PACER lawsuit finally settles
Technology for Lawyers
Published: October 28, 2022
The three-year-old class action lawsuit filed by two nonprofits against the federal judiciary over PACER fees has finally settled, in a case this column has followed since its inception.
Users of the PACER system, which stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records and is the only way to access federal court filings, will receive a total of $125 million. The attorneys in the case will get fees capped at 20%.
The plaintiffs had filed a suit alleging that PACER fees were used for unauthorized expenses by the judges who oversee the program. After review, the allegations did turn out to be true and so this lawsuit followed.
Despite a cacophony of calls to make PACER free to the public, including a bill currently proposed in the Senate, the feds have continued to charge for using the system. It costs 10 cents a page to download documents, with a $3 cap. That doesn’t cover transcripts.
The judiciary collects about $150 million a year in fees.
This case did not challenge charging the fees, but only how they were used.
The settlement will provide automatic disbursements of up to $350 for anyone who used PACER between April 2010 and May 2018.
Since most PACER users are small potatoes folks (like me), the court filing notating the settlement said that most users will be reimbursed in full. (I’ll let you know if I get my $10 back. Minus the 20% of course).
The lawsuit was brought in 2016 by the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center and the Alliance for Justice, alleging that the fees were basically used as a profit center, and that some of the fees were used to purchase unauthorized items for the courts—even though a judge did find that the vast majority of the fees were used properly.
But now, all of the fees will be used properly.
The case is National Veterans Legal Services Program v. United States, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 16-cv-745.
The settlement document is here (of course, on PACER): https://tmsnrt.rs/3CRF2gC.
Thanks to some reporting from Reuters.