University of Wisconsin–Madison

Locating PACER's lost records online or elsewhere {UPDATE: The records are returning!}

UPDATE (9/23/14): It looks like the missing records will be restored by the Federal Judiciary.  Read on for information on how to find those missing cases if you'd like some extra information nonetheless! Here is the official letter that notes the reinstatement of the missing documents.

UPDATE (9/22/14): While this is still not a certainty, the Washington Post is reporting that PACER will be restoring access to the lost records. Stay tuned to see if this occurs...I hope so!

Last month, PACER, the online repository for US Federal Courts, made waves by announcing the removal of documents from five different courts from it's archive. The information was removed in anticipation of an upcoming update to the system, but has left users and commentators concerned about locating this information that is no longer easily publicly available.

Here are some tips for finding these records, even though PACER may no longer have them.   

*Start with Bloomberg Law (to which all University of Wisconsin law students, faculty and staff have access.) A very useful docket feature within Bloomberg Law allows users to search PACER for records. While not all documents are available from all cases, it is a good 'first stop' for anyone looking for dockets. 

*Westlaw also has a good amount of docket information, which can normally be found by searching for the case and then choosing 'documents' from the menu bar near the top of the record. Bloomberg offers a more robust docket search, but Westlaw is certainly worth checking as well (though both Bloomberg Law and Westlaw are drawing documents from the same source.)

*Thank you to Carli Spina (of the Harvard Law Library) for pointing out another helpful resource for US Federal Court records, RECAP Archive (created by Princeton). This database is free, publicly accessible and growing. Again, it does not have all the records, but the likelihood that it has something you are looking for is increasing. RECAP also has a browser extension that anyone can install on Firefox or Chrome that helps you organize and search for documents.  

*Still not finding that document or docket you need?  It may be that that item is simply not available electronically.  However, there are ways to request items from the courts themselves. Below are the five courts that had items removed from PACER, and how to request an item.  Thanks once again to Carli Spina and to the folks at UNC Law for their great blog post on gathering lost document from PACER! for collection this information!

Phone: 212-857-8500, Email:

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.

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.

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.

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.

  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.

As always, feel free to ask a reference librarian for help when locating docket information or anything else. 

Submitted by Kristopher Turner on September 23, 2014

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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