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HALLEX I-4-102
Office of Hearings and Appeals
Social Security Administration (S.S.A.)
Department of Health and Human Services

Volume I
Division IV: Civil Action
Subject: New Court Cases
Chapter: I-4-100

June 30, 1994

Current through June 1997

I-4-102 COMMENCING A CIVIL ACTION

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 Secretary 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 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 of the larger states have multiple districts. In addition, there are United States 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 United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

B. Proper Defendant in Civil Actions

The person holding the office of Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) is, in his or her official capacity, the proper defendant when a civil action is commenced. If the plaintiff erroneously files the complaint against the Secretary in his or her individual capacity or against the United States or any agency, office or employee of the United States instead of the Secretary, the Office of the General Counsel (through the U.S. Attorney) will request the court to change the record to reflect that the Secretary of HHS is the proper defendant.

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

C. Service of Process

In addition to filing a complaint with the district court, the claimant must serve the Secretary by sending a copy of the summons and complaint by registered or certified mail to the General Counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services at 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20201. In addition, the claimant must deliver a copy of the summons and complaint to the U.S. Attorney or his or her designee in the U.S. Attorney's office for the judicial district in which the complaint is filed and send a copy to the Attorney General of the United States by registered or certified mail.

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