FreeCourtDockets is a new, free service which allows anyone to retrieve federal civil, criminal, and bankruptcy court dockets, as well as dockets from the US Supreme Court, Court of Claims, and Court of International Trade. The site is the product of Courtport LLC.
No PACER account is required to view the dockets, but if you wish to view the filings for a case, a PACER account is needed. FreeCourtDockets provides direct links to the filings in PACER.
To retrieve all court dockets except U.S. Supreme cases, you must first obtain an invitation code. To request a free code, you'll need to complete a form on the FreeCourtDockets website. Requests are usually answered within twenty four hours.
I received my invitation code this morning and decided to take the service for a spin. The process was cumbersome, but the results were as advertised.
When you first go to http://www.freecourtdockets.com/, you're led through two introduction screens before you even start searching. While this is fine for the first time, I'd rather not have to do this every time. Therefore, in the future, I think I'll probably create my bookmark a few pages in.
The first search page asks you to select a court type: U.S. District Civil or Criminal, U.S. Bankruptcy, U.S. Courts of Appeals, U.S. Appellate (Supreme and Courts of Appeals), U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and U.S. Court of International Trade. You're then prompted to complete a captcha to ensure that the response is not generated by a computer.
I chose U.S. District Civil or Criminal and was taken to a new page in which I was asked to specify a specific jurisdiction. My choice there was the Wisconsin Eastern District Court which took me to another page asking for the docket number and my invitation code. Click count so far: 4.
Note that FreeCourtDockets does not offer name searching capabilities. You can only retrieve dockets when you already know the court and case/docket number. Now, this might be a pretty big stumbling block were it not for Justia's Federal District Court Filings and Dockets search. Justia allows you to search by a combination of case name, jurisdiction, law suit type and date. Its search results offer information about cases filed, including the docket number, but does not offer the full docket itself (very similar to Wisconsin's CCAP).
So, I sauntered over to Justia, did a search for civil rights cases in the Eastern District of Wisconsin and pulled up a docket number. Then I went back to FreeCourtDockets and entered in that docket number, albeit with a bit of format massaging. Then I also entered my invitation code.
Next, I'm directed to a page which asks me to verify the case I want. After doing so, I finally arrive at a case with the case information. Click count at this point: 7. But, still no docket - that requires yet another click.
And I've not yet mentioned that a huge amount of ads appear along with way. Could this be the reason for the cumbersome amount of clicks - so that I'm forced to view as many ads as possible? Perhaps. But, hey, it's free. I'm not complaining too loudly.
But after all those ads and clicks (8 page clicks in all), my patience is finally rewarded with the full docket, much as it looks in PACER. And the links to obtain the filings in PACER are there also.
Where FreeCourtDockets is getting the docket content is unclear. I couldn't find anything on the site that answers that question. But, judging from the obvious visual similarities to PACER, one might suspect that it's coming directly from PACER itself.
How they are able to offer this content for free is also uncertain, but I wonder if that is what all those ads are for. Note that the Help page states that "We will continue to expand our site to include U.S. courts of appeals, docket browsing, and free pdf access when adequate funding is received from sponsors, advertisers, and from your donations."
So is FreeCourtDockets the best thing since sliced bread? No - Justia's search capabilities and ease of use kicks it butt across the playground. But, is it still very useful? Yes - it's the only source I know of for free federal court dockets.
Now if PACER would just pony up and offer its content for free, that would really be something. And could you imagine if there were a product that combined Justia's search capabilities and PACER's content? Ooh, just the thought makes me giddy!