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.

III. Downloading Documents After A Judge Is Assigned

After court staff have randomly assigned your case to a judge, you will receive a Notice of Electronic Filing informing you of the name of the assigned judge and whether that judge is a district judge or a magistrate judge.

1. Judge’s Standing Orders.

On the judges’ index page on the court’s website, locate your assigned judge and open his or her webpage. Review the information provided about your assigned judge and download and review the judge’s standing orders. You are required to serve the standing orders, together with the other documents listed below, on the defendants in the case.

2. Additional Documents To Download/Print, Review And Serve:

All Judges:


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