Photo credit: uscourts.gov
On January 24, 2017, U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle granted class certification to plaintiffs alleging that the widely used Public Access to Court Electronic Records system (“PACER”) has been overcharging users for access to online dockets and documents. The class will extend to all users who paid PACER fees between April 2010 and April 2016.
The suit was filed by law firms Gupta Wessler, Motley Rice and the Institute for Public Representation on behalf of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center and the Alliance for Justice. Plaintiffs specifically claim that the site, which is managed by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, is actively in violation of the 2002 E-Government Act which explicitly states that the federal judiciary is allowed to charge fees for document access on PACER only to the extent to which is necessary for the continued maintenance of the system.
Currently, the system—widely used across a number of professional fields from law to journalism—charges users ten cents per page for court records, with some documents costing up to $3 for access. While the prices may seem nominal, when extrapolated across the multitude of users who access the system on a daily basis, the total revenue is staggering. In 2015, alone PACER collected $145 million in fees.
Plaintiffs in the suit allege that the revenues generated from PACER are not used to maintain the system, as dictated by the E-Government Act, but rather are used to subsidize other expenses for the federal court system such as audio systems and flat screen televisions for jurors.
The case is: National Veterans Legal Services Program et al. v. United States of America, case no.: 1:16-cv-00745
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