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Augustin v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 20, 2019

LEA and GERARD AUGUSTIN, THOMAS and DONA MCSORLEY and RICHMOND WATERFRONT INDUSTRIAL PARK, LLC, Plaintiffs
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOYNER, J.

         This matter presently appears on the docket of the undersigned for disposition of the Plaintiffs' Motion for Court Review of the Clerk's Taxation of Costs. We shall grant the motion and after reviewing the costs taxed, shall disallow the videography expenses incurred in addition to the deposition transcription costs for the three plaintiffs' depositions and modify the amount taxed for photocopying expenses.

         Brief History of the Case

          This action was filed several years ago by the plaintiffs, who are residential and commercial landlords in the City of Philadelphia, seeking injunctive relief from the practice of the City's wholly-owned gas utility, Philadelphia Gas Works, of liening Plaintiffs' properties for the unpaid utility bills of their tenants. Indeed, it was not uncommon for these liens to have been imposed several years after the debts had accrued and the tenancies had ended and with little or sometimes no notice having been afforded to the plaintiff landlords/property owners beforehand.

         In disposing of various motions and other proceedings in this matter, this Court eventually: (1) granted the Plaintiff-landlords' motion for summary judgment finding that the method which PGW was following to lien the properties was violative of the procedural due process clause of the 14th Amendment; (2) certified a class essentially consisting of all owners of rental properties within the City of Philadelphia whose properties are/were subject to being liened for the unpaid gas bills of their tenants; and (3) permanently enjoined the City from continuing to use its existing methodology for imposing gas liens on the properties of the plaintiffs and members of the class. (Orders of March 17, 2016, November 30, 2016, and January 4, 2017). In a Decision issued on July 18, 2018 finding that the post-deprivation remedies available under the Pennsylvania Lien Law were sufficient to pass constitutional muster, a panel of the Third Circuit reversed and directed this Court to enter judgment in this matter in favor of the City. We complied with this mandate on November 14, 2018, and Defendant filed its bill of costs with the Clerk of Court on November 27, 2018. Subsequently and over the Plaintiffs' objections, the Clerk taxed costs and entered judgment thereon in the amount of $13, 333.49 on April 15, 2019. On April 22, 2019, Plaintiffs timely filed the motion for review of the bill of costs which is now before us.

         Discussion

          The taxing of costs is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1) which reads 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. But costs against the United States, its officers, and its agencies may be imposed only to the extent allowed by law. 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.

         By the foregoing language then, “Rule 54(d)(1) creates a strong presumption that costs are to be awarded to the prevailing party.” Galaxy Products & Services, Inc. v. Ami Entertainment Network, Inc., Civ. A. No. 12-6963, 2016 WL 304760, *1 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 26, 2016)(citing In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litigation, 221 F.3d 449, 462 (3d Cir. 2000)). Although the determination is case and fact-specific, a prevailing party for purposes of Rule 54(d) is ordinarily the party in whose favor judgment is rendered. Tyler v. O'Neill, No. 03-4857, 112 Fed.Appx. 158, 161 (3d Cir. Oct. 13, 2004); Morris v. Consolidated Rail Corp., Civ. A. No. 13-3244, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71390, 2019 WL 1894823 at *5 (D.N.J. Apr. 29, 2019). Moreover, “[i]n light of the strong presumption towards the awarding of costs, ‘the losing party bears the burden of making the showing that an award is inequitable under the circumstances.'” Montgomery County v. Microvote Corp., Civ. A. No. 97-6331, 2004 WL 1087196 at *1 (E.D. Pa. May 13, 2004)(quoting Paoli R.R. Litigation, 221 F.3d at 462-463). “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. The Nemours Foundation, Inc., 599 F.3d 285, 288 (3d Cir. 2010)(quoting Paoli R.R. Litigation, 221 F.3d at 462-463, 468). “Thus, if a district court, within its discretion, denies or reduces a prevailing party's award of costs, it must articulate its reasons for doing so.” Id. The District Court's review of an objection to a taxation of costs is de novo. Camesi v. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 818 F.3d 132, 136 (3d Cir. 2016); Ke v. Drexel University, No. 16-2960, 686 Fed.Appx. 98, 100 (3d Cir. Apr. 13, 2017); In re Paoli, 221 F.3d at 461.

         The litigation expenses that qualify as taxable “costs” is specified in 28 U.S.C. §1920. Race Tires America, Inc. v. Hoosier Racing Tire Corp., 674 F.3d 158, 163 (3d Cir. 2012). To be sure, Section 1920 reads:

         A judge or clerk of any court of the United States may tax as costs the following:

(1) Fees of the clerk and marshal;
(2) Fees for printed or electronically recorded transcripts necessarily obtained ...

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