Monday, April 2, 2012

The High Cost of PACER (and Some Alternatives)

Reference Librarian Kelly Leong highlights changes to PACER’s fee structure, and some alternatives for federal court docket searching.

Effective April 1 (no fooling), PACER’s page-view charge has increased to 10 cents, from 8 cents. This is the first time the fee for access to the federal courts’ docket information and filings has increased since 2005. The fees, in general, fund the costs of operating PACER and the increase will be used for maintenance and improving access, according to a statement published by PACER on September 13, 2011.

From the statement issued by the Judicial Conference (the judicial body which oversees PACER), it does not appear that the current individual document cap of $2.40 will be raised. The user billing exemption has also been raised from $10 to $15 per quarter, meaning that if you are a casual user of PACER, this rise in charges should not affect your use or bottom-line.

However, threats of higher bills remind us that there are other resources available to assist your PACER research. Here are just a few tips for researching federal court dockets (our research guide to Court Records & Briefs has more):

  1. PACER offers its own free tutorials.
  2. Be sure to gather as much case information as possible before using PACER. Court websites continue to improve, at the both the federal and state levels, by providing more information about pending cases. Visit the court website to ascertain information, such as case name, case number and other identifying details. Justia Docket Search is another helpful free source for locating important case information from federal courts, 2004-present.
  3. Legal blogs often provide PDF images of court documents from high profile or interesting cases.
  4. For our law students and others with access to Westlaw and LexisNexis, it is common to find court documents in either system.
  5. Bloomberg Law, available to Duke Law students, faculty and staff, provides access to PACER materials through its interface. To register with Bloomberg, contact the Reference Desk.
For more information on accessing court documents, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

--Kelly Leong, Reference Librarian