Federal Judge Rules That Judiciary Is Misusing PACER Fees

On March 31, a federal district court judge in Washington, DC, held that the fees collected by PACER—the electronic records system of the federal court system—are being used for purposes not authorized by law. PACER has a complex fee structure, but simply described, it charges users 10 cents per page, with a maximum of $3 per document. The National Veterans Legal Services Program filed a class-action lawsuit challenging PACER’s fees, alleging that the law authorizing PACER to charge fees only permits it to charge “reasonable fees” necessary to cover the operation and maintenance of PACER itself. PACER actually makes significantly more money than is required to maintain the system, and the courts have used this windfall for such purposes as updating technology in courtrooms.

The district court rejected the interpretations of both the plaintiffs and the government in this case, relying instead on its own reading of the statute. Under the court’s interpretation, PACER fees must be used in ways that “provide[] the public with ‘access to information available through automatic data processing equipment.'”

Additional Reading

Court Says PACER System Is Illegally Using Fees, TechDirt, April 2, 2018

Lawsuit Filed Over PACER Fees, TechDirt, April 22, 2016

Complete Docket Report for National Veterans Legal Services Program v. United States

Memorandum Opinion (March 31, 2018)