Monday, February 3, 2020

PACER's Day in Court

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will hear arguments in the ongoing litigation about the cost of PACER, the U.S. government's repository of federal court filings. PACER, or Public Access to Court Electronic Records, operates behind a paywall of $0.10 per page for searches and document retrieval. Charges are capped at $3.00 per document, and individual users are not billed unless they incur more than $15.00 in charges during a billing quarter. While the costs of PACER were designed to support the system’s infrastructure, critics have noted that PACER's annual income (more than $145 million) far exceeds the actual operating costs.

As The New York Times reported over the weekend, several consumer groups have filed suit over PACER costs. The complaint highlighted practices of overcharging or double-charging individual users, and also challenged the judiciary's practice of using excess PACER income for costs unrelated to the maintenance of the court records system. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia allowed the suit to proceed; its denial of the government's motion for summary judgment and partial grant of summary judgment on liability in favor of plaintiffs is now on appeal before the D.C. Circuit. Numerous advocates for free access to federal court filings have filed amicus briefs in the case, which has the potential to unlock PACER's paywall.

In the meantime, current members of the Duke Law community have free access to PACER materials through Bloomberg Law's Litigation Intelligence Center. Docket tracking is also available within Bloomberg Law. For filings that pre-date the PACER service, or from state courts, the library's research guide to Court Records and Briefs provides guidance on additional sources for researching court filings. For assistance with any of these resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.