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King v. Mansfield University of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 15, 2015



SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

I. Background

In this civil action, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Mansfield University failed to take appropriate action regarding sexual harassment to which he was subjected by another employee, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count I), and that two professors failed to accommodate his depression resulting therefrom, in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Count VI) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Count VII), and also asserted several state law causes of action arising under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (Count II) and the Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunities Act (Counts III, IV, and V). On July 28, 2014, the court entered summary judgment in favor of Defendants on each of Plaintiff's federal claims after finding that each claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, dismissed Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim against the unidentified defendants, and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims. King v. Mansfield Univ., Civ. No. 11-cv-1112, 2014 WL 3734551 (M.D. Pa. July 28, 2014), recons. denied, 2014 WL 4546524 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 12, 2014). Presently before the court is Plaintiff's motion to set aside the Clerk of Court's taxation of costs. (Doc. 99.) For the following reasons, [1] the court concludes that Plaintiff's arguments are without merit and will deny the instant motion.

In his Rule 54(d)(1) motion, Plaintiff seeks to set aside the taxation of costs in the amount of $6, 553.27, entered by the Clerk of Court on December 5, 2014, which is comprised of $6, 069.95 for fees for printed or electronically recorded transcripts necessarily obtained for use in the case, $52.43 for fees for witnesses, and $430.89 for fees for exemplification and costs of making copies of any materials where the copies are obtained for use in the case. (Docs. 97 & 98.) Plaintiff argues that Defendants are not prevailing parties and that the costs incurred would not have been necessary had Defendants raised the statute of limitations argument when first practicable.

II. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) provides, in part, as follows:

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.... The clerk may tax costs on 14 days' notice. On motion served within the next 7 days, the court may review the clerk's action.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d)(1). "The clerk's taxation of costs is subject to de novo review." Simmons v. Poltrone, Civ. No. 96-cv-8659, 2001 WL 1251464, *1 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 26, 2001) (citing Greene v. Fraternal Order of Police, 183 F.R.D. 445, 447 (E.D. Pa. 1998)). "Rule 54(d) creates a strong presumption that costs are to be awarded to the prevailing party." Id. (citing In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 221 F.3d 449, 462 (3d Cir. 2000)). "[T]he losing party bears the burden of making the showing that an award is inequitable under the circumstances." Paoli R.R., 221 F.3d at 462-63 (citation omitted). Among the factors that a court can consider in reviewing the taxation of costs are: (1) the unclean hands, bad faith, or dilatory tactics of the prevailing party; (2) the good faith of the losing party and the closeness and difficulty of the issues raised; (3) the relative disparity of wealth between the parties; and (4) the indigence or inability to pay a costs award by a losing party. See id. at 463. "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." Reger v. Nemours Found., 599 F.3d 285, 288 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Paoli R.R., 221 F.3d at 462-63).

III. Discussion

Plaintiff raises two objections to the Clerk's taxation of costs. Upon review thereof, the court concludes that the objections to the taxation of costs should be overruled and the instant motion must be denied.

A. Defendants are the prevailing parties

Plaintiff primarily argues that Defendants were not the prevailing party under Rule 54. (Doc. 100, p. 2 of 6.) Although Plaintiff acknowledges that Rule 54 does not define "prevailing party, " he cites to Idaho law, which he urges "reflect[s] the policy behind Federal Rule 54." ( Id. at pp. 2-3 of 6.) Plaintiff's argument in this regard is without merit, and the court concludes that Defendants are clearly prevailing parties for purposes of Rule 54(d)(1).

In the Third Circuit, the standard used for determining prevailing party status is "whether plaintiff achieved some of the benefit sought' by the party bringing the suit." Institutionalized Juveniles v. Secretary of Pub. Welfare, 758 F.2d 897, 910 (3d Cir. 1985); see also John T. v. Delaware Cnty. Intermediate Unit, 318 F.3d 545, 555 (3d Cir. 2003). In applying this standard, it is important to identify the relief plaintiff sought and, when relevant, the legal theories upon which relief was based. Institutionalized Juveniles, 758 F.2d at 911. "Ordinarily, a party in whose favor judgment is rendered is the prevailing party for purposes of Rule 54(d)." Tyler v. O'Neill, 112 F.App'x 158, 161 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing 10 C. Wright et al., Federal Practice & Procedure ยง 2667 (3d ed. 1998)). Significant to the prevailing party inquiry is whether the resolution of the dispute materially altered the legal relationship between the parties. See Truesdell v. Philaelphia Hous. Auth., 290 F.3d 159, 163-64 (3d Cir. 2002).

Where a defendant successfully defends against a plaintiff's substantial claims and judgment is entered accordingly, the defendant is generally considered the prevailing party for purposes of Rule 54(d)(1). Tyler, 112 F.App'x at 161 (citing Russian River Watershed Prot. Comm. v. City of Santa Rosa, 142 F.3d 1136, 1144 (9th Cir. 1998)). Indeed, a dismissal of the action, whether on the merits or not, generally means that the defendant is the prevailing party. In Long v. Howard University, 561 F.Supp.2d 85, 96-97 (D.D.C. 2008), the defendant-university was entitled to costs as a prevailing party in an action brought by the plaintiff-student under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. In that case, the defendant was considered the ...

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