Are PACER Fees Illegally High?
A lawsuit filed late last week alleges that the fees PACER charges for user access to public court filings are too high. Lawyers, law firms, and the public use the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system to view and download documents that are electronically filed with federal courts all over the country. The class action lawsuit, filed by the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center, and the Alliance for Justice, alleges that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, which runs PACER, currently charges fees that are used not just to reimburse expenses for PACER but also to fund other court programs, in violation of law. Specifically, the E-Government Act of 2002 authorizes PACER fees, which are billed by the page, only to the extent necessary to reimburse the costs of running PACER. However, the complaint states that PACER revenue instead has been used to purchase courtroom flat screens and audio systems, among other things, and that the Administrative Office has discouraged fee waivers and even aggressively pursued collections efforts against those who do not pay the fees for document access. The complaint details a long history of “illegal exaction” - overcharging and misuse of funds related to PACER - asking for the fees to be declared excessive and for return of fees that exceed the amount allowed by law.
The court fight over PACER fees will likely come down to wrestling with statutory interpretation of the E-Government Act and also showing how the ways the fees were used may not have complied with the act. This lawsuit is a reminder that while the government may charge fees for services, it is never safe to assume that the money is being used only to pay for the cost of the services.
— By Julia Damron, Esq., Barnes Law
Julia Damron is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in California.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
 For more about class actions, see Keobopha Keopong’s article “UBER LESSON #2: CLASS ACTIONS & CLASS CERTIFICATION”, April 24, 2016, at http://www.barneslawllp.com/uber-lesson-2-class-actions-class-certification/.
 National Veterans Legal Services Program, et al. v. United States, April 21, 2016, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, available at: http://www.afj.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Pacer-Complaint.pdf; see also “Alliance for Justice sues the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts for charging excessive and illegal fees to access court records”, Alliance for Justice, April 21, 2016, http://www.afj.org/press-room/press-releases/alliance-for-justice-sues-the-administrative-office-of-the-u-s-courts-for-charging-excessive-and-illegal-fees-to-access-court-records.