I am not a lawyer, I am a judgment referral expert (Judgment Broker). This article is my opinion about PACER. Nothing in any of my articles should ever be considered legal advice.
PACER is an abbreviation for Public Access to Court Electronic Records. PACER is a web site that allows users to get case information and filings for all federal and appellate cases, including all bankruptcy cases in every state.
PACER is very popular with lawyers. Usually, lawyers are required to file all cases electronically at PACER, on their Electronic Case Filing system. However, you do not have to be a lawyer to use PACER, and it is usually free or almost free.
Violating a debtor’s protection after they filed for bankruptcy protection, or attempting to collect on their discharged debts, can incur heavy financial penalties, and may expose one to being sued by the debtor. For this reason, checking PACER is mandatory for anyone trying to recover a debt. It is best to check the debtor’s bankruptcy status before every collection action.
PACER is the best reference for bankruptcy status. Anyone can claim “I went bankrupt”, however you should not always believe such claims, you should always check PACER. Even if your debtor does file for bankruptcy, it might become dismissed or denied. If you see DENIAL OF DISCHARGE (which often means the debtor was caught lying) or DISMISSAL (which often means the debtor did not complete the paperwork or missed a deadline), that means the debtor’s bankruptcy is history, and you can take or resume any legal collection actions.
To be safe, get a copy of the actual order in the file, and do not just rely only on the PACER summary. Sometimes they get it wrong, and they sometimes miss comments, exclusions, qualifiers, etc.
PACER requires you to register on their web site, and use your credit card. They do not charge you for every page you view. However, they charge you 8 cents per page for any documents you request, and some of the reports you view. If you spend less than $10 in 3 months, they waive their fees. That means if you use it only to check your debtors for their bankruptcy status, you will most likely never pay PACER a dime.
I use PACER every day, and it is still less than $10 for the 3 months – so it is free. It is difficult for average users to reach PACER’s $10.00 limit.
As of April 1, 2012, PACER is raising their fees to 10 cents per page, and the good news is as of that date, if you spend less than $15 in 3 months, they waive their fees.
PACER’s web site makes PDFs of case documents that you can download, however on some Macintosh computers, the downloaded file does not end with .pdf, so the Mac will seem unable to open the file. Simply add .pdf to the downloaded file name, and click YES when the Mac cautions you, and you will get a PDF that opens just fine.
There are many laws that protect and restrict the use of person’s social security number, yet knowing a debtor’s social security number is the only sure way to check their bankruptcy status, especially if a debtor has a common name. A debtor could file for bankruptcy protection in any state, and possibly with a different name than you knew them as. Searching PACER by social security number is the best way to search.
One way to get around knowing or using the debtor’s social security number is to use a data service such as Lexis/Nexis, where it can show you a debtor’s bankruptcy status without knowing or showing you their full social security number. As most people don’t have access to Lexis/Nexis, there may be a professional you know or services online, to check for a debtor’s bankruptcy status without knowing their full social security number.
Unlike a credit report or banking information, a person’s bankruptcy status and anything they filed in their bankruptcy case is part of the public records. On PACER, no permissible or legal purpose is required to search for someone on PACER’s web site at http://www.pacer.gov/.
Another way to check someone’s bankruptcy status is over the telephone, with the Bankruptcy Voice Case Information System at http://www.spiesonline.net/vcis.shtml. You can place 2 calls a day for free. This can be useful if you just want a quick check on whether or not there has been a bankruptcy filing at a court near the debtor. If there was, you can go back to PACER for the detailed information.