Attorneys Challenge Fee for E-Filing

     BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) - An attorney claims in a federal class action that a private company "coerces" Alabama lawyers into paying a "convenience fee" for filing civil lawsuits electronically - and that civil cases in Alabama now have to be filed that way.
     Mark Erdberg sued On-Line Information Services Inc., "which has contracted to provide efiling services and collect court costs in civil matters in Alabama."
     Erdberg claims the defendant, an Alabama corporation, illegally charges attorneys a 4 percent "convenience fee" on top of regular court fees when they file civil lawsuits through the state's online court system.
     Electronic filing of civil court cases has been available in Alabama since 2005, and since then more than 500,000 lawsuits have been e-filed in Alabama, Erdberg says.
     While attorneys choosing to e-file their documents have been charged the convenience fee since the program was instituted, in September the Alabama Supreme Court adopted new administrative rules that require all attorneys to file civil cases electronically.
     Erdberg says that flies in the face of a 2000 Alabama statute that authorized state officers to accept credit card payments.
     That statute states in part: "When a party elects to make a payment to state government by credit card and a surcharge or convenience fee is imposed, the payment of the surcharge or convenience fee shall be deemed voluntary by the party and shall not be refundable."
     Under the system imposed by the state Supreme Court, "there are no other alternative methods of payment for attorneys. Even though this system is now mandatory, a four percent (4%) 'convenience fee' is added to each court cost charged," Erdberg says.
     Erdberg says the mandatory e-filing violates due process and equal protection rights, and laws on interstate commerce.
     He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and recovery of past amounts charged for the class consisting of all attorneys who paid the convenience fee since Aug. 1, 2005.
     He is represented by G. Daniel Evans of Birmingham.