HOUSTON (CN) - In dismissing a federal claim against British publishing giant Reed Elsevier, a federal judge said he was "troubled" by a state court order forcing lawyers to file electronically through Reed Elsevier's American division Lexis Nexis, adding that the efile system and the accompanying fees imposed by the private publisher may not comply with Texas law.
Karen McPeters filed a class action against Reed Elsevier dba LexisNexis, Montgomery County, Judge Frederick Edwards and Montgomery County District Clerk Barbara Gladden-Adamick in April 2010, alleging that LexisNexis' charges violate her due process and equal protection rights.
She also claimed that the defendants violated the RICO Act by forming an "enterprise" to mandate the payment of LexisNexis' filing fees, and sending invoices for payment by mail and wire.
On Jan. 27, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison dismissed the suit, declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims after finding that McPeters had failed to substantiate her federal claims. A related lawsuit filed last week in Texas state court remains pending.
Though Ellison seemed sympathetic to the state-law claims, he wrote that they should not stand alone in federal court.
"Although no federal statutory or constitutional claim is available in this case, the court is indeed troubled by certain aspects of the e-filing system at issue," Ellison wrote. "It is not clear that the e-filing system, and the accompanying fees, were properly adopted within the bounds of applicable Texas law."
Electronic filing systems and rules should be approved by the state Supreme Court under Texas government code, but the court to date has only approved the use of e-filing - not the fees, the ruling states.
LexisNexis charges $7 for filing fees, $8 in service charges for any document filed online, and at least $10.00 for providing a paper invoice.
McPeters had claimed that Montgomery County gets $1 from every filing and service charge LexisNexis processes.
"It is not clear that under [Texas law] the district clerk may delegate fee-setting authority to a private company," Ellison wrote. "It is also not clear that there is any limit to the rates LexisNexis could charge, subject only to Montgomery County ceasing to use LexisNexis' services.
"It is a bedrock principle of federal and state courts that they should be accessible to persons seeking remedies for their grievances," the ruling continues. "Charging litigants more than is necessary to subsidize the operation of the courts and other vital government functions is contradictory to the basic idea of access to courts.
"To give to a private company the authority to profit by setting rates and charging litigants for each court filing seriously endangers that principle and sets forth on a dangerous path," the ruling continues. "That is particularly so where it is not clear under state law that the district clerk has the power to delegate authority in such a way. Still, the right of access to courts is not absolute, and no federal remedy is available under the facts presented in this case. Plaintiffs claims under the constitution and laws of Texas may or may not have merit, but as no federal question remains in this case, they are properly decided by a state court."