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Roman v. Jan-Pro Franchising International, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 20, 2017





         In this wage-and-hour putative class action, defendant moves for costs after prevailing at summary judgment. Plaintiffs object. For the reasons stated below, plaintiffs' request to be relieved from cost obligations is Granted in part and Denied in part.


         Defendant Jan-Pro Franchising International, Inc. operates a three-tiered franchising structure that offers cleaning and janitorial services. Jan-Pro sold the rights to use its name to regional franchisees, who in turn sold “unit franchises” within that region. Plaintiffs Gerardo Vazquez, Juan Aguilar, and Gloria Roman were unit franchisees who sued Jan-Pro for minimum wages and overtime pay, claiming that they were improperly classified as independent contractors, rather than employees.

         In May 2017, an order granted Jan-Pro's motion for summary judgment as to all claims (Dkt. No. 265). A subsequent order entered judgment in favor of Jan-Pro, and plaintiffs have since appealed (Dkt. Nos. 266, 267).

         Jan-Pro, as the prevailing party, moved for costs related to deposing the three named plaintiffs and their expert, Steven Cumbow. In total, Jan-Pro seeks $3, 535.40 - approximately $1, 200 per plaintiff (Dkt. No. 270). Plaintiffs filed an objection to the costs. The objection did not challenge any individual cost, but rather opposed an award of costs altogether on the grounds that paying these costs would be a hardship for plaintiffs due to their limited financial resources, and awarding costs would discourage future meritorious wage-and-hour suits (Dkt. No. 271). Plaintiffs have each submitted a declaration showing that they are under financial strain, and paying the costs sought by Jan-Pro would cause them hardship.

         Vazquez's declaration states that after he stopped working as a janitor for a unit franchise in October 2008, he performed part-time work through a temp agency, mostly loading and unloading trucks at a warehouse. He now provides full-time care to his elderly mother who is in bad health, and he has not been employed “in some time.” He has approximately $25, 000 in a retirement account, but is approximately $30, 000 in debt (Dkt. No. 271-1). Roman ceased working as a janitor in January 2017. She now works as a hair styling instructor making approximately $2, 000 per month, and receives an additional $400 per month in child support. She pays approximately $2, 043 between her rent and car payments, and carries approximately $2, 000 in credit card debt. She supports her two children (Dkt. No. 271-2). Aguilar worked as a janitor for a unit franchise “for several years beginning in approximately November 2003.” He continues to work as a janitor and makes approximately $4, 000 per month. He pays $2, 800 per month in rent and utilities, $309 in car payments, $250 for car insurance, and $250 for health insurance. He supports three children and his wife (Dkt. No. 271-3).

         An order granted Jan-Pro an opportunity to respond to plaintiffs' objections (Dkt. No. 274). In its response, Jan-Pro argues that despite plaintiffs' precarious financial circumstances, they should nevertheless be required to pay costs.


         “Unless a federal statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise, costs . . . should be allowed to the prevailing party.” FRCP 54(d)(1). A losing party bears the burden to overcome this presumption, and a district court “generally must award costs unless the prevailing party is guilty of some fault, misconduct, or default worthy of punishment.” Dawson v. City of Seattle, 435 F.3d 1054, 1071 (9th Cir. 2006).

         There are, however, equitable exceptions to this rule, and it is within the district court's discretion to deny, or reduce costs. Appropriate reasons for doing so include:

(1) the substantial public importance of the case, (2) the closeness and difficulty of the issues in the case, (3) the chilling effect on future similar actions, (4) the plaintiff's limited financial resources, and (5) the economic disparity between the parties. This is not an exhaustive list of ‘good reasons' for declining to award costs, but rather a starting point for analysis.

Escriba v. Foster Poultry Farms, Inc., 743 F.3d 1236 (9th Cir. 2014). There are no strict limitations on the amount of costs a district court may allow or deny so long as it exercises reasoned discretion. See Save Our Valley v. ...

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