PACER users to receive refunds in $125 million settlement with U.S. judiciary

  • U.S. agrees to $125 million class action settlement with PACER users
  • Legislation to make PACER free remains pending

Oct 11 – The U.S. government has agreed to pay $125 million to refund users of the electronic records system known as PACER to resolve a class action lawsuit alleging the judiciary overcharged members of the public who downloaded court documents.

The settlement, which was disclosed in a filing on Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., would provide automatic reimbursements of up to $350 in fees for anyone who used PACER from April 2010 to May 2018.

Anyone who paid more than $350 during that time can receive a pro rata share of the remaining settlement funds. The “vast majority” of PACER users will be reimbursed in full, the court papers said, and attorneys fees and expenses are capped at 20%.

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The settlement covers only past charges and will not eliminate costly fees the public currently incurs to access records through PACER, though the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in December advanced a bill that would do just that.

Deepak Gupta, a lawyer for the plaintiffs at Gupta Wessler, said on Twitter the accord “reflects a long-awaited recognition by the federal judiciary that it can no longer use PACER fees as a profit center to fund unrelated activities.”

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in a statement said it was pleased to have resolved the case and was focused on modernizing PACER. It noted a judge had found the “vast majority of PACER fees were appropriately allocated.”

Currently, users of PACER, which stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records, are charged $0.10 per page to download documents up to a $3 cap. The cap does not apply to transcripts. The judiciary collects about $150 million in fees annually on average.

Despite calls to make PACER free, the judiciary has resisted doing so, though it has reduced costs. In 2019, the judiciary said it would waive quarterly fees of $30 or less and, more recently, in March agreed to eliminate fees for record searches.

The settlement resolves a 2016 lawsuit filed by the nonprofits the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center and Alliance for Justice alleging the judiciary overstepped its authority when collecting fees.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle in 2018 partly sided with the plaintiffs, holding Congress had not approved using about $198 million in fees for courtroom technology improvements, web-based juror services and a crime victims notification system.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld her decision in 2020, though it had remanded the case to determine if some additional costs were justified.

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

(NOTE: This story has been updated with further details on settlement, comment from Deepak Gupta.)

Read more:

Making PACER database free could require more money for U.S. judiciary, CBO says

Fed judiciary says yes to free PACER searches. Here are the details so far

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

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

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Nate Raymond

Thomson Reuters

Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at

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