SAN ANTONIO (CN) - LexisNexis has been charging litigants "unconscionable" rates to file online documents in some Texas state courts, creating a poll tax-like situation that creates an unconstitutional barrier to open courts, a class action claims in Bexar County Court. The company and its Netherlands-based parent, Reed Elsevier, face similar lawsuits in Georgia and Texas federal court.
Lead plaintiff Karen McPeters says she was affected by the LexisNexis' deceptive practices when the discrimination case she filed against Montgomery County, Texas, was transferred to that county's court, where electronic filing is mandatory, in September 2007.
LexisNexis unlawfully conceals that it charges "nearly $16 for every piece of paper filed" online in Montgomery County District Court, according to the complaint.
"On January 27, 2009, the Montgomery County District Clerk notified counsel for Plaintiff McPeters that the case was designated as an e-file case," according to the complaint. "The clerk stated that e-filing was mandatory, and that all pleadings would have to be filed with LexisNexis. Counsel was told that LexisNexis charged litigants for E-filing and that plaintiff McPeters would have to pay those charges."
Since neither Montgomery County nor LexisNexis provides litigants with a list of charges levied by Reed Elsevier - the Netherlands-based parent company of LexisNexis - McPeters says that she only leaned about the rates when the company first billed her counsel on March 6, 2009.
"LexisNexis' charges are unconscionable and excessive as compared to (1) the cost of filing under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, and (2) the charges of other providers of E-filing services (Texas On-Line)," the class claims. "Approximately 252 counties in Texas do not charge to file a paper copy of a motion or pleading in their district courts, other than filing fees at the time of filing the lawsuit.
"Texas On-Line charges $7.24 to E-file a document and shows the charge at the time of filing," the complaint continues. "LexisNexis charges $15.98 (including tax) to e-file a document in the two counties that it services and does not disclose its charges at the time of filing. It charges $7 for filing and $8 for service; service is mandatory."
E-filing through LexisNexis is also mandatory in one or more of the courts in Jefferson County, Texas, according to the complaint.
McPeters claims that LexisNexis' fees for filing in Montgomery County District Court also violate Texas state law by duplicating "part of the fees charged by the district clerk when each lawsuit is filed."
In addition to charging burdensome fees, McPeters says LexisNexis "made unlawful threats for collection including a threat to report each nonpaying litigant to the Texas State Bar and to the judge presiding in the case."
The company also lied about being an agent of the Montgomery County District Clerk, McPeters says.
"In fact, LexisNexis stated, 'LexisNexis has been acting in furtherance of official duties,'" according to the complaint. "The Montgomery County District Clerk denied that claim on Aug. 3, 2010 when it argued to the Ninth Court of Appeals that LexisNexis' charges were not court costs but were actually convenience fees."
The complaint continues: "LexisNexis claims to act as the official agent of a district clerk with authority to regulate access to Texas courts. The Texas Supreme Court never agreed."
In addition to charging fees that unreasonably obstruct court access, McPeters says Texas Supreme Court precedent shows that the charges simply duplicate ones already levied by the services of the court's clerk.