I-4-1-2.Commencing a Civil Action

Last Update: 9/13/05 (Transmittal I-4-15)

The claimant, either through his or her attorney or pro se (i.e., on his or her own behalf), commences a civil action by filing a complaint against the Commissioner in a U.S. District Court. If the claimant is indigent, the court may waive the payment of court fees for filing a complaint, allowing the claimant to proceed in forma pauperis.

A. Where Civil Action Must be Filed

The plaintiff, i.e., the individual claimant, institution or agency, must institute the civil action in the U.S. District Court for the judicial district in which he or she resides or has his or her principal place of business. Each state has at least one district court. Some states have a single district court which has regional divisions and some of the larger states have multiple districts. In addition, there are U.S. District Courts in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

If the plaintiff does not reside or have a principal place of business within any such judicial district (e.g., the plaintiff resides in a foreign country), the plaintiff must file the civil action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

B. Proper Defendant in Civil Actions

The Commissioner of Social Security is the proper defendant in a civil action.

Once a civil action is properly instituted, it continues despite a change of the person holding the office of Commissioner or a vacancy in the office.

C. Service of Process

In addition to filing a complaint with the district court, the claimant must serve the Commissioner by sending a copy of the summons and complaint by registered or certified mail to the Office of the General Counsel (OGC). In addition, the claimant must deliver or send by registered or certified mail a copy of the summons and complaint to the U.S. Attorney (or the designee in the U.S. Attorney's office) for the judicial district in which the complaint is filed and to the Attorney General of the United States.