Welcome
The United States Law Week

PACER’s Court Records Should Be Free, Lawmakers Say (2)

Feb. 13, 2019, 4:25 PMUpdated: Feb. 13, 2019, 10:09 PM

Fees charged for public records through the federal court’s electronic document management system would be eliminated under bipartisan legislation reintroduced in the U.S. House.

It’s unreasonable to overcharge Americans for public court records through PACER, co-sponsors Republican Doug Collins of Georgia and Democrat Mike Quigley of Illinois said in a statement announcing the legislation.

“This legislation will help ensure transparency and access,” Collins said in a statement to Bloomberg Law.

A lawsuit by legal groups representing consumers, veterans and others claim the system takes in more in fees each year than it costs to run it.

The Electronic Court Records Reform Act’s future is uncertain, however. There are two other bipartisan House co-sponsors, but no companion legislation in the Senate. Similar legislation died in the House Judiciary Committee last year.

The proposal also seeks to modernize the “antiquated” PACER website and promote “accessibility by enabling direct links to documents,” according to the release. Further, it would require visual and audio court records to be made available on the system.

PACER has more than 1 million users.

A class action filed by three nonprofit organizations—the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center and the Alliance for Justice—is challenging PACER fees as excessive, in a case currently at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The suit alleges that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts collected more than $145 million in PACER fees in 2014, much of which was more than necessary to recoup the system’s costs.

A spokesperson for the courts’ office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler PLLC in Washington, who represents the plaintiffs, welcomed the legislation as overdue.

The plaintiffs “are thrilled to see members of both parties in Congress come together to tear down the paywall for federal court records,” Gupta told Bloomberg Law.

“As our lawsuit has revealed, the federal court system has long been charging far more than is necessary to make these records available to the public, in violation of current federal law,” Gupta said.

An attorney who represents seven retired federal judges in the case, including Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, as a friend of the court supporting neither side, agreed.

“The best policy is to make PACER free,” Sean Marotta of Hogan Lovells US LLP in Washington, said. “The economics of electronic information make that easy.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick L. Gregory in Washington at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com