ATLANTA – (CN) A federal class-action lawsuit that claims LexisNexis Courtlink, Fulton County State and Superior Courts and Georgia state court officials are running an illegal, and mandatory, electronic filing service has been halted for now, but attorney Steven J. Newton said he will refile his claims in the “near future.” Newton, who filed for a voluntary dismissal without prejudice this week, said “his contentions have not changed,” but he is not ready to disclose why he withdrew his lawsuit.
“I am pleased that the plaintiffs have dismissed the case,” said Keith Kodosky, an attorney with Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP who represents LexisNexis Courtlink. “We did not believe that the USDC of Georgia has subject matter jurisdiction over the case. That was one of several grounds for dismissal. If the case is refiled, we will respond accordingly.”
Newton contends that filings in Fulton County State and Superior Courts and George state court, filed through the LexisNexis File & Serve system, can cost up to $11 per filing in cases where electronic filing is mandated by orders from Fulton County State and Superior Courts and authorized by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.
LexisNexis File & Serve is used in many court systems throughout the country. The system is used statewide in Colorado district and county courts, excluding Denver County Courts, according to the LexisNexis Web site.
In Fulton County State Court, cases with damage claims of more than $50,000 and cases in which a dollar amount has been not been specified must be electronically filed. Also subject to mandatory e-filing are cases involving asbestos, fen-phen, mercury and lead, silicosis, welding rod, medical malpractice, legal malpractice, tort, personal injury cases and civil cases with four or more parties.
The scope of cases that must be electronically filed in Fulton County Superior is less broad, covering only asbestos, fen-phen, silicosis and filings related to the case of Brian Nichols, who is accused of a shooting rampage at the courthouse.
Newton claimed that these mandates were approved without approval of the Georgia Supreme Court. “The Georgia Supreme Court’s approval of the state court e-filing system is not signed by the chief justice, nor any justice, but only by the Supreme Court clerk,” his filing stated.
Newton stated in his complaint that he believed the Georgia Supreme Court was not aware of the costs associated with the system.
Newton claimed that the defendants do not have the statutory authority to charge these fees. He said the mandates violate Georgia statutes related to acceptance of paper filings and the prohibition of clerks charging additional fees.
He claimed that while the Georgia General Assembly “has expressly provided for the use of e-filing for the Georgia Magistrate Courts, the General Assembly has not provided for nor allowed the use of e-filing for the State and Superior Courts in Georgia.”
Fulton County State Court Chief Judge Albert L. Thompson, who would not comment on the case while it was pending, said that in light of the dismissal, he is not pleased that “anyone feels like they are not being served by our court, but we do think e-filing is the way of the future with accommodations made for people who are not technologically advanced.”
When asked about the fees charged for e-filing, Thompson said, “When you introduce new technology, there are costs that are associated with that.”
Named as defendants were Mark Harper, chief clerk of the Fulton County State Court; Stefani Searcy, chief administrator of the Fulton County State Court; Cathlene “Tina” Robinson, clerk of the Fulton County Superior Court; and the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.
Willie Lovett, of the Fulton County attorney’s office, was not willing to comment on the statutes that are an integral part of Newton’s claim, other than to say that “how the statutes are interpreted is the whole point of the lawsuit.”
However, Lovett said that his clients’ immunity may disqualify them from being a part of the lawsuit. In his brief in support of his motion to dismiss the case, Lovett said that “suits against public employees in their official capacity are in actuality suits against the state and therefore involve sovereign immunity.” As far as the Fulton County Board of Commissioners is concerned, “the board is not a legal entity with the capacity to sue and be sued.”