What Happened to the Information Removed From PACER?

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An earlier blog post alerted you to the news that selected docket information for several federal courts has been removed from PACER due to a stated incompatability issue with the newest version of Electronic Filing System software. To follow up that change, we have been looking into ways users can access the information that was previously available on PACER. Thanks to the work of graduate assistant, Kate Dickson, and reference librarian, Jonathan Rountree, we have compiled the following to let you know how you would access the information previously available, but now removed, from PACER. We include below both the information for requesting the information directly from the courts affected and also availability of information on commercial databases subscribed to by the UNC Law Library.

Accessing Docket Information Directly from the Courts Affected by the Removal of Information:

Second Circuit (for cases filed prior to January 1, 2010)

Phone: 212-857-8500, Email: clerkmail@ca2.uscourts.gov

The court can send documents electronically or mail the hard copies to you. The electronic copies of documents have a flat rate of a $30 fee for each case. If you are in need of hard copies the fee is .50 cents per page. The request will receive a response that day or the next day on what is needed for payment and letting you know if the documents need to be ordered from archives.

Seventh Circuit (for cases filed prior to CM/ECF conversion)

Phone: 312-435-5850

All closed cases, regardless of date, are sent to the archives. In order to get copies of documents, one would call the clerk’s office and make a request for the specific documents needed. There is a $63 fee per case to retrieve the case file from the archives, and the cost to copy is 50 cents per page. Hard copies would be mailed to the requester, who would need to provide a UPS or FedEx account number to cover the cost of shipping. It takes at least a few days for documents to be sent from the archives.

*The clerk with whom we spoke was unaware of the changes to PACER, and thus this may not reflect any changes following the removal of PACER information.

Eleventh Circuit (cases filed prior to January 1, 2010)

Phone: 404-335-6100

All of the 2009 files are in the process of being archived, and all of the files from earlier dates are already archived. Each case has two separate “lots” in the archives: Lot 1 (briefs) and Lot 2 (the administrative file). The fee to retrieve each lot from the archives is $64 ($128 total for both lots), after which there is a 50 cents per page charge to copy. Documents are mailed in hard copy, and the process takes two to three weeks.

Federal Circuit (cases filed prior to March 1, 2012)

Phone: 202-275-8000

They require that all requests for files be in writing, so someone making a request would need to send them a fax describing exactly what documents they need (the fax number is 202-275-9678). They will then look up the documents and call to explain what they have and where it is. All case files from pre-1985 are in the archives, and require a $63 fee to retrieve them. Later case files are sometimes in the archives and sometimes not. For all files, there is a fee of 50 cents per page for copies, and they will send them in hard copy. Retrieving a file from the archives can take up to a week.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California (cases filed prior to May 1, 2001)

Phone: 855-460-9641

For cases filed prior to December 1, 2003 and closed more than a year (this would include the time frame for the information removed from PACER) the case documents have been archived at NARA. The fee to request these documents is $64 for the first box and $39 for each additional box, plus a fee of .50 cents per page for copies. The court will notify the requester when the boxes have arrived at the clerk's office, but the process can take a couple of weeks.

Contacting NARA Directly:

It is possible to contact the National Archives directly for documents held at the National Archives. However, in order to do this, you must know the case number, transfer number, box number, and location number for the documents needed, which must be obtained from the court if you do not have that information. Documents can be requested via an online request form. Copying and shipping fees still apply.

Documents Available from Commercial Databases Subscribed to by the UNC Law Library:

The good news for UNC law students and law faculty is that basic docket information, including dockets sheets are still available for the removed court files on Bloomberg. Although docket sheets may be viewed generally (an exception exists for the Seventh Circuit where some pre-2008 cases do not show up on PACER with their full docket sheets), any document not available in the system at the time of the removal of information from PACER may not be retrieved from Bloomberg. If a case is still open, it may still be available for document retrieval on Bloomberg; however, generally stated, only documents that the Bloomberg database had already retrieved from PACER prior to the removal of information from PACER can be obtained on Bloomberg through its docket search.

Lexis and Westlaw have fewer federal court docket filings available to the law school community than PACER, due in part to their more limited offerings for academic users prior to the removal of PACER information. Although we do not have access to Lexis's CourtLink database, it should be noted that their holdings appear the same as Bloomberg's - no new documents can be retrieved from the affected courts pre-cutoff. Those documents can not be updated, as PACER was the source.

Westlaw notes that the update link, docket tracking, and document image functionality are unavailable for cases filed prior to the cutoff dates on PACER.

Thus, in sum, for commercial databases, it is not possible to retrieve PACER documents that have been removed from the PACER database that were not already present in the commercial database at the time the cutoff was enacted. The good news is that docket sheets may still be available to facilitate finding documents that may be needed, but it may in fact be unavoidable to go through the labor-intensive and costly process of contacting the individual courts if a particular document is needed.

I am continuing to track this issue and will post any information on this blog that might be useful to the law school community regarding the fate of these removed documents on PACER. If you need help accessing a document that you were formerly able to get on PACER or through our commercial database links to PACER, please do not hesitate to contact me at lastreet@email.unc.edu and we can work through this process together. It is our hope that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts will work to resolve these problems and promote a robust and accountable judiciary by providing access to these important court records. The procedures described above are far more costly than the previous .10 per page (with quarterly cost exemptions) cost of retrieving the information on PACER. We hope that the Administrative Office of the Courts will consider less costly means of obtaining these public records in the future.

Posted by Leslie A. Street on Thu. September 4, 2014 3:02 PM
Categories: Uncategorized

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