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HELZING v. LOYOLA UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

November 15, 2004.

WILLIAM HELZING, Plaintiff,
v.
LOYOLA UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On August 13, 2004, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant Loyola University of Chicago. Defendant proceeded to file a Bill of Costs seeking $7,958.92. Specifically, Defendant seeks: 1) $6,458.09 for court reporting and transcription; 2) $1,296.83 for exemplification and photocopying; and 3) $204.00 for computerized legal research. Plaintiff objects and asks the Court to deny the entire Bill of Costs or, in the alternative, to reduce the Bill of Costs to $6,364.06.

LEGAL STANDARDS

  Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d) provides that "costs other than attorneys' fees shall be allowed as of course to the prevailing party unless the court otherwise directs." Fed.R.Civ. P. 54(d)(1). Recoverable costs include: 1) clerk and marshal fees; 2) fees for necessary transcripts obtained for use in the case; 3) witness fees and expenses; 4) fees for copies of papers necessarily obtained for use in the case; 5) docket fees; and 6) compensation for court-appointed experts and interpreters. See 28 U.S.C. § 1920; see also Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Indus. Co., Ltd., 126 F.3d 926, 945 (7th Cir. 1997). There is a strong presumption in favor of awarding costs to the prevailing party under Rule 54(d). Majeske v. City of Chicago, 218 F.3d 816, 824 (7th Cir. 2000). This presumption is difficult to overcome, and the Court's discretion is narrowly confined — it must award costs unless it establishes good reasons for denying them. Weeks, 126 F.3d at 945. The Court may tax costs against the non-prevailing party when the cost imposed is recoverable and the amount assessed is reasonable. Majeske, 218 F.3d at 824.

  ANALYSIS

  I. Costs Are Appropriate

  Generally, courts may deny costs for two reasons: 1) the prevailing party engaged in misconduct worthy of a penalty; or 2) the losing party is unable to pay. Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Indus. Co., Ltd., 126 F.3d 926, 945 (7th Cir. 1997). Plaintiff argues that he is unable to pay costs because of a substantial loss of money and indebtedness due to a series of tragic events. Defendant argues that a claim of financial difficulty is insufficient to warrant a court's denial of costs.

  To overcome the presumption that costs are to be awarded to the prevailing party, the losing party must demonstrate that he is indigent. McGill v. Faulkner, 18 F.3d 456, 459 (7th Cir. 1994); Badillo v. Central Steel & Wire Co., 717 F.2d 1160, 1165 (7th Cir. 1983). It is not enough that the losing party shows that he has limited financial resources. Burroughs v. Hills, 741 F.2d 1525, 1533 (7th Cir. 1984); Washington v. Village of Riverside Illinois, No. 01 C 7438, 2003 WL 21789000, at *2 (N.D. Ill Aug. 4, 2003). "It is unfortunate that the costs may be large and the losing [party] may be hard-pressed to pay them, but we cannot find in those circumstances a good basis for denying costs . . . under Rule 54(d). . . ." Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. Colbert, 692 F.2d 489, 491 (7th Cir. 1982). Further, the losing party must establish that not only is he presently unable to pay costs, but also that he will likely be unable to pay costs in the future. McGill, 18 F.3d at 459. Plaintiff testifies that several tragic accidents have depleted his savings and left him deeply indebted, which, combined, make him unable to pay the costs. Specifically, he asserts that he has no savings, no money in checking, no investments, stocks, or bonds, $15,000 in an IRA, and $3,500 in his wife's IRA. Additionally, he states that he owes more than $37,000 in personal loans, more than $37,000 in credit card debt, $12,000 on a car loan, and will incur substantial medical bills in the future. Plaintiff estimates that his monthly living expenses are more than $7,000. Even considering all of these expenses, Plaintiff is not indigent. Plaintiff's and his wife's combined monthly take home pay equals approximately $9,000, more than enough to cover the estimated monthly living expenses. Further, Plaintiff owns a home valued around $360,000, with nearly $100,000 in equity. While the Court sympathizes with Plaintiff regarding his recent tragedies, the Court cannot determine that Plaintiff is indigent. Accordingly, Defendant is entitled to an award of recoverable costs.

  II. Specific Costs Recoverable Under The Statute

  A. Court Reporting and Transcript Fees

  Defendant seeks a total of $6,458.09 in court reporting and transcript fees. Plaintiff argues that Defendant may not recover costs computed at rates set above those established by the Judicial Conference of the United States. Plaintiff also asserts that Defendant is not entitled to delivery charges or costs associated with their request for a transcript of a pretrial hearing. Finally, Plaintiff argues that a copy rate of $0.30 a page is unreasonable.

  1. Court Reporter Fees

  Local Rule 54.1(b) of the Northern District Court of Illinois mandates that "the costs of the transcript or deposition shall not exceed the regular copy rate as established by the Judicial Conference of the United States and in effect at the time the transcript or deposition was filed unless some other rate was previously provided by order of court." At the time of Defendant's depositions, the established Judicial Conference rates for this district were: $3.30 per page for an original transcript, $4.40 per page for each expedited copy, $0.83 per page for a copy of a transcript to each party, and $0.55 per page for each additional copy to the same party. See General Order, United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois http://10.205.15.104/CLERKS_OFFICE/CrtReporter/tfee0203.pdf (Feb. 28, 2003).

  Defendant acknowledges that rates for nine out of ten deposition transcripts exceed the established rate of $3.30 per page, but argues that it is entitled to costs at the excess rate because Plaintiff's attorney selected the court reporters for these depositions. Defendant asserts that it should not be penalized for being forced to pay an amount over the Judicial Conference per page rate when it had no control over selecting the court reporter or negotiating a rate within the established limit. Defendant urges the Court to use its discretion and allow it to recover its costs at a rate in excess of the Judicial Conference's established limit. Local Rule 54.1 states the Court "shall not exceed" the rate established by the Judicial Conference of the United States. (emphasis added). The Court, therefore, will reduce Defendant's costs in accordance with the Judicial Conference rates. See also Tirapelli v. Advanced Equities, Inc., 222 F. Supp. 2d 1081, 1084-85 ...


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