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Johnson v. Iac/Interactive Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

October 8, 2014

TIFFANI JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
IAC/INTERACTIVE CORP. and Connected Ventures, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NAOMI REICE BUCHWALD, District Judge.

Final judgment in this action having been entered in favor of defendants, the Clerk of Court taxed $4, 282.25 in costs against plaintiff Tiffani Johnson. Johnson now moves to disallow this taxation of costs, arguing principally that defendants: (1) are not entitled to costs because they were not prevailing parties within the meaning of Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1); (2) are not entitled to costs of several deposition transcripts because the transcripts were ordered for defendants' mere convenience or were not used by the Court; and (3) should not be awarded costs in light of Johnson's financial condition. For the reasons stated herein, we deny Johnson's motion and allow the Clerk's calculation of costs to stand.

BACKGROUND[1]

In the underlying action, Johnson alleged that defendants engaged in racial discrimination culminating in her termination from employment, subjected her to a hostile work environment, and undertook unlawful retaliation against her, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981") and the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"). After discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. In a Memorandum and Order dated February 24, 2014 (the "Summary Judgment Opinion"), we granted defendants' motion insofar as we dismissed the Section 1981 claims with prejudice. Having dismissed the only federal-law claims, we declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining NYCHRL claims, and thus dismissed them without prejudice. Johnson subsequently commenced an NYCHRL action against defendants in state court. Coyne Ltr. at 1 & Encl.; Parker Ltr. at 1.

In the meantime, after final judgment was entered in this Court, defendants sought costs in the amount of $4, 782.75. This was the amount billed by court reporters for transcripts of the depositions of Johnson and five of defendants' employees, each of which defendants had cited in support of their motion for summary judgment. Silverman Decl. Ex. 1 Ex. B.

Johnson objected to defendants' bill of costs, and a Judgment Clerk of this Court held a hearing. The Judgment Clerk noted that although local rules only permit an original deposition transcript plus one copy to be taxed as costs, the invoice for the Johnson deposition stated that an original transcript plus two copies had been provided. Defs. Br. at 2 n.1. Therefore, the Judgment Clerk disallowed one-third of the cost of the Johnson transcript, or $500.50, and allowed costs in the remaining amount of $4, 282.25. Silverman Decl. Ex. 1 Ex. B; id. Ex. 3.

Johnson then moved, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1), to disallow the taxation of costs. In support of her contention that taxing costs against her would cause financial hardship, Johnson submitted two declarations and numerous exhibits that show, inter alia, that she has at least tens of thousands of dollars, and perhaps over $120, 000, in student debt, which she is behind on repaying and which has been the subject of collection litigation; that she was unemployed for one year after defendants terminated her employment; that she was then employed part-time from June 2012 to March 2013 at a wage of $17.50 per hour; and that she has been employed as a full-time "free lance worker" since March 2013 at a wage of $37.50 per hour. Johnson Decl. ¶¶ 7-9 & Exs. 3-5; Johnson Reply Decl. ¶¶ 10, 13 & Exs. 16-18.[2]

DISCUSSION

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that, as a general matter, "costs-other than attorney's fees-should be allowed to the prevailing party." Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). This provision "codifies a venerable presumption"-derivative of a "universally recognized rule of the common law'"-"that prevailing parties are entitled to costs." Marx v. General Revenue Corp. , 133 S.Ct. 1166, 1172 & n.3 (2013) (quoting Mansfield, C. & L.M.R. Co. v. Swan , 111 U.S. 379, 387 (1884)). But although "an award [of costs] against the losing party is the normal rule obtaining in civil litigation, not an exception, " Whitfield v. Scully , 241 F.3d 264, 270 (2d Cir. 2001), "the decision whether to award costs ultimately lies within the sound discretion of the district court." Marx , 133 S.Ct. at 1172.

Exercising our independent judgment on the taxation of costs, see Whitfield , 241 F.3d at 269, we find no merit in Johnson's contentions that the Clerk of Court erred in calculating taxable costs, and we decline to exercise our discretion to disallow those costs.

I. Defendants Are the Prevailing Parties

Johnson first argues that because we dismissed her NYCHRL claims without prejudice, leaving her free to pursue them in state court, defendants are not the prevailing parties. We disagree.

Rule 54(d) permits the taxation of costs only in favor of prevailing parties. Within the meaning of Rule 54(d), "for a party to be prevailing, ' there must be a judicially sanctioned change in the legal relationship of the parties.'" Dattner v. Conagra Foods, Inc. , 458 F.3d 98, 101 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Virginia Dep't of Health & Human Resources , 532 U.S. 598, 605 (2001)). A defendant may prevail by winning "a judgment on the merits, " Mr. L. v. Sloan , 449 F.3d 405, 406 (2d Cir. 2006), which alters the legal relationship of the parties in that it "immunize[s] [the] defendant from the risk of further litigation on the merits of a plaintiff's claims, " Dattner , 458 F.3d at 103.

Furthermore, a prevailing party "need not have been successful on every claim in the litigation." Vuona v. Merrill Lynch & Co., No. 10 Civ. 6529 (PAE), 2013 WL 1971572, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. May 14, 2013). The principle that a "claimant who has obtained some relief usually will be regarded as the prevailing party even though he has not sustained all his claims" applies likewise to a defendant. Id . (quoting Hamptons Locations, Inc. v. Rubens, No. 01 Civ. 5477 (DRH), 2010 WL 3522808, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 2, 2010)). Thus, "when a court grants a defendant summary judgment on the plaintiff's federal claims and dismisses the state law claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the defendant is ...


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