Represented by Motley Rice and co-counsel, PACER users reach $125 million preliminary settlement to refund fees

Motley Rice, with co-counsel Gupta Wessler, reached a $125 million preliminary settlement with the U.S. Government to resolve claims filed by PACER users who alleged fees for the service were improperly used in violation of federal law. 

Plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary approval of the settlement on Oct. 11 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The settlement creates a fund that will automatically reimburse up to $350 for any PACER fees paid between April 21, 2010 and May 31, 2018 (the Class Period), meaning affected users will not have to file a claim for compensation. PACER users who paid more than $350 in fees during the Class Period will receive a proportional share of the remaining amount in the fund. Any unclaimed funds after the first round of settlement checks are distributed will be evenly divided amongst all class members who collected their initial payment, not to exceed the total amount each user paid in fees. 

“We think this is a terrific result for the class,” said Motley Rice attorney Meghan Oliver who represented plaintiffs in the litigation. “The $125 million settlement means that the average PACER user will automatically receive a full refund of PACER fees paid during the class period without having to file a claim. Importantly, this case also shined a light on the fact that many things funded by the PACER fees actually had nothing to do with public access to court records. This vital information helped inspire legislative action that seeks to make PACER free for the average user.”

“When we filed this case, it was unthinkable that we could bring a class action lawsuit against the federal judiciary—in the federal judiciary—and end up getting 100 cents on the dollar in refunds for the average PACER user,” Motley Rice co-counsel Deepak Gupta told The Washington Post. “This settlement has already struck an important blow for transparency going forward.”

PACER litigation background

The E-Government Act was enacted in 2002 to help employ technological advances to improve public access to government records and information. The law allows for the collection of fees in order to fund the operational costs needed to provide and maintain the PACER service. However, plaintiffs have alleged that the Administrative Office of the United States Courts used PACER fees to fund services and purchases unrelated to PACER in violation of the law.

The plaintiffs in the case — nonprofits the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center, and Alliance for Justice — filed litigation in the District of Columbia in 2016 and class certification was granted the following year for people and entities impacted between April 21, 2010 and April 21, 2016. The class consists of hundreds of thousands of members.

Read more about the case and the preliminary settlement in the news: 

Read the settlement agreement. 

Read the full complaint.