Chase v. PUC et al.

05-cv-2375 (filed November 16, 2005)

United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

This is a declaratory judgment action I filed on my own behalf against the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the three court reporting agencies that provide stenographic services for it. The suit followed the PUC's refusal to provide me with a copy of a transcript at the cost of copying.

I want to make clear that I have a high regard for the court reporting profession. I could not do what they do; I am hopelessly unsuited for any job that would require me to sit down, be quiet, and pay attention. My father studied court reporting in 1950, but gave it up after the introductory course because his back could not handle the work.

Replacing reporters with electronic recording equipment is a bad idea. Recordings have to be replayed to be transcribed.

Court reporters, generally, are articulate and likable people with active intellects. They work their tails off. They put up with lawyers. They risk carpal tunnel syndrome. They deserve to be well paid for the time they spend taking notes of testimony and the time they spend transcribing their notes.

But they don't have the right to be paid for the same work more than once. That reward is reserved for those who create and publish original works.

Moreover, it is beyond me how the worth of a court reporter's work is determined by the number of people who want a transcript.

Here's how I stated the issue in my cover sheet (which is not on this site):

Plaintiff claims a First Amendment right to at-cost copies of transcripts provided to principal defendant by other three defendants, and to that end seeks declaration that transcripts are not subject to copyright under federal statute and that state cannot grant copyright because of federal preemption.

The final District Court ruling came down March 31, 2008. The result is a mixed bag; the court agreed with me that transcripts are not subject to federal copyright and that the state cannot grant rights equivalent to copyright in them. The court held, in essence, that the only right granted court reporting agencies by the PUC was a contractual one having no effect on strangers to the contract. However, the court disagreed with my argument that I had a First Amendment right to at-cost copies from the PUC. I did not appeal.

The key documents are below. The final ruling is also available at 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25702 and 2008 WL 906491.

My brief in opposition to motions to dismiss

My brief in support of summary judgment and in opposition to judgment on the pleadings

The final ruling