Amended July 9, 2015.
from Montgomery Circuit Court. (CV-12-901574).
Appellant: Joel E. Dillard, Baxley, Dillard, McKnight &
James, Birmingham; Charles E. Robinson, Jr., The Robinson Law
Firm, Ashville; M. Clay Ragsdale, Ragsdale, LLC, Birmingham.
Chief Justice Roy S. Moore, Appellee: Luther Strange, Atty.
Gen., John C. Neiman, Jr., Deputy Atty. Gen., William G.
Parker, Jr., Laura E. Howell, Asst. Attys. Gen.
On-Line Information Services, Inc., Appellees: Matthew H.
Lembke, R. Aaron Chastain, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP,
Justice. Parker, Main, Wise, and Bryan, JJ., concur. Moore,
C.J., recuses himself.
Geeslin filed this action challenging a " convenience
fee" and " token fee" charged in connection
with his on-line electronic filing of a civil action -- fees
assessed in addition to the statutorily defined filing fee
that were mandated by a September 6, 2012, administrative
order issued by then Chief Justice Charles Malone. That order
purported to make mandatory the on-line, or electronic,
filing of all documents filed in civil actions in Alabama
circuit courts and district courts by parties represented by
an attorney. Alabama's on-line document-filing system,
known as " AlaFile," requires credit-card payment
of filing fees and charges users a " convenience
fee" in addition to the filing fees. Geeslin filed this
putative class action in the Montgomery
Circuit Court, naming as defendants Chief Justice Malone in
his official capacity and On-Line Information Services, Inc.
(" On-Line" ), the company that manages and
maintains the electronic-filing system for the Alabama
Administrative Office of Courts (" AOC" ). Geeslin
alleges that Chief Justice Malone's order was
unconstitutional and that the fees collected over and above
the statutorily defined filing fee amounted to an illegal
tax. Geeslin sought a judgment declaring the convenience fee
and another " token fee" unconstitutional and a
refund of the fees paid by him and the other putative class
members. The Chief Justice and On-Line moved to dismiss the
complaint. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, and
Geeslin appeals. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and
render a judgment for Geeslin on his declaratory-judgment
the issuance of Chief Justice Malone's administrative
order of September 6, 2012, electronic filing was an optional
method of filing in civil cases in Alabama circuit and
district courts. Electronic filing in legal actions in
Alabama is of relatively recent origin. On July 29, 2005,
this Court issued an administrative order authorizing a pilot
program for electronic filing for civil matters in certain
Alabama counties. The order authorized the Administrative
Director of Courts (" the ADC" ) to promulgate
procedural rules for electronic filing and to issue any
administrative directives necessary to implement the pilot
program. Under the administrative regulations developed by
the ADC, attorneys who participated in voluntary electronic
filing could do so only by paying court fees associated with
electronically filed documents by credit card, for which they
were charged an additional 4% " convenience fee."
Because the electronic filing requiring this payment was
voluntary, however, so too, in effect, was the conveniencece
connection with this Court's authorization of the pilot
program, AOC began working with On-Line, a
software-development company, to develop a system for
electronic filing. On-Line and AOC eventually developed what
is now known as AlaFile and also developed related
document-storage and document-management systems. At all
times relevant to this appeal, On-Line has provided software
support and management and development services to AOC under
the terms of a licensing and services agreement. In the
agreement, On-Line is designated as a " limited agent of
the AOC" for the purpose of collecting all charges and
filing fees paid through use of AlaFile. On-Line collects all
statutory filing fees and convenience fees as a limited agent
of AOC and remits the statutory filing fees to AOC. The
agreement entitles On-Line to retain the convenience fees.
pilot program was successful and eventually was expanded
statewide so that all circuit and district courts could
participate in electronic filing through AlaFile. Effective
October 24, 2008, this Court amended Rule 5 of the Alabama
Rules of Civil Procedure to recognize electronic filing as an
optional means of filing and service in every county in
Alabama. See Rule 5(b) and (e), Ala. R. Civ. P. Indeed, the
Committee Comments to Amendments to Rule 5 Effective October
24, 2008, which were also approved by this Court, made clear
that electronic filing was an " optional" means of
filing and service. (" The additions to Rule 5(b) and
Rule 5(e) recognize that electronic filing is now an optional
means of filing and service in every county in Alabama."
(Emphasis added.)) The administrative regulations concerning
electronic filing developed by AOC continued to provide that
users were to pay a 4% convenience fee above the filing fees
and court costs paid. Furthermore, users of AlaFile can elect
to store their payment information for future use. Users who
elected to store such information were charged a $0.05 "
token fee." This charge, however, is purely voluntary.
See note 2, supra, and accompanying text.
September 6, 2012, Chief Justice Malone issued his
administrative order purporting to direct that, effective
October 1, 2012, all documents filed in civil actions in
Alabama circuit courts or district courts by a party
represented by an attorney must be filed electronically. The
order reads as follows:
" IN THE SUPREME COURT OF ALABAMA " ADMINISTRATIVE
" WHEREAS, pursuant to Article VI, Section 149, of the
Constitution of Alabama, the Chief Justice of the Supreme
Court of Alabama is the administrative head of the judicial
" WHEREAS, Section 12-2-30(b)(7), Code of Alabama 1975,
authorizes and empowers the Chief Justice, '[t]o take
affirmative and appropriate action to correct or alleviate
any condition or situation adversely affecting the
administration of justice within the state'; and
" WHEREAS, Section 12-2-30(b)(8), Code of Alabama 1975,
authorizes and empowers the Chief Justice '[t]o take any
such other, further or additional action as may be necessary
for the orderly administration of justice within the state,
whether or not enumerated [in the law],'
" IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED AND DIRECTED that effective
October 1, 2012, all documents filed by any party represented
by an attorney shall be filed electronically through the
AlaFile application in all civil divisions of the circuit and
district courts including: Circuit Civil (CV); District Civil
(DV); Small Claims (SM); Domestic Relations (DR); and, Child
Support (CS). Documents may still be filed in open court at
the trial judge's discretion. If documents are filed in
open court, the attorney filing the document is responsible
for filing the document electronically through AlaFile on the