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National Veterans Legal Services Program v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 13, 2018

NATIONAL VETERANS LEGAL SERVICES PROGRAM, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELLEN S. HUVELLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court issues this Memorandum Opinion in further support of its Order granting defendant's Motion to Certify the Court's Order of March 31, 2018 for Interlocutory Appeal. (See Order, ECF No. 104; Defs.' Mot. to Certify, ECF No. 99; March 31, 2018 Order, ECF No. 88.)

         BACKGROUND

         This case concerns the lawfulness of the fees charged by the federal judiciary for the use of its Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. Plaintiffs are PACER users who contend that the fees charged from 2010 to 2016 exceeded the amount allowed by federal law, see 28 U.S.C. § 1913 note (enacted as § 404 of the Judiciary Appropriations Act, 1991, Pub. L. 101-515, 104 Stat. 2101 (Nov. 5, 1990) and amended by § 205(e) of the E-Government Act of 2002, Pub. L. 107-347, 116 Stat. 2899 (Dec. 17, 2002)). They brought suit under the Little Tucker Act, seeking monetary relief from the excessive fees.

         On December 5, 2016, the Court denied defendants' motion to dismiss (see Order, ECF No. 24), and, on January 24, 2017, it granted plaintiffs' motion for class certification (see Order, ECF No. 32). Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a) and 23(b)(3), the Court certified a class consisting of:

All individuals and entities who have paid fees for the use of PACER between April 21, 2010, and April 21, 2016, excluding class counsel in this case and federal government entities.

         The parties then filed cross-motions for summary judgment on liability, which, they agreed, depended on a single and novel question of statutory interpretation: “what restrictions does 28 U.S.C. § 1913 note place on the amount the judiciary may charge in PACER fees?” Nat'l Veterans Legal Servs. Program v. United States, 291 F.Supp.3d 123, 138 (D.D.C. 2018). The parties advocated for starkly different interpretations of the statute, id. at 139-40, neither of which the Court found persuasive. In the end, it arrived at its own interpretation, which led to the denial of plaintiffs' motion and the granting in part and denying in part of defendant's motion. (See Order, ECF No. 89.)

         At the first status conference after deciding the cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court asked the parties to consider whether the March 31, 2018 Order should be certified for interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), given the fact that the exact determination of damages would likely require a lengthy period of fact and expert discovery, additional summary judgment briefing and potentially a bench trial. (See Tr., Apr. 18, 2018, at 5, 6, 13, 20; see also Joint Status Report Proposing a Schedule to Govern Further Proceedings, ECF No. 91 (proposing an additional five months of fact discovery, then five months for expert discovery, to be followed by summary judgment briefing or a bench trial).) Plaintiffs readily agreed that certification would be appropriate and desirable. (Id. at 21.) The government indicated that it needed additional time to respond in order to seek the necessary approval from the Solicitor General. (Id. at 20.)

         On July 13, 2018, the parties filed a joint status report advising the Court that “the Solicitor General has authorized interlocutory appeal in this case.” (Joint Status Report at 2, ECF No. 98.) That same day, defendant filed the pending motion to certify the March 31, 2018 Order.[1] At the status conference on July 18, 2018, and in their written response filed on July 27, 2018, plaintiffs noted their continued belief that the March 2018 Order should be certified. (See Pls.' Resp., ECF No. 102.)

         ANALYSIS

         A district judge may certify a non-final order for appeal if it is “of the opinion that such order involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.” 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b); see Z St. v. Koskinen, 791 F.3d 24, 28 (D.C. Cir. 2015). The decision whether to certify a case for interlocutory appeal is within the discretion of the district court. In re Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 756 F.3d 754, 761 (D.C. Cir. 2014). If the district court finds that each requirement is met, it “shall so state in writing in such order, ” and the party seeking to appeal must then file an application with the Court of Appeals “within ten days after the entry of the order.” 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).

         Although the statute does not expressly require the Court to do anything more than state that each of these requirements is met in the order itself, the general rule is that “[a] district court order certifying a § 1292(b) appeal should state the reasons that warrant appeal, ” and “a thoroughly defective attempt may be found inadequate to support appeal.” 16 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 3929 (3d ed. 2008). Accordingly, the Court sets forth herein the basis for its conclusion that the March 31, 2018 Order satisfies each of the three requirements of § 1292(b).

         1.Controlling Question of Law

         The first requirement for § 1292(b) certification is that the order involve a “controlling question of law.” “[A] ‘controlling question of law is one that would require reversal if decided incorrectly or that could materially affect the course of litigation with resulting savings of the court's or the parties' resources.'” APCC Servs. v. Sprint Communs. Co., 297 F.Supp.2d 90, 95- 96 (D.D.C. 2003) (quoting Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Nat'l Energy Policy ...


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