Lawsuit On Illegal Fees For Access To Court Records Advances
Jan 27, 2017 09:37 AM EST
A lawsuit that claims the public is being overcharged by a federally run online court document access system known as PACER moves forward. The federal judge overseeing the case has classified the suit as a class action. This would mean that anybody who used the service from 2010 to 2016 might be entitled to refund should the defendant, as in this case the U.S. government, lose or settle, according to Ars Technica reports.
The lawsuit was brought last year by three nonprofit organizations, namely -- National Consumer Law Center, Alliance for Justice, and National Veterans Legal Services Program. The nonprofit groups alleged that millions of dollars generated from the 25 percent increase in page fees and such are being illegally spent by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AO). The cost for access was 10 cents per page and up to $3 per document. Although this wouldn't weigh heavy on the pockets for some, it might make it impossible for others to access court records.
The nonprofit groups also claimed in the lawsuit that the fees were illegal because the government is charging more than necessary to keep PACER afloat - which the Congress requires. They cited the E-Government Act of 2002 to support their claim. The law authorizes PACER fees necessary to reimburse expenses in providing services such as access to court records but instead, the AO used the extra revenue to fund other information-technology-related projects.
Further, the lawsuit claims that when the fees were increased to 10 cents per page in 2012, the amount of income from PACER increased to $145 million. Moreover, PACER refused to provide a four-month fee exemption for journalists and even sued a woman claiming that she owed them more than $30,000 in document retrieval fees. U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle noted that the ruling means the case advances to litigating the merits of the case and not the challenge on the PACER fee schedule.
However, in a separate order, she instructed the plaintiffs, in this case, the nonprofit groups, to notify PACER users if they want to join the lawsuit. The merits will be litigated soon once the order has been implemented.