Friday, May 28, 2021

SCOTUS Decision on District Court Discretion to Deny or Reduce Costs under FRAP 39

Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in San Antonio v. Hotels.com, L. P. Justice Alito’s opinion for the Court begins:

Civil litigation in the federal courts is often an expensive affair, and each party, win or lose, generally bears many of its own litigation expenses, including attorney’s fees that are subject to the so-called American Rule. Baker Botts L. L. P. v. ASARCO LLC, 576 U. S. 121, 126 (2015). But certain “costs” are treated differently. Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 39 governs the taxation of appellate “costs,” and the question in this case is whether a district court has the discretion to deny or reduce those costs. We hold that it does not and therefore affirm the judgment below.

Although the Court concludes that “Rule 39 does not permit a district court to alter a court of appeals’ allocation of the costs listed in subdivision (e) of that Rule,” it does let the appellate court delegate the cost-allocation question to the district court:

In all events, if a court of appeals thinks that a district court is better suited to allocate the appellate costs listed in Rule 39(e), the court of appeals may delegate that responsibility to the district court, as several Courts of Appeals have done in the past. See, e.g., Emmenegger v. Bull Moose Tube Co., 324 F. 3d 616, 626 (CA8 2003); Guse v. J. C. Penney Co., 570 F. 2d 679, 681–682 (CA7 1978). The parties agree that this pragmatic approach is permitted. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 15, 44. And nothing we say here should be read to cast doubt on it. See Rule 39(a) (imposing no direct limitations on the court’s ability to “orde[r] otherwise”); Rule 41(a) (the mandate includes “any direction about costs”).

And Justice Alito’s opinion also encourages litigants to make their arguments about cost allocation to the appellate court before it makes its cost-allocation decision. Although he recognizes that “the current Rules and the relevant statutes could specify more clearly the procedure that such a party should follow to bring their arguments to the court of appeals,” he writes:

Rule 27 sets forth a generally applicable procedure for seeking relief in a court of appeals, and a simple motion “for an order” under Rule 27 should suffice to seek an order under Rule 39(a). Compare Fed. Rule App. Proc. 39(a) (“The following rules apply unless . . . the court orders otherwise”) with Rule 27(a) (“An application for an order . . . is made by motion unless these rules prescribe another form”). The OTCs also identify instances where parties have raised their arguments through other procedural vehicles, including merits briefing, see Rule 28, objections to a bill of costs, see Rule 39(d)(2), and petitions for rehearing, see Rule 40. Brief for Respondents 42, nn. 9–11. We do not foreclose litigants from raising their arguments in any manner consistent with the relevant federal and local Rules.

And finally, Justice Alito flags but does not resolve an issue raised by the Solicitor General about the relationship between FRAP 39 and 28 U.S.C. § 1920. Here’s footnote 4:

As the United States points out, see Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 19, n. 4, we have interpreted Rule 54(d) to provide for taxing only the costs already made taxable by statute, namely, 28 U. S. C. §1920. See Crawford Fitting Co. v. J. T. Gibbons, Inc., 482 U. S. 437, 441–442 (1987). Supersedeas bond premiums, despite being referenced in Appellate Rule 39(e)(3), are not listed as taxable costs in §1920. San Antonio has not raised any argument that Rule 39 is inconsistent with §1920 in this respect. We accordingly do not consider this issue.

 

 

 

 

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