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Bocock v. Specialized Youth Services of Virginia, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

April 28, 2016

SUSAN BOCOCK, Plaintiff,
v.
SPECIALIZED YOUTH SERVICES OF VIRGINIA, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELIZABETH K. DILLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

After prevailing at trial, defendant Specialized Youth Services of Virginia, Inc. (SYS) filed a bill of costs for $10, 610.68 under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d), and the clerk taxed that amount against plaintiff Susan Bocock. (Def’s Bill of Costs 1-2, Dkt. No. 101; Taxation of Costs 2, Dkt. No. 102.) Bocock now asks the court to review the clerk’s action, contending (among other things) that she does not have the means to pay costs. (Pl.’s Opp’n to Bill of Costs 2-4, Dkt. No. 104.) For the following reasons, the court finds that Bocock lacks the ability to pay costs. It will thus deny SYS’s bill of costs.

I. BACKGROUND

Bocock sued SYS, claiming that it terminated her because of an actual or perceived disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101.[*] (Compl ¶¶ 42-53, Dkt. No. 1-1.) After the court denied SYS’s motion for summary judgment, the case proceeded to trial. The jury returned a verdict in favor of SYS, finding that Bocock was not disabled within the meaning of the ADA and that SYS did not terminate her because of a disability. (Verdict Form 1-3, Dkt. No. 95.) The court gave the parties 28 days to file any post-trial motions. After no motions were filed, the court entered final judgment on the verdict. (Final J. 1, Dkt. No. 106.)

Before the court entered final judgment, SYS filed its bill of costs, seeking the following: (1) $400 in court-filing fees; (2) $360.10 in witness-subpoena fees; (3) $3, 594.47 in deposition-transcript fees; (4) $1, 086.39 in witness-attendance fees and witness-travel expenses; (4) $2, 004.10 in copy expenses; (5) $84.75 in express-mailing expenses; (6) $548.42 in document-subpoena fees; and (7) $2, 532.45 in attorney and corporate-representative travel and lodging expenses. (Bill of Costs 1-2; Itemization of Costs 1-2, Dkt. No. 101-2.) The clerk taxed these costs, totaling $10, 610.68, against Bocock. (Taxation of Costs 1.)

Bocock objects to SYS’s requested costs. She first argues that the court should deny the costs in full because she cannot afford to pay any portion of them. (Pl.’s Opp’n to Bill of Costs 2-4.) In a sworn declaration, she says that she brings home less than $1, 300 a month and that her monthly expenses exceed that amount. (Pl.’s Decl. ¶ 4, Dkt. No. 104-1.) She further states that she has outstanding medical bills from a hospitalization in May 2012; that she does not have any “property to sell that would result in positive cash flow to use for payment of debts”; and that she has no “prospects of improving [her] financial situation in the future.” (Id. ¶ 5.) Consequently, she says, if she is required to pay SYS’s costs, then she will be forced to file for bankruptcy. (Id. ¶ 4.)

Alternatively, Bocock contends that the court should deny SYS’s costs in part because some of them are not allowed under the costs statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1920. (Pl.’s Opp’n to Bill of Costs 4-10.) For instance, she submits that § 1920 does not permit the taxation of travel and lodging expenses for attorneys or corporate representatives. (Id. at 5.) She also maintains that § 1920 does not permit the taxation of service fees for private process servers or appearance fees for court reporters. (Id. at 6, 9.)

In response to Bocock’s objections, SYS concedes that some of the costs it seeks are not allowed under § 1920 and thus reduces its request by $2, 994.01. (Def.’s Resp. to Pl.’s Opp’n to Def.’s Bill of Costs 5-6.) But it argues that the remaining costs are permitted by § 1920 and that they “are not excessive or cumbersome.” (Id. at 3-7.) Accordingly, it asks that the court grant costs in the amount of $7, 616.67. (Id. at 8.)

Neither party requested a hearing on SYS’s bill of costs, and the court does not think one necessary to decide the matter. See W.D. Va. Civ. R. 11(b).

II. DISCUSSION

Rule 54(d) governs the award of costs. It provides: “Unless a federal statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise, costs-other than attorney’s fees-should be allowed to the prevailing party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). Generally, then, an award of costs involves two separate questions: first, who is the prevailing party; and second, how much, if any, costs should be awarded to the prevailing party. Here, there is no dispute that SYS is the prevailing party, so the court moves directly to the second question.

Though Rule 54(d) gives rise to a presumption that costs will be awarded to the prevailing party, Cherry v. Champion Int’l Corp., 186 F.3d 442, 446 (4th Cir. 1999), it does not give a district court “unrestrained discretion to tax costs to reimburse a winning litigant for every expense he has seen fit to incur in the conduct of his case, ” Farmer v. Arabian Am. Oil Co., 379 U.S. 227, 235 (1964). The district court must carefully scrutinize the “[i]tems proposed by winning parties as costs.” Id.

The prevailing party bears the initial burden of establishing that the requested costs are permitted under § 1920. Mayse v. Mathyas, No. 5:09-cv-100, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103393, at *4 (W.D. Va. Sept. 28, 2010) (citing Ramonas v. W.Va. Univ. Hosps.-E., Inc., No. 5:08-cv-136, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85537, at *6 (E.D. Va. Aug. 19, 2010)). Once that party satisfies his burden, “the burden shifts to the losing party to show the impropriety of taxing the proposed costs.” Id. (citing Ramonas, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85537, at *6).

While a district “court has discretion to deny an award of costs, it must ‘articulat[e] some good reason’ for its denial.” Ellis v. Grant Thornton LLP, 434 F. App’x 232, 235 (4th Cir. 2011) (alteration in original) (quoting Cherry, 186 F.3d at 446). Among other factors, the Fourth Circuit has recognized “the unsuccessful party’s inability to pay the costs” as justifying the denial of costs. Id. (citing Cherry, 186 F.3d at 446). Before declining to award costs on that basis, however, a district court must be satisfied ...


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