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Sullivan v. Warminster Township

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 9, 2013

CAROL A. SULLIVAN and BRUCE SULLIVAN, individually and/or as co-administrators of the estate of Sean Sullivan
v.
WARMINSTER TOWNSHIP, ET AL

MEMORANDUM

R. BARCLAY SURRICK, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Vacate the Clerk of Court's Taxation of Costs. (ECF No. 178.) For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

On March 31, 2006, twenty-one year old Sean Sullivan was shot by police officers from the Warminster Township Police Department and the Warrington Township Police Department after he climbed out of a window in his mother's home attempting to escape arrest. (Mem. Summ. J. 1-2, ECF No. 99.) Sean Sullivan died as a result of the gunshot wounds. ( Id. ) Sean's parents, Plaintiffs Carol and Bruce Sullivan, filed this lawsuit on October 24, 2007, against the police officers and the municipalities, alleging constitutional violations, as well as violations of Pennsylvania state law. (Compl., ECF No. 1.)

Trial was held from March 21, 2011 to April 5, 2011. On April 5, 2011 the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants, and against Plaintiffs. Judgment was entered on the verdict. (Judgment, ECF No. 145.) On May 4, 2011, Plaintiffs filed an appeal. (Notice of Appeal, ECF No. 152.) On February 28, 2012, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment. (Judgment Affirmed, ECF No. 169.) On April 15, 2011, prior to the appeal, Defendants each filed a Bill of Costs. (Bill of Costs, ECF Nos. 148, 149.) On May 2, 2012, Plaintiffs filed objections to the Bill of Costs. (Objections to Bill of Costs, ECF Nos. 171, 172.) On May 29, 2012, the Clerk of the Court taxed costs against Plaintiffs and in favor of Defendant John Blanchard in the amount of $23, 782.62. (ECF No. 176.) On that same day, the Clerk taxed costs in favor of Warminster Township, Michael Murphy, James McCaffrey, Daniel Leporace, Christopher Springfield, Sean Harold, Ron Szymborski, and Casey Byrne (hereinafter "Warminster Defendants"), and against Plaintiffs in the amount of $25, 398.42. (ECF No. 177.)

On June 6, 2012, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion requesting that the Court vacate the costs awarded by the Clerk. (Pls.' Mot., ECF No. 178.) The Warminster Defendants filed a response to Plaintiffs' Motion on June 22, 2012. (Warminster's Resp., ECF No. 179.) Defendant Blanchard also filed a response on June 22, 2012. (Blanchard's Resp., ECF No. 180.) On July 2, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a reply in further support of their Motion. (Pls.' Reply, ECF No. 181.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) provides in relevant part that "[u]nless a federal statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise, costs-other than attorney's fees- should be allowed to the prevailing party." The rule creates a strong presumption that costs be awarded to the prevailing party. In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 221 F.3d 449, 462 (3d Cir. 2000). The losing party bears the burden of demonstrating why the award of costs is inequitable under the circumstances. Id. at 462-63. "Only if the losing party can introduce evidence, and the district court can articulate reasons within the bounds of its equitable power, should costs be reduced or denied to the prevailing party." Id. at 468.

The court reviews the clerk's award under a de novo standard, and therefore can properly consider "new evidence and circumstances that militate[] in favor of reducing the earlier imposed costs award." Id. at 461. No deference is afforded the decision of the clerk. Id. (citing Luby v. Teamsters Health, Welfare, & Pension Trust Funds, 944 F.2d 1176, 1184 (3d Cir. 1991)). Ultimately, the award or denial of costs is within the sound discretion of the district court. Adams v. Teamsters Local 115, 678 F.Supp.2d 314, 324 (E.D. Pa. 2007).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs argue that Bruce Sullivan sued solely in his capacity as the administrator of his deceased son's estate, and that as a result, the Court may not impose costs on Bruce Sullivan in his individual capacity. Plaintiffs also argue that the award of costs should be vacated as to Carol Sullivan because she is indigent and unable to pay an award of costs.

A. Bruce Sullivan's Liability for Costs

Plaintiffs maintain that Mr. Sullivan cannot be liable for costs because he filed the Complaint as a co-administrator of his deceased son's estate and did not bring any claims in his individual capacity. (Pls.' Mot. 6.)[1] Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' pursued Count 6, the wrongful death claim, on behalf of Mr. Sullivan, individually. (Warminster's Resp. 2; Blanchard's Resp. 13-15.) Defendants contend that Bruce Sullivan, as co-administrator of his deceased son's estate, lacked the capacity to assert a claim under Pennsylvania's wrongful death statute, and that therefore Mr. Sullivan's wrongful death suit must be construed as an individual claim. ( Id. )[2]

Initially, we note that throughout the course of the trial, and in the various memoranda filed in this case, we have never had occasion to decide the issue of the proper Plaintiff for the wrongful death claim. In their motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment, Defendants challenged the wrongful death claim on several grounds, but did not argue that the Sullivan estate lacked the capacity to assert a wrongful death action. On March 15, 2011, we granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment as ...


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