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Mann v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 12, 2016

David V. Mann, Plaintiff,
v.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

In this civil rights case, Plaintiff David Mann asserted that Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) terminated him unlawfully based on his race. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant. See Mem. Op. & Order, ECF Nos. 41, 42. Thereafter, Defendant filed a Bill of Costs under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1), seeking taxation of costs in the amount of $4, 454.01 for “transcripts necessarily obtained for use in the case.” Bill of Costs, ECF No. 44. Plaintiff then filed an “Opposition to Defendant’s Bill of Costs or, in the Alternative, [a] Motion to Stay Enforcement of Award of Costs Pending Appeal.” ECF No. 46 [hereinafter Pl.’s Opp’n.].

Defendant’s Bill of Costs and Plaintiff’s Motion to Stay Enforcement are now before the court. For the reasons explained below, Defendant’s Bill of Costs is granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiff’s Motion to Stay is denied.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Bill of Costs

1. Plaintiff’s objection to the bill of costs in its entirety

The Supreme Court has observed that “Rule 54(d)(1) codifies a venerable presumption that prevailing parties are entitled to costs.” Marx v. General Revenue Corp., 133 S.Ct. 1166, 1172 (2013). However, because Rule 54(b)(1) provides that costs “should be allowed to the prevailing party, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1) (emphasis added), the rule makes “clear that the decision whether to award costs ultimately lies within the sound discretion of the district court, ” Marx, 133 S.Ct. at 1172 (citation omitted). Although Rule 54(d)(1) confers discretion upon district courts, because of the presumption in favor of awarding costs, “federal courts have placed on the unsuccessful parties some burden of showing circumstances sufficient to overcome the presumption favoring the prevailing party.” Baez v. DOJ, 684 F.2d 999, 1004 (D.C. Cir. 1982). “The result is that trial judges have rarely denied costs to a prevailing party whose conduct has not been vexatious when the losing party has been capable of paying such costs.” Id.

Plaintiff here does not dispute that Defendant was the “prevailing party.” Instead, citing a case from the Fourth Circuit, he argues that the court should deny costs because “‘there would be an element of injustice in a presumptive cost award.’” Pl.’s Opp’n at 3 (quoting Ellis v. Grant Thorton LLP, 434 Fed.Appx. 232, 235 (4th Cir. 2011)).[1] Our Court of Appeals has not adopted an “element of injustice” standard like the one articulated by the Fourth Circuit. But even if it had adopted such a standard, the factors that Plaintiff points to do not overcome the presumption in favor of awarding costs to Defendant.

Plaintiff argues that the “limited value of the prevailing party’s victory” and the “closeness and difficulty of the issues decided, ” id. (quoting Ellis, 434 Fed.App. at 235), “as well as his good faith in pursuing claims against Defendant under Title VII, ” id., warrant the denial of Defendant’s bill of costs. Plaintiff asserts that this was a “close” case that “offers little to no value” to Defendant; that the court’s grant of summary judgment in Defendant’s favor was premised on “a mischaracterization of the facts”; and that it would be unfair to “penalize a plaintiff who brought suit in good faith.” Id. at 3-4. None of those arguments are convincing.

This was not a close case. The court conducted a detailed review of the record and found that Defendant, after undertaking a thorough investigation, terminated Plaintiff for a non-discriminatory reason, namely, he used excessive and unnecessary force in arresting a citizen. Plaintiff offered no direct evidence of discrimination, and his attempt to show discrimination through more favorable treatment of similarly situated officers of another race was unconvincing. Finally, Plaintiff has cited no case for the proposition that a good faith filing under Title VII relieves a non-prevailing plaintiff from the presumption that favors taxing of costs. The court, therefore, rejects Plaintiff’s request to deny Defendant’s Bill of Costs in its entirety.

2. Plaintiff’s objections to specific costs

Plaintiff also objects to some of the specific costs that Defendant seeks. Namely, he objects to the costs of obtaining the deposition transcripts and associated exhibits for witnesses Ron Pavlik, Randolph Dawson, Shannon Bohrer, Jack Leeb, and Jerome Paige, because Defendant used none of the transcripts at a trial or to support its Motion for Summary Judgment. Pl.’s Opp’n at 5. Additionally, Plaintiff objects to the cost of Defendant obtaining copies of transcripts from a criminal trial proceeding in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in which Plaintiff was criminally charged for the conduct that led to his firing. Id. Plaintiff ultimately was acquitted of those charges.

Title 28 U.S.C. § 1920 permits taxation of costs for “[f]ees for printed or electronically recorded transcripts necessarily obtained for use in the case.” Whether a transcript was “necessarily obtained for use in the case” is determined as of the time the deposition is taken or when the transcript was ordered. Osseriran v. Int’l Fin. Corp., 68 F.Supp. 3d 152, 158 (D.D.C. 2014); Guevara v. Onyewu, 943 F.Supp.2d 192, 197 (D.D.C. 2013). The fact that a transcript is not ultimately used at trial or on the record is not “singularly determinative.” Id. Rather, a party’s use of a transcript meets the “necessarily obtained” standard ...


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