Opening A New Civil Case In ECF

The Northern District of California requires that all new civil cases be e-filed, except for cases that are filed under seal or by unrepresented (“pro se”) plaintiffs.

Click the applicable link below to learn about a specific case opening process and what documents are needed after case opening.

IMPORTANT: The ECF case opening procedures for the Northern District of California are different from those in other federal district courts. Please read the instructional information on this page and the on-screen instructions in ECF carefully before and during the case opening process.

I. Case Opening for a Complaint or Notice of Removal & Training Resources

The court has prepared step-by-step training resources to assist e-filers with the case opening process.

Or open and view the web version on your computer by clicking the full-screen button in the lower-right corner of the window below.

Filing a Complaint fully or partially under seal

If you are seeking to have a complaint sealed in its entirety, you must first MANUALLY file a motion to file the case under seal along with your initiating documents. The General Duty Judge will rule on your motion, and if granted, the Intake staff will then assign your case. If the motion is denied the case is generally returned or filed as unsealed. Note that you cannot e-file in a case that is under seal; all subsequent filings will be handled manually until the judge enters an order unsealing the case. If you are seeking to have a complaint partially sealed, follow the steps in the guide for e-filing a new civil case and upload the redacted version of the complaint as your initial document. Once you have filed your redacted complaint, e-file an Administrative Motion to File Under Seal per our FAQ on filing on under seal.

Filing a case with “Doe” (unnamed or anonymous) parties

An application to proceed in the case anonymously must be filed with your complaint when filing as a Doe plaintiff, or if your complaint includes Doe defendants.

II. Case Opening for a Miscellaneous Action

Effective December 2020, civil miscellaneous (MISC) cases filed by represented parties must be opened using the Attorney Miscellaneous Case Opening procedures in CM/ECF.

  1. How do I file a new civil case?

    Nearly all new civil cases must be opened (filed) electronically using the court’s e-filing system, CM/ECF.  Effective December 2020, civil miscellaneous (MISC) cases filed by represented parties must be opened using the Attorney Miscellaneous Case Opening procedures in CM/ECF.

    Manual filing of new case-opening documents is no longer available, except for:

    • Sealed cases
    • Cases brought by unrepresented (“pro se”) litigants

    Online case filing should not be used to reopen or transfer a case. These actions should be accomplished using the appropriate civil events in ECF within the existing case docket.

    For more information, visit the E-filing a New Civil Case webpage.

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  2. How do I file a new civil case under seal?

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  3. What is the fee for filing a new civil case?

    Please see the fee schedule summary page for current fee information.

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  4. What forms are available for filing a new complaint if I’m representing myself?

    Information on the court’s Legal Help Centers as well as forms, handbooks, filing instructions and other resources for individuals representing themselves in federal court is available at Representing Yourself in the United States District Court: Information for Pro Se Litigants.

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  5. I am a pro se litigant filing a new civil case. How do I file my complaint at the Clerk’s Office?

    Pro se litigants (people filing cases without an attorney) should bring their papers for filing to the Clerk’s Office. The Clerk’s Office is open 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. To avoid lines, it is best to come in the mid-morning, during lunchtime, or 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

    If it is not possible to come to the Clerk’s Office during regular business hourse, it is possible to file papers using the drop boxes in the San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose courthouses. Access to the drop boxes is limited for the public by the hours during which the building is open. For complete drop box filing information, see Drop Box Filing Procedures.

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