Court: PACER Fees Should Only be Used to Pay for PACER

by Dennis Crouch

NVLSP v. US (Fed. Cir. 2020)

Litigators and researchers all use PACER to access Federal Court documents.  These documents are typically stored as electronic PDF documents and PACER charges 10¢ per page.  That amount is relatively small, but adds up very quickly once you see how many pages are found in a single docket. The cost is particularly prohibitive for public access — those of us who are monitoring court activity but don’t have a financial interest in the case itself. In addition, it is prohibitive to the public-interest plaintiffs in this case, including the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) and the National Consumer Law Center.

I downloaded this opinion from PACER for a $3 charge.  Obviously, it did not cost the courts that amount to send the download to me. The marginal cost was likely well under 1¢ for the whole document. The Judiciary has argued that the high charge is intended to pay for buying new computers, upgrading computer systems, and all forms of electronic information dissemination.

Here is what the statute says: the courts may charge “reasonable fees” associated with “access to information available through automatic data processing equipment.”  28 U.S.C. § 1913 note (2012).

Several public interest plaintiffs sued in D.C. District Court arguing that the fees should be reduced.  The district court approved the class action and then agreed that the fees were being improperly used — although only partially.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed on Goldilocks grounds.

Plaintiffs contend that under this provision unlawfully excessive fees have been charged for accessing federal court records through [PACER] and that the district court identifies too little unlawful excess. The government argues that the district court identifies too much…. We conclude that the district court got it just right.

Slip Op.

In this particular case, the court found that the courts had thus improperly used funds for several projects, including Courtroom Technology expenses, and E-Juror services. This likely also includes CM/ECF expenditures.

24 thoughts on “Court: PACER Fees Should Only be Used to Pay for PACER

  1. 4

    Dennis, Opinions and orders are free on PACER; you shouldn’t have paid anything to download it. And each attorney (or pro se) of record gets a free download of ever filed document. That’s true whether they’re representing EXXON or public-interest plaintiffs.

  2. 3

    Absolutely agree with this. It is a civil rights issue. The court documents should be available to all. I suspect that Google would host them all for free.

    OT, link to illusionofmore.com

    I wish Dennis would cover more of the news that isn’t about burning down the patent system.

  3. 2

    Off Topic:

    “President Trump on Monday suggested that the U.S. treasury should collect a portion of the potential sale of the social media company TikTok”

    “A very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the treasury of the United States,” Trump said of the potential TikTok sale. “The United States should be reimbursed or paid because without the United States they don’t have anything.” The president added: “It’s a little bit like the landlord-tenant. Without a lease, the tenant has nothing. So they pay what’s called key money or they pay something.”

    link to washingtonpost.com

    Patentees have clearly been going about fighting IPRs the wrong way. If Trump gets a second term, the solution is obvious. It’s just a matter of making the right offer to the White House.

    1. 2.1

      “President Trump on Monday suggested that the U.S. treasury should collect a portion of the potential sale of the social media company TikTok”

      It’s official.

      The U.S. Government is no different from the Mob.

      And Trump is the Mobster-in-Chief.

      He is also the Monster-in-Chief.

      We are all property of the State which is why Trump is free to sacrifice our lives (and the lives of our children) so he can get re-elected.

      And why bother? He is just going to claim massive election fraud and proclaim himself President-For-Life. Or he will send his Stormtroopers to seize all of the ballots so they can be counted “properly”. Then he will proclaim himself President-for-Life.

      There is also the October Surprise coming, when he produces evidence (from the Russians) that Biden did something bad. Maybe he will have Barr arrest him (on Trumped-up charges, of course).

      And whatever happened to his plan to trade Puerto Rico for Iceland? Or was he going to buy Iceland from Denmark with a loan from Deutsche Bank using Puerto Rico as collateral?

      More importantly, am I going to get some of my Pacer money back?

      If you get some Pacer money back are you going to send it on to the clients whom you billed for it?

          1. 2.1.1.2.1

            Night Writer: Honets question, how many commenters on this blog do you think are secretly paid by the tech industry?

            1. 2.1.1.2.1.1

              Some. I am not sure how many, but I would be surprised if Ben is not a paid blogger.

              Any educated person knows that paid bloggers are pervasive throughout the internet. The New York Times has had many articles on it. This blog had a jobs post for a person to manage a team of paid bloggers. It was a non-profit in DC that is funded by the tech industry. Plus if you look at any PR job description they all include controlling the narrative on blogs.

              So there are probably at least a few. Ben is certainly one of them. I suspect too that Ben is also an examiner but being paid to blog as well. The government employees are allowed to take second jobs.

            2. 2.1.1.2.1.2

              You have to realize too that the paid bloggers like Ben have talking points they have to hit.

              One of the talking points is to try and associate people that support the patent right as right wing cra zies.

              The reason I am sure that Ben is a paid blogger is that he hits all the talking points. He is managed and his posts are evaluated. You can tell by his writing. He is working off a script.

        1. 2.1.1.3

          Atari Man,

          I worked for Atari for many years.

          I don’t remember you being there.

          Did you work for Atari or just play our games in your Mother’s basement?

      1. 2.1.2

        I have often spoken out against the violations of Separation of Powers as the property right of a granted patent has been attacked by more than one philosophy.

        The end game of these attacks against property rights is to weaken a vehicle known to cause and promote disruptive innovation.

        While also chastising those who would appear on a patent blog and espouse pure political rhetoric with NO association to patent law (as Malcolm was in the habit of doing, and as NOiP does here), this linked story does have a tie to my beef with how patent law is treated (in the Ends justify the Means – who cares about violations of Separation of Powers mode):

        link to apple.news

        No matter the Ends, especially in legal matters, the Means MUST be proper.

    2. 2.2

      So not surprising that Ben wants to focus on an obscure part of Trump’s madness and not patent law because this is all tied into patents and we are all as crazy as Trump.

      What. A. Troll. Ben. Is.

      MM reincarnated.

          1. 2.2.1.1.1

            If you think that, then you are not paying close enough attention.

            Don’t be like Malcolm who lumped everyone (and I mean literally everyone) that did not agree with him into one bucket.

            1. 2.2.1.1.1.1

              You don’t get it anon. Ben and MM are working from the same script. They are given what to post and merely adopt it to the local blog. And their reactions are scripted.

              You are arguing with a script.

              1. 2.2.1.1.1.1.1

                It is not so much as that I am “arguing with a script,” that I am recognizing the differences in those speaking those same script points and accommodating my responses to the particular weaknesses and individual foibles of that particular reader of those script points.

                For example, on the latest Bits and Bytes post, I have already two comments geared to two different providers of ‘Script Points.”

                The two are vastly different, and thus the responses to each merit differentiation.

                One of (many of) Malcolm’s failings is that he did not bother with differentiation, and thus lumped anyone who disagreed with him in the same bucket. On occasion, he would attempt a retort against me on points that I had never held.

                You should be aware of this so that your retorts do not lose effectiveness.

                Ben certainly is a minion, repeating a script that he clearly does not understand the legal basis behind. But here, you retorted to a person that was not even Ben, and your ‘miss’ cheapens your points against Ben.

      1. 2.2.2

        “An obscure part of Trump’s madness”?

        Patent law is an obscure part of the law to most Americans. Guess it doesn’t matter what the government does in it.

        Really, I’m surprised there’s not more outrage over this in a forum so interested in private property.

        I would’ve expected someone to be saying by now…

        “First they came for the patents, and I did not speak out because I did not own patents…

        Then they came for TikTok, and I did not speak out because I did not own Tiktok…”

      2. 2.2.3

        You should look at it in this light. You are supposed to be intelligent. You have your own ideas no matter who your professor was. And if you can’t answer right to each question you are not a leader. All followers are lemmings period, full stop!

  4. 1

    On a related note, don’t forget about the RECAP Archive on courtlistener.com. You can search and view a wide assortment of dockets and documents, based on people pulling those down from PACER and submitting them to the archive. There is a free Firefox and Chrome extension that makes submitting documents nearly painless, if you are a PACER user and want to contribute.

    Until Congress fixes this problem and makes the law free for everyone, crowdsourcing is the next best thing.

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