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Dayna Padula, et al v. Robert Morris

February 16, 2012

DAYNA PADULA, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROBERT MORRIS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

On March 1, 2005, Plaintiff Dayna Padula ("Plaintiff"), the sole remaining plaintiff in this case, initiated this sexual harassment action against remaining Defendants Dunsmuir Joint Union High School District, Robert Morris, Ray Kellar, Paula Amen-Schmitt, Steven Rogers, Christopher Raine and William Townsend (collectively "Defendants"). A jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Defendants on August 2, 2011. Presently before the Court is Defendants' post-trial request for costs. As set forth below, costs in the amount of $23,511.41 are now taxed pursuant to that request.

BACKGROUND

After a five-day trial in July of 2011, a jury unanimously rejected Plaintiff's claims that she and other students were subjected to sexual harassment by the principal and other employees at Dunsmuir High School in Dunsmuir, California. The jury deliberated for only ninety minutes before returning its verdict in favor of Defendants. Pursuant to that jury verdict, the Court entered its judgment on August 4.

Six days later, on August 10, Defendants, as the prevailing parties, timely filed a Bill of Costs ("Original BOC") (ECF No. 255) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1920 in the amount of $36,462.51. Plaintiff filed Objections (ECF No. 256) to the Original BOC on August 16, and Defendants then timely filed a Response and Amended Bill of Costs ("Amended BOC") (ECF No. 257) modifying their requested recovery to $26,136.81. Plaintiff filed no further objections. For the following reasons, the Court now taxes the vast majority of the costs requested in the Amended BOC.

ANALYSIS

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d), the prevailing party in a lawsuit may recover its costs "unless a federal statute, [the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure], or a court order provides otherwise." As this language suggests, the ultimate decision on whether to award costs is a matter within the court's discretion.

Association of Mexican-American Educators v. State of California, 231 F.3d 572, 591 (9th Cir. 2000). "Rule 54(d) creates a presumption for awarding costs to prevailing parties; the losing party must show why costs should not be awarded." Save Our Valley v. Sound Transit, 335 F.3d 932, 944-45 (9th Cir. 2003). "[A] district court need not give affirmative reasons for awarding costs; instead, it need only find that the reasons for denying costs are not sufficiently persuasive to overcome the presumption in favor of an award." Id. at 945. If the Court declines to award costs as requested by the prevailing party, however, it should specify its reasons for doing so. Berkla v. Corel Corp., 302 F.3d 909, 921 (9th Cir. 2002).

In her objections to the Original BOC, Plaintiff argues generally that the Court should refuse to tax all costs because:

1) Plaintiff is indigent; 2) Defendants acted in bad faith when submitting their original cost request; and 3) a cost award here would chill important future civil rights litigation. Plaintiff specifically attacks each category of Defendants' requested costs as well. Though Plaintiff did not file any response to Defendants' Amended BOC, to the extent her challenges to the Original BOC carry over to Defendants' operative request, the Court will consider them here.

A. Plaintiff's General Objections to the Taxing of Any Costs.

Plaintiff generally asks this Court to exercise its discretion to deny all costs because: 1) Defendants engaged in bad-faith litigation practices by filing a "patently frivolous cost bill"; 2) Plaintiff is indigent; and 3) an award of costs would serve to chill future civil rights litigation. See generally Van Horn v. Dhillon, 2011 WL 66244, *3 (E.D. Cal.) (identifying various grounds on which courts have refused to tax costs). Each of Plaintiff's arguments is rejected.

First, Plaintiff claims Defendants' Original BOC included legally frivolous and factually unsupported claims. Defendants' Amended BOC nonetheless rectifies any such errors or oversights, and the Court will not presume the Original BOC was drafted and submitted with any mal-intent. Moreover, the erroneous inclusion of line items in a post-trial bill of costs simply does not rise to the level of bad faith that has justified a denial of costs in other cases. See, e.g., Overbeek v. Heimbecker, 101 F.3d 1225, 1228 (7th Cir. 1996) (refusal to award costs justified when the prevailing party's counsel, among other things, "inexplicably refused over a dozen offers of the policy limit, needlessly pursued a trial, appealed the jury's decision not to award punitive damages even though the defendants were judgment-proof, vanished for large periods of time" and made frivolous legal claims.). Plaintiff's argument thus fails.

As for Plaintiff's invitation to this Court to deny costs based on her indigent status, the Court declines to do so for those reasons already articulated in the Court's Order Denying Plaintiff's Request to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (ECF No. 266). Indeed, especially given the fact that Plaintiff's only evidence of her financial status in support of her Objections to Defendants' Original BOC is an unsigned, pro forma declaration, Plaintiff has simply not carried her burden of ...


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