of Costs
A bill of costs is “a certified, itemized statement of the amount of costs owed by one
litigant to another, prepared so that the prevailing party may recover the costs from the losing
party.” Black’s Law Dictionary 173 (8th ed. 2004). If you prevail, file the Bill of Costs form
no later than 14 days after the Clerk’s Office entered judgment on the docket. See LR 54.1
and ECF Administrative Procedures Manual for filing instructions. The Bill of Costs should
reflect the costs allowable, as shown on the form. The Clerk’s Office does not monitor fees
or costs incurred during a suit except the filing fees remitted to this Court.
Unless the Court specifies another date, the Clerk’s Office will tax the costs 14 days
after filing. If a Bill of Costs includes “other” costs, the Clerk will reduce those costs from
the amount to be taxed, unless a judge has authorized the costs by order. If a party objects
to a Bill of Costs, the Clerk’s Office will not tax costs until ordered to do so by the presiding
Please note that “taxing” consists only of stamping, signing, and sealing with the
Court seal a filed Bill of Costs and placing it in the case record. The Clerk’s Office is not
responsible for collecting or assisting in the collection of costs. The Clerk’s Office will mail
a conformed copy to the party awarded costs upon that party’s request.
B. Registration in Another District
To certify a judgment that has been entered in the Northern District of Texas for
registration in another district, a person must submit a written request to the District Clerk’s
Office for preparation of a Certification of Judgment for Registration in Another District.
The District Clerk’s Office charges a $9.00 fee for the certification, plus $0.50 per page for
a copy of the judgment.
The District Clerk’s Office will prepare the certificate and notify the requesting party
that it is ready to be mailed or available to be picked up. The requesting party is responsible
for ensuring that all requirements of the district of intended registration have been met.
C. Registration in the Northern District
To register a judgment entered in another federal court with the Northern District of
Texas, a person should obtain a Certification of Judgment for Registration in Another District
from the court that entered the original judgment, and then deliver the completed certification
to the Clerk’s Office along with a $39.00 filing fee. The Clerk’s Office will take the
judgment and open it as a miscellaneous case.
D. Writ of Execution
A writ of execution is “a court order directing a sheriff or other officer to enforce a
judgment, usually by seizing and selling the judgment debtor’s property.” Black’s Law
Dictionary 609 (8th ed. 2004). A party wishing to file a Writ of Execution must obtain the
appropriate form online or from the District Clerk’s Office. The party must submit the
original completed form and one copy to the District Clerk’s Office along with an original
and one copy of the USM Form 285 (which is also available from the Marshals Service). If
a USM Form 285 does not accompany the Writ of Execution, the District Clerk’s Office will
return the Writ to the requesting party. The District Clerk’s Office does not assess a fee for
filing a Writ of Execution. However, the Marshals Service does assess a fee for serving the
Writ. Please contact the Marshals Service at (214) 767-0837 for more information.
While the Writ of Execution form is available online, the form cannot be submitted
by electronic means, nor will the District Clerk’s Office issue the Writ of Execution
electronically at this time. The requesting party will be notified upon issuance of the Writ
of Execution. If the requesting party wants a confirmed copy of the Writ, the party must
submit a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
E. Abstract of Judgment
An abstract of judgment is “a copy or summary of a judgment that, when filed with
the appropriate public office creates a lien on the judgment debtor’s non-exempt property.”
Black’s Law Dictionary 10 (8th ed. 2004). If you are the prevailing party and you need an
Abstract issued, use the appropriate form obtained from the Clerk’s Office. You may submit
the form electronically using the Request for Clerk to Issue Document event. There is no fee
for issuance. The Clerk’s Office will mail as many conformed copies to you as you request.
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12. List of Available Forms
The forms listed below are among those available from the District Clerk’s Office or
can be found online at http://www.txnd.uscourts.gov/forms/prose.html:
A. Civil Complaint (General) and Civil Cover Sheet
B. Certificate of Interested Persons
C. Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis
D. Summons in a Civil Case
E. Motion for Appointment of Counsel and Declaration in Support
F. Notice of Appeal
Copies are included as attachments to printed copies of this manual.
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13. Glossary of Terms Used in Civil Litigation
Affidavit – A written statement of facts confirmed by the oath of the party making it, before
a notary or officer having authority to administer oaths.
Affirmed – In the practice of the court of appeals, it means that the court of appeals has
upheld the judgment of the trial court in one or more respects.
Answer – The formal written statement by a defendant responding to a civil complaint and
setting forth the grounds for his or her defense.
Appeal – A request made after a trial by a party that has lost on one or more issues that a
higher court (appellate court) review the trial court’s decision to determine if it was correct.
To make such a request is “to appeal” or “to take an appeal.” One who appeals is called the
“appellant;” the other party is the “appellee.”
Appellate – About appeals; an appellate court has the power to review the judgment of a
lower court (trial court or tribunal). For example, the U.S. circuit courts of appeals review
the decisions of the U.S. district courts.
Bankruptcy – A legal process by which persons or businesses that cannot pay their debts can
seek the assistance of the court in getting a fresh start. Under the protection of the bankruptcy
court, debtors may discharge their debts, usually by paying a portion of each debt.
Bankruptcy judges preside over these proceedings.
Bench trial – Trial without a jury in which a judge decides which party prevails.
Brief – A written statement submitted by a party in a case that explains why the court should
decide the case, or particular issues in a case, in that party’s favor.
Chambers – A judge’s office, typically including work space for the judge’s law clerks and
administrative assistant.
Case law – The law as reflected in the written decisions of the courts.
Chief Judge – The judge who has primary responsibility for the administration of a court;
chief judges in the lower federal courts are determined by seniority, among other rules.
Clerk of the Court – An officer appointed by the judges of the court to assist in managing
the flow of cases through the court, maintain court records, handle financial matters, and
provide other administrative support to the court.
Common law – The legal system that originated in England and is now in use in the United
States that relies on the articulation of legal principles in a historical succession of judicial
decisions. Common law principles can be changed by legislation.
Complaint – A written statement filed by the plaintiff that initiates a civil case, stating the
wrongs allegedly committed by the defendant and requesting relief from the court.
Contract – An agreement between two or more persons that creates an obligation to do or
not to do a particular thing.
Counsel – Legal advice; a term also used to refer to the lawyers in a case.
Court – Government entity authorized to resolve legal disputes. Judges sometimes use
“court” to refer to themselves in the third person, as in “the court has read the briefs.”
Court reporter – A person who makes a word-for-word record of what is said in court,
generally by using a stenographic machine, shorthand or audio recording, and then produces
a transcript of the proceedings upon request.
Damages – Money paid by defendants to successful plaintiffs in civil cases to compensate
the plaintiffs for their injuries.
Default judgment – A judgment rendered in favor of a party asserting a claim because of the
defendant’s failure to answer or appear to contest the claim.
Defendant – The person or organization against whom the plaintiff brings suit.
Deposition – An oral statement made before an officer authorized by law to administer oaths.
Such statements are often taken to examine potential witnesses, to obtain discovery, or to be
used later in trial. See discovery.
Discovery – The process by which lawyers learn about their opponent’s case in preparation
for trial. Typical tools of discovery include depositions, interrogatories, requests for
admissions, and requests for documents. All of these devices help the lawyer learn the
relevant facts and collect and examine any relevant documents or other materials.
Docket – A log maintained by the clerk containing the complete history of each case in the
form of brief chronological entries summarizing the court proceedings, filings or other
En banc – “In the bench” or “as a full bench.” Refers to court sessions with the entire
membership of a court participating rather than the usual number. U.S. circuit courts of
appeals usually sit in panels of three judges, but all the judges in the court may decide certain
matters together. They are then said to be sitting “en banc” (occasionally spelled “in banc”).
Equitable – Pertaining to civil suits in “equity” rather than in “law.” In English legal history,
the courts of “law” could order the payment of damages and could afford no other remedy.
See damages. A separate court of “equity” could order someone to do something or to cease
to do something. See, e.g., injunction. In American jurisprudence, the federal courts have
both legal and equitable power, but the distinction is still an important one. For example, a
trial by jury is normally available in “law” cases but not in “equity” cases.
Evidence – Information presented in testimony or in documents that is used to persuade the
fact finder (judge or jury) to decide the case in favor of one side or the other.
Federal question jurisdiction – Jurisdiction given to federal courts in cases involving the
interpretation and application of the U.S. Constitution, acts of Congress, and treaties.
File – To place a paper in the official custody of the clerk of court to enter into the files or
records of a case.
Garnishment – A court order to collect money or property.
Guardian Ad Litem – A person, usually a parent, appointed by the court to represent a
Habeas corpus – A writ (court order) that is usually used to bring a prisoner before the court
to determine the legality of his imprisonment. Someone imprisoned in state court proceedings
can file a petition in federal court for a “writ of habeas corpus,” seeking to have the federal
court review whether the state has violated his or her rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Federal prisoners can file habeas petitions as well. A writ of habeas corpus may also be used
to bring a person in custody before the court to give testimony or to be prosecuted.
Hearsay – Statements by a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question but heard
about it from someone else. Hearsay is usually not admissible as evidence in court.
Impeachment – The process of calling a witness’s testimony into doubt. For example, if the
attorney can show that the witness may have fabricated portions of his testimony, the witness
is said to be “impeached.”
In forma pauperis – “In the manner of a pauper.” Permission given by the court to a person
to file a case without prepayment of the required court fees because the person cannot pay
Injunction – A court order prohibiting a defendant from performing a specific act, or
compelling a defendant to perform a specific act.
Interrogatories – Written questions sent by one party in a lawsuit to an opposing party as
part of pretrial discovery in civil cases. The party receiving the interrogatories is required to
answer them in writing under oath.
Issue – 1. The disputed point between parties in a lawsuit; 2. To send out officially, as in a
court issuing an order.
Judge – An official of the judicial branch with authority to decide lawsuits brought before
courts. Used generically, the term judge may also refer to all judicial officers, including
Supreme Court justices.
Judgment – The official decision of a court finally resolving the dispute between the parties
to the lawsuit.
Jurisdiction – 1. The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case; 2. The geographic
area over which the court has authority to decide cases.
Jury – The group of persons selected to hear the evidence in a trial and render a verdict on
matters of fact. See also grand jury.
Jury instructions – A judge’s directions to the jury before it begins deliberations regarding
the factual questions it must answer and the legal rules that it must apply.
Jurisprudence – The study of law and the structure of the legal system.
Lawsuit – A legal action started by a plaintiff against a defendant based on a complaint that
the defendant failed to perform a legal duty which resulted in harm to the plaintiff.
Litigation – A case, controversy, or lawsuit. Participants (plaintiffs and defendants) in
lawsuits are called litigants.
Magistrate Judge – A judicial officer of a district court who conducts many pretrial civil
matters to move a case forward, and decides civil cases with the consent of the parties.
Mistrial – An invalid trial, caused by fundamental error. When a mistrial is declared, the
trial must start again with the selection of a new jury.
Motion – A request by a litigant to a judge for a decision on an issue relating to the case.
Opinion – A judge’s written explanation of the decision of the court.
Oral argument – An opportunity for lawyers to summarize their position before the court
and also to answer the judges’ questions.
Panel – 1. In appellate cases, a group of judges (usually three) assigned to decide the case;
2. In the jury selection process, the group of potential jurors; 3. The list of attorneys who are
both available and qualified to serve as court-appointed counsel for criminal defendants who
cannot afford their own counsel.
Party – One of the litigants. At the trial level, the parties are typically referred to as the
plaintiff and defendant. On appeal, they are known as the appellant and appellee, or, in some
cases involving administrative agencies, as the petitioner and respondent.
Petit jury (or trial jury) – A group of citizens who hear the evidence presented by both sides
at trial and determine the facts in dispute. Federal civil juries consist of at least six persons.
See also Jury.
Plaintiff – The person who files the complaint and who asserts claims identifying legal injury
to them in a civil lawsuit.
Pleadings – Written statements filed with the court which describe a party’s legal or factual
assertions about the case.
Precedent – A court decision in an earlier case with facts and legal issues similar to a dispute
currently before a court. Judges will generally “follow precedent”- meaning that they use the
principles established in earlier cases to decide new cases that have similar facts and raise
similar legal issues. A judge will disregard precedent if a party can show that the earlier case
was wrongly decided, or that it differed in some significant way from the current case.
Pretrial conference – A meeting of the judge and lawyers to plan the trial, to discuss which
matters should be presented to the jury, to review proposed evidence and witnesses, and to
set a trial schedule. Typically, the judge and the parties also discuss the possibility of
settlement of the case.
Procedure – The rules for conducting a lawsuit; there are local rules, rules of civil procedure,
criminal procedure, evidence, bankruptcy, and appellate procedure.
Pro per – A slang expression sometimes used to refer to a pro se litigant. It is a corruption
of the Latin phrase “in propria persona.”
Pro se – A Latin term meaning “on one’s own behalf”; in courts, it refers to persons who
present their own cases without lawyers.
Record – A written account of the proceedings in a case, including all pleadings, evidence,
and exhibits submitted in the course of the case.
Remand – The act of an appellate court sending a case to a lower court for further
Reverse – The act of an appellate court setting aside the decision of a trial court. A reversal
is often accompanied by a remand to the lower court for further proceedings.
Service of process – The delivery of writs or summonses to the appropriate party.
Settlement – Parties to a lawsuit resolve their dispute without having a trial. Settlements
often involve the payment of compensation by one party in at least partial satisfaction of the
other party’s claims, but usually do not include the admission of fault.
Statute – A law passed by a legislature.
Statute of limitations – A law that sets the deadline by which parties must file suit to
enforce their rights. For example, if a state has a five year statute of limitations for breaches
of contract, and John breached a contract with Susan on January 1, 1995, Susan must file her
lawsuit by January 1, 2000. If the deadline passes, the “statute of limitations has run” and
the party may be prohibited from bringing a lawsuit; i.e. the claim is “time-barred.”
Sometimes a party’s attempt to assert his or her rights will “toll” the statute of limitations,
giving the party additional time to file suit.
Subpoena – A command, issued under authority of a court or other authorized government
entity, to a witness to appear and give testimony.
Subpoena duces tecum – A command to a witness to appear and produce documents.
Summary judgment – A decision made on the basis of statements and evidence presented
for the record without a trial. It is used when it is not necessary to resolve any factual
disputes in the case as to all or some of the claims.
Temporary restraining order – Prohibits a person from taking an action that is likely to
cause irreparable harm. This differs from an injunction in that it may be granted immediately,
without notice to the opposing party, and without a hearing. It is intended to last only until
a hearing can be held. Sometimes referred to as a “T.R.O.”
Testimony – Evidence presented orally by witnesses during trials or before grand juries.
Toll – See Statute of Limitations.
Tort – A civil wrong or breach of a duty to another person. The “victim” of a tort may be
entitled to sue for the harm suffered. Victims of crimes may also sue in tort for the wrongs
done to them. Most tort cases are handled in state court, except when the tort occurs on
federal property (e.g., a military base), when the government is the defendant, or when there
is diversity of citizenship between the parties.
Transcript – A written, word-for-word record of what was said, either in a proceeding such
as a trial, or during some other formal conversation, such as a hearing or oral deposition.
Trustee – In a bankruptcy case, a person appointed to represent the interests of the
bankruptcy estate and the unsecured creditors. The trustee’s responsibilities may include
liquidating the property of the estate, making distributions to creditors, and bringing actions
against creditors or the debtor to recover property of the bankruptcy estate.
Uphold – The appellate court agrees with the lower court decision and allows it to stand. See
U.S. Attorney – A lawyer appointed by the President in each judicial district to prosecute and
defend cases for the federal government. The U.S. Attorney employs a staff of Assistant
U.S. Attorneys who appear as the government’s attorneys in individual cases.
Venue – The geographical location in which a case is tried.
Verdict – The decision of a trial jury or a judge that determines the guilt or innocence of a
criminal defendant, or that determines the final outcome of a civil case.
Voir dire – The process by which judges and lawyers select a trial jury from among those
eligible to serve, by questioning them to make certain that they would fairly decide the case.
“Voir dire” is a phrase meaning “to speak the truth.”
Witness – A person called upon by either side in a lawsuit to give testimony before the court
or jury.
Writ – A formal written command or order, issued by the court, requiring the performance
of a specific act.
Writ of certiorari – An order issued by the U.S. Supreme Court directing the lower court to
transmit records for a case which it will hear on appeal.

Williams, McClure & Parmelee is dedicated to high quality legal representation of businesses and insurance companies in a variety of matters. We are experienced Fort Worth, Texas civil litigation lawyers in Tarrant County who know Texas courts and Texas law. For more information, please contact the law firm at 817-335-8800. The firm’s office location is 5601 Bridge Street, Suite 300, Fort Worth, Texas 76112.

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