Representing Yourself (Pro Se)
If you wish to file a civil action in federal court, but do not have an attorney to represent you, you may bring your case on your own. This is called “proceeding pro se” which means that you are representing yourself in court, and you are called a “pro se litigant.”
This page is designed to provide information to people who are representing themselves in civil cases in the United States District Court for District of Hawaii. Although the page provides information and useful documents, it is not a substitute for legal advice from an experienced attorney. If you can afford to hire a lawyer to represent you or can find low-cost or free professional legal help, you are strongly encouraged to do so.
A civil case, which is the only type of case you can file in federal court, is different from a criminal case, which can only be brought by government officials. In a civil case, you do not have a constitutional right to appointed counsel. If you file a civil case pro se, therefore, you should be prepared to pursue it to completion on your own because the court appoints counsel only under certain limited circumstances that may not be met by your case.
Before you file your case, you should read the relevant Pro Se Handbook. You should also read the Local Rules of Practice for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii and the applicable Federal Rules so that you are familiar with the procedural rules that you must follow throughout your lawsuit. After you have filed your case, you should review the assigned judges’ individual requirements. Finally, you should become familiar with the forms made available to you by the court. All prisoner complaints, petitions, or motions challenging a conviction or sentence must be legibly written or typewritten on approved court forms. Documents that do not substantially conform to court forms may be stricken or dismissed. The Clerk’s Office can provide you with procedural assistance but is legally prohibited from providing legal advice.
How To Guidance For Pro Se Litigants - Pro Se Handbooks
Disclaimer: This guide is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of Practice for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii control how civil cases must be filed and processed. (See the "Rules You Must Follow" section below).
1. Pro Se Handbooks
You should not expect this handbook to answer all your questions. You should consider them as a starting point only. This handbook is not legal advice and should not be cited as legal authority. The court may take actions contrary to information contained in this handbook.
Pro Se Litigant Handbook: A Guide to Filing Your Lawsuit
Pro Se PRISONER Handbook: A Guide to Filing an Action While Incarcerated
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of Practice for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii control how civil cases must be filed and processed.
1. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
The Federal Rules govern the filing of civil lawsuits in federal court, and you should be familiar with them.
. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
2. Local Rules of Practice for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii
The Local Rules govern the practice of law in the District of Hawaii and are additional to the Federal Rules. You must follow both the Federal Rules and the Local Rules. The Local Rules are available on the court’s website: http://www.hid.uscourts.gov. If you do not understand a rule, consult an attorney. The Clerk’s Office cannot interpret the rules for you.
Local Rules of Practice for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii
Forms You Need to Complete to File a New Case
You will need to complete the following forms to initiate a new civil case, in addition to the Civil Filing Fee or an Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (IFP):
- Civil Cover Sheet
- Summons in a Civil Action (Required for service, after payment, or when the Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (In Forma Pauperis Application) is granted.
Note: If you cannot afford to pay the required civil filing fee you can complete the Application for Waiving Fees and Costs
Copies of these forms can be found at the Clerk’s Office and are also available on the court’s website: http://www.hid.uscourts.gov and www.uscourts.gov (link). Other forms are available at the Clerk’s Office and on the court’s website, but you are not required to complete these forms unless they specifically apply to you.
1. Civil Forms (For Pro Se Litigants)
To start a lawsuit in federal court, you must first file a complaint. A complaint tells the judge and the defendants how and why you believe the defendants violated the law in a way that injured you and explains what you want the court to do for you.
2. Civil Forms (For Use By Pro Se Prisoners)
Application To Proceed In Forma Pauperis By a Prisoner (IFP) and Instructions
Prisoner Civil Rights Complaint and Filing Instructions
Petition for Relief From a Conviction or Sentence By a Person in State Custody (Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a Writ of Habeas Corpus)
Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct a Sentence By a Person in Federal Custody (Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255)
Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 for a Writ of Habeas Corpus
3. Other Forms
National Court Forms
Checklist for Filing Your New Case
- Review the following checklist to ensure that you are fully prepared to file your case.
- Read through “Pro Se Litigant Handbook: A Guide to Filing Your Lawsuit.”
- Obtain court forms for use in filing your case, available online or at the Clerk’s Office. You may also prepare your own forms that comply with the District of Hawaii’s Local Rules and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
- Fill out all forms completely (including the Civil Cover Sheet, Complaint, Summons, and if applicable, Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (AO240)). Do not forget to sign your documents.
- Print your contact information on the Complaint and Civil Cover Sheet, including address and telephone number. It is your responsibility to notify the court in writing of any change of address.
- Have cash, check, or money order, ready at the time of filing to pay the civil filing fee and any copying or certification fees.
- If you cannot afford to pay the civil filing fee, submit a completed Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (AO240). The Clerk will not issue the summons until the judge rules on your filed application.
- Fill out a separate summons for each defendant, including their address and the amount of days to file an answer.
- Bring (or mail) your completed documents to the Clerk’s Office. Submit an extra copy if you want a file-stamped copy for your Records. The Clerk’s Office will retain the original documentss.
You may file your documents in person at the Clerk’s Office in Honolulu. The Clerk’s Office is open Monday through Friday, excluding federal holidays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
You may also mail your document to the Clerk’s Office for filing.
The Clerk’s Office is located at: United States District Court Clerk’s Office 300 Ala Moana Blvd., Room C-338 Honolulu, HI 96850 Phone: (808) 541-1300
When the Clerk’s Office is closed, a “drop box” located directly outside the Courthouse is available for receiving documents for filing. Perfected documents placed in the drop box and date stamped after hours, will be filed for the time they were placed into the drop box. As a pro se litigant, you may not file your documents electronically without permission from the court.
Pro Se Electronic Notifications
Parties who are not represented by an attorney and are not currently incarcerated may
choose to receive documents in their cases electronically (by e-mail) instead of by regular
mail. Receiving documents by regular mail is still an option, but if you would rather receive
them electronically, you must do the following: (please click on the links to access the form):
- CLERKS NOTICE- Regarding Consent to Receive Notices of Electronic Filing's (NEFs)
- Provided to all Pro Se Litigants (non-prisoner) upon filing a new civil action.
- Outlines all technical requirements.
- Provides instructions for completing the Consent to Receive Documents and Notices of Electronic Filing by E-mail (HID Form 12)
- HID Form 12- Pro Se (Non-Prisoner) Consent to Receive Document's and Notices of Electronic Filing (NEF's) by E-mail
- Used for Pro Se Litigants to express consent to receive documents and notices by e-mail, in lieu of U.S. Mail.
- Includes a written acknowledgement regarding access to an e-mail account, receiving NEF's, free looks, PACER, and the need to continue to file documents in paper form (if they are not granted permission to E-File.
- HID Form 12a-Cancellation of E-Mail Receipt of Documents and Notices
- Used to request the cancellation of notifications of court documents by e-mail.
- Pro Se Litigant acknowledges that documents will be delivered by U.S. Mail.
- HID Form 13- Notice of Change of Address or Other Contact Information
- Used to update personal contact information, including e-mail.
- Pro Se Litigant are required to immediately file this form in each case that they receive electronic notifications, to continue to receive NEF's
- Technical Guide for Receiving Notices of Electronic Filing (NEF's) and Accessing Free Looks of Court Documents and Notices by E-mail.
- Provides an overview of NEF's, including a diagram, and directions for properly accessing documents.
- Explains free looks, and how they work.
- Provides best practices for viewing, saving, and printing NEF's.
- Explains access to sealed documents and locked transcripts; parties continue to receive NEF's, however free looks are not permitted in CM/ECF.
- Includes detailed information regarding PACER registration, and how to reach the Clerk's Office CM/ECF help desk.
After a complaint is filed and a case is opened, the docket and all documents in the case are maintained in an electronic format so that they can be viewed on a computer. Attorneys are required to file documents electronically (“e-file”). Parties representing themselves are not required to e-file, but many choose to do so, on a case-by-case basis, with advanced permission from the Judge assigned to each case . To obtain permission to e-file, you must do the following: (please click on the links to access the form):
- CLERK'S NOTICE- Regarding Electronic Filing of Court Documents Using CM/ECF (E-File)
- Provided to Pro Se Litigants upon filing a new civil action, or making an appearance in a case, as a pro se defendant.
- Outlines the 5 (five) steps required to request permission to E-File:
- Step 1-Meet the technical requirements to E-File.
- Step 2-Register for a PACER account.
- Step 3-Seek Permission to E-File from the Judge.
- Step 4-Review the Court's on-line E-Filing tutorials
- Step 5-Submit your CM/ECF Registration Form.
- HID Form 14- Application for Permission to Participate in Electronic Filing (E-File)
- Used for Pro Se Litigants to ask the Courts permission to participate in E-Filing.
- Required to be filed in each case that the Pro Se Litigant seeks permission to e-file. Not a blanket request for all cases.
- Includes consent to receive Notices of Electronic Notification by E-mail. No paper service by U.S. Mail.
- Outlines required technical requirements to E-File successfully
- Pro Se Litigant must certify that they meet all technical requirements.
- CM/ECF Registration Form
- Used to obtain CM/ECF credentials (log in and password) required to E-File.
Pro Se Filing Procedures During COVID-19 Response
What the Clerk’s Office Can and Cannot Do
The Clerk’s Office is available to help answer many of your questions. However, the Clerk’s Office is legally prohibited from providing legal advice.
Below is a summary of what the Clerk’s Office can, and cannot, provide for you.
- Provide information from your case file and help you access information from the public computer station.
- Provide available court forms and instructions.
- Give legal advice.
- Tell you whether or not you should file a case.
- Tell you what words you should use in your court pleadings/papers.
- Talk to the judge for you or let you talk to the judge outside of court.
- Compute deadlines in your case.
- Interpret the Federal Rules or Local Rules.
- Tell you what document you should file.
- Predict how or when the judge might rule on your case.
1. PACER LINK-Accessing The Courts Docket After Filing
After you have filed your complaint, your case will be opened on the court’s Case Management/Electronic Case Filing System (CM/ECF), which allows parties to see everything that is filed on the docket through PACER. PACER stands for “Public Access to Court Electronic Records.” It is a service of the United States Courts. To view documents and obtain docket information on PACER, visit the PACER system at www.pacer.gov. If you do not have a computer, you can use the public computers in the Clerk’s Office to obtain docket information.
2. Glossary of Legal Terms
Glossary of Legal Terms | United States Courts (uscourts.gov)
3. Legal Assistance Agencies
American Civil Liberties Union P.O. Box 3410 Honolulu, HI 96801 (808) 522-5900 https://acluhi.org
Domestic Violence Action Center P.O. Box 3198 Honolulu, HI 96801-3198 (808) 531-3771 http://www.stoptheviolence.org
Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice P.O. Box 37952 Honolulu, HI 96837-0952 (808) 587-7605 http://www.hiappleseed.org
Hawaii Civil Rights Commission 830 Punchbowl St., Rm. 411 Honolulu, HI 96813 (808) 586-8636 http://labor.hawaii.gov/hcrc/
Hawaii Disability Rights Center 1132 Bishop St., Ste. 2102 Honolulu, HI 96813 (808) 949-2922 http://www.hawaiidisabilityrights.org
Hawaii Innocence Project William S. Richardson School of Law 2515 Dole Street Honolulu, HI 96822 (808) 956-6547 http://www.hawaiiinnocenceproject.org
Hawaii Justice Foundation P.O. Box 1230 Honolulu, HI 96813 (808) 537- 3886 http://www.hawaiijustice.org
Hawaii State Judiciary http://www.courts.state.hi.us/
Legal Aid Society of Hawaii 942 Bethel St. Honolulu, HI 96813 (808) 536-4302 http://www.legalaidhawaii.org
Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation 1164 Bishop St., Ste. 1205 Honolulu, HI 96813 (808) 521-2302 http://nhlchi.org
Na Loio 810 N. Vineyard Blvd., Ste. 1 Honolulu, HI 96817 (808) 847-8829 http://naloio.org
United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission www.eeoc.gov (800) 669-4000
University of Hawaii Elder Law Program 2515 Dole Street, Room 201 Honolulu, HI 96822 (808) 956-6544 https://www.hawaii.edu/uhelp/
Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii 545 Queen St., Ste. 100 Honolulu, HI 96813 (808) 528-7046 https://www.vlsh.org/
4. Local Law Libraries
Hawaii Supreme Court Law Library 417 S. King Street, Room 115 Honolulu, HI 96813 (808) 539-4964
University of Hawaii, William S. Richardson School of Law Library 2525 Dole Street Honolulu, HI, 96822-2328 https://library.law.hawaii.edu/
Second Circuit Court Law Library 2145 Main Street, Room 207 Wailuku, HI 96793 (808) 244-2960
Third Circuit Court Law Library-Hilo 777 Kilauea Avenue Hilo, HI 96720 (808) 961-7438
Third Circuit Court Law Library Kona Keakealani Building Kealakekua, HI 96750 (808) 322-8729
Fifth Circuit Court Law Library 3970 Kaana Street, Suite 100 Lihue, HI 96766-1281 (808) 482-2327