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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Hon. Michael McShane, Chief Judge

Melissa Aubin, Clerk of Court

Representing Yourself


Representing yourself in court can be complicated, time consuming, and costly. Failing to follow court procedures can mean losing your case. For these reasons, the Court strongly recommends that parties representing themselves read the Court's Handbook for Self-Represented Parties, and self-represented parties are also urged to work with a lawyer.

Obtaining Assistance

If obtaining a lawyer is not possible, self-represented parties should seek assistance from legal aid organizations or law school legal clinics. A list of legal aid resources for the state of Oregon is available at OregonLawHelp.org.

In addition, after filing a case, self-represented parties may file a motion for appointment of pro bono counsel. More information on requesting pro bono assistance is available on the Pro Bono Representation page.

Substantive Law and Procedural Rules

Substantive Law

Substantive law describes what plaintiffs or petitioners must prove to establish their claims. Each claim will be governed by a different set of laws, including federal or state statutes, administrative rules, or case law.

Procedural Rules

Federal Rules

In addition to substantive law that will govern the outcome of a case, various procedural rules govern the case's path through the court. All litigants, including self-represented parties, are expected to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE), and the Court's Local Rules (LRs).

The FRCP are the rules that all parties are expected to use during the life of a federal case. Cornell University maintains an archive of legal information that includes an online copy of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Generally speaking, a party must follow the rule that permits, requires, or otherwise authorizes the filing of a motion or other document.

The FRE are the rules that describe the allowance and proper use of evidence in a civil trial. Cornell University also maintains an online copy of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Documents, testimony, and other evidence must meet the requirements set out in the FRE to be admitted and considered by a court and/or jury.

In matters arising from 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254 and 2255, some additional rules apply. Those may be found here.

More information about the current rules of practice and procedure rules in federal court is available on the United States Courts website.

Local Rules

The District of Oregon publishes Local Rules that augment or refine the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules are particular to the procedures of this Court and address, for example, the form of pleadings and documents. The Court also publishes Standing Orders that supplement or amend a Local Rule or describe procedures for certain types of cases or litigants.

Case Initiation and Service

To start a case in federal court, a party must file a complaint in person or by mail. For more information about what is to be included in a complaint or petition and its formatting, see Chapter 4 of the Handbook for Self-Represented Parties.

The following documents must accompany the complaint:

For more information, see Chapter 5 of the Handbook for Self-Represented Parties.

Social Security Litigants:

The Supplemental Rules for Social Security Actions Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) apply in cases where a plaintiff is seeking district court review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.  To initiate a case, a plaintiff is required to file:

When the complaint is filed, the Clerk's Office will send a notice of electronic filing to counsel for the Social Security Administration and the Oregon United States Attorney's Office.  Confirmation that the complaint was transmitted is included in the case procedural order. Note: The plaintiff is not responsible for serving the complaint and does not need to include proposed summonses.


Plaintiffs must give the other parties to their lawsuit a copy of every document that they file with the Court. This is referred to as "serving" or "service on" the other parties. For more information about serving a summons and complaint, see Chapter 8 of the Handbook for Self-Represented Parties and Fed.R.Civ.P 4.

Forms for Service

Prisoner Pro Se Litigants

Self-represented prisoners may elect to use one of the following forms to initiate their case in federal court:

In addition, actions filed by prisoners are generally subject to review by a judge to determine if the action meets the standards to proceed or requires dismissal. If you are a state prisoner filing a civil rights case that survives screening, the Court will typically seek a waiver of service on your behalf. If you are a federal prisoner or the state defendant(s) declines to waive service, the Clerk's Office will contact you to request that you submit the required summons(es) and U.S. Marshal instruction forms. For more information specific to initiation of prisoner cases, see Chapter 17 of the Handbook for Self-Represented Parties.

Electronic Filing (E-Filing)

Pleadings are filed using Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF). Self-represented parties may request permission to e-file or to receive electronic notices in their cases. For information on e-filing as a self-represented party, see the Court's Applying to E-File in Your Case page on this website. For more information about CM/ECF, see the CM/ECF User Manual.


After the complaint is filed the Clerk assigns a number to the case and assigns the case to a judge. When your case is assigned to a judge, the Court will issue a Notice of Case Assignment that provides you with contact information for the case administrator and the assigned judge’s courtroom deputy clerk. Once the fee is paid or in forma pauperis status is granted, a Case Assignment Order is issued that outlines the steps the parties must take next and the deadlines by which they must be completed.

Required Documents for Filing Complaints

The following documents must accompany the complaint:

Social Security Litigants are required to file:

What the Clerk’s Office Can and Cannot Do

Although the clerk can answer most questions, we are legally prohibited from providing legal advice.

Notice Regarding U.S. Courts Forms

The Federal Judiciary maintains a current listing of all forms used in the Federal Courts. Attorneys and litigants are advised to first use locally developed forms, when available. In the absence of a local form, attorneys and litigants are to use the most current version of the federal form.