Class Claims PACER Overcharges for Records

     SEATTLE (CN) - PACER, the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system used by federal courts, systematically overcharges for access to court records, users claim in a federal class action.
     Bryndon Fisher sued the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts and its director James C. Duff on Tuesday, alleging breach of contract and illegal exaction.
     PACER's stated policy charges users 10 cents per page for a docket report, up to a maximum of $3. The dockets are displayed in HTML format, so PACER uses a formula based on the number of bytes in a docket to calculate billable pages. But the program contains an error causing too many bytes to be counted, Fisher says.
     "(T)he PACER billing system contains an error. PACER artificially inflates the number of bytes in each extracted page, counting some of those bytes five times instead of just once. As a result, users are systematically overcharged for certain docket reports," the complaint states.
     Fisher says he was overcharged $37 for docket information in the past two years.
     "During the past two years, Fisher accessed 184 court docket reports using PACER and was charged and paid a total of $109.40 to the AO for this access. These charges do not include access to the individual PDF documents, only access to the docket reports.
     "Over this two-year period, based on the formula contained in the PACER User Manual, Fisher should have been charged $72.40, representing an overcharge of $37.00 or approximately 51 percent
     "Fisher has not been reimbursed or otherwise compensated for these overcharges," according to the complaint.
     Fisher says his attorney hired computer experts to find out why the program miscalculates bytes. He says they discovered PACER counts the number of bytes in a docket case caption five times instead of once.
     "If a user accesses an HTML docket report, and the case caption for that docket is more than 850 characters, the systemic billing error manifests itself. This is because, when the caption contains 850 or more characters, the caption contains enough bytes that, when overcounted by five times, it triggers at least one additional $0.10 charge to the user. An exception to this rule applies when the docket is so large that users will have already reached the $3.00 maximum charge regardless of any overcounting of bytes in the case caption.
     "This systemic billing error for docket reports affects the PACER system that is used in all U.S. District Courts, U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims," the complaint states.
     Fisher seeks class certification, refunds, and an injunction.
     PACER users who have damages in excess of $10,000 are excluded from the class.
     Fisher is represented by Beth Terrell with Terrell Marshall, who did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
     A message left on the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts website requesting comment was not immediately returned.