Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Will Law Firms "Opt In" to The PACER Fees Class Action?

Law firms have begun receiving class action notices inviting them to join a class action alleging that the Pacer (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system has been overcharging for online access to  federal court dockets and documents. In April 2016, The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts which oversees the PACER system was sued by  three nonprofits: National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center and the Alliance for Justice.  The complaint alleges that the government has violated the E-Government Act of 2002 – which permits the federal judiciary to charge for PACER “only to the extent necessary.” Apparently someone stretched the definition of “necessary” to include flat screen TVs and audio systems. PACER charges 10 cents a page up to $3.00 per court record. In a large law firm with thousands of lawyers PACER fees can exceed hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and over six years - some firms could have paid over $1 million for PACER documents-- not exactly "chump change". It is yet to be determined what percentage of those charges would  considered excessive should the Plaintiffs prevail in this suit.

Not Just for Non Profits
Back in January U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle in the District of Columbia granted certification of a class comprised of anyone who paid PACER fees during the six years before April 21, 2016 (but  excluding class counsel in this case and federal government entities.)

The Pacer Class Action Page is located here.

The Class Notice is located here.

The Paradox of PACER. For research nerds like me the complaint provides an interesting recap of the evolution or PACER. To anyone who uses PACER they will be appalled to hear that there were excess funds that were not applied to improving the PACER system itself --but were redirected to other uses. PACER is a monument to the best technology of the 1980's. It is a primitive system by 21st Century standards.... and yet it harbors  veins of data which commercial enterprises are mining to use  as the core building blocks of historical and predictive analytics. I welcome the innovators Lex Machina, PacerPro, Ravel Law, Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, Lexis Nexis, Docket Alarm, Justly come to mind... would be nice if they could donate some 21st Century technology and algorithms to the "mother of all docket systems" so that it can better serve its main constituency -- the American public.

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