U.S. reaches tentative settlement in excessive PACER fees lawsuit

A person rides a bicycle past the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. May 13, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Deal would resolve a 2016 proposed class action
  • Nonprofit groups claimed courts-run online records system charged excessive fees

(Reuters) - The U.S. government has agreed in principle to resolve a class action lawsuit brought by a group of nonprofits alleging the federal judiciary overcharged the public for access to court documents through its PACER system.

The tentative settlement was disclosed in a status report filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Monday, more than a year after an appellate court concluded the judiciary improperly covered some of its expenses with PACER fees.

Terms of the potential deal were not disclosed. Lawyers with the U.S. Justice Department and for the plaintiffs said the deal still needs to be finalized and that they hoped to provide an update by Jan. 20.

William Narwold of Motley Rice, who represents the nonprofits with Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler, declined to comment, saying the agreement remains confidential.

Representatives for the Justice Department and the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts did not respond to requests for comment.

In a 2016 lawsuit, three national nonprofit organizations — the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center and Alliance for Justice — alleged that PACER fees charged between 2010 and 2016 were excessive.

PACER, which stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records, is run by the Judicial Conference of the United States. Users pay $0.10 per page with a cap of $3 per document (with transcripts excluded).

The lawsuit was brought as a class action on behalf of anyone who paid PACER fees from April 2010 to April 2016. The judiciary collected $923 million in PACER fees during the fiscal years 2010 to 2016, according to court filings.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle in 2018 rejected some of the plaintiffs' claims while also holding that some of the judiciary's expenditures went beyond what Congress had authorized.

That included spending $192 million in PACER system fees on court technology projects, the judge said. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld her decision in August 2020.

The case is National Veterans Legal Services Program v. United States, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 16-cv-745.

For the plaintiffs: William Narwold, Meghan Oliver and Elizabeth Smith of Motley Rice; and Deepak Gupta and Jonathan Taylor of Gupta Wessler

For the United States: Jeremy Simon and Robert Caplen of the U.S. Justice Department

Read more:

Federal Circuit rules U.S. courts overcharged on PACER, plaintiffs' lawyer predicts big refunds

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.