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Vukadinovich v. Hanover Community School Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

January 20, 2017

BRIAN VUKADINOVICH, Plaintiff,
v.
HANOVER COMMUNITY SCHOOL CORPORATION, ET AL., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PHILIP P. SIMON, CHIEF JUDGE

         A jury awarded judgment in favor of Plaintiff Brian Vukadinovich on one of three claims after a five-day trial. Vukadinovich now seeks the taxation of costs in the amount of $11, 387.04. Defendants Hanover Community School Corporation and Former Superintendent Carol A. Kaiser object to the award of costs on the ground that Vukadinovich cannot be considered the prevailing party. In the event that those arguments are unavailing, the Defendants also registered specific objections to some of Vukadinovich's costs. As detailed below, Vukadinovich's requests for costs will be granted, but with modifications.

         Discussion

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) governs the award of costs. Costs other than attorneys' fees are allowed as a matter of course to the prevailing party unless the Court directs otherwise. Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). While the district court has wide discretion in awarding costs, Rule 54(d)(1) creates a “presumption in favor of a cost award” as long as the costs are statutorily authorized. Cefalu v. Village of Elk Grove, 211 F.3d 416, 427 (7th Cir. 2000); see also Beamon v. Marshall & Isley Trust Co., 411 F.3d 854, 864 (7th Cir. 2005) (holding that “[t]here is a presumption that the prevailing party will recover costs, and the losing party bears the burden of an affirmative showing that taxed costs are not appropriate.”).

         The Seventh Circuit has held that “the ‘prevailing party' is the party who prevails ‘as to the substantial part of the litigation.'” First Commodity Traders, Inc. v. Heinold Commodities, Inc., 766 F.2d 1007, 1015 (7th Cir. 1985) (quoting Best Medium Publishing Company, Inc. v. National Insider, Inc., 385 F.2d 384, 386 (7th Cir. 1967). In determining whether a party prevailed as to the substantial part of the litigation, courts look to the substance of the litigation, the relief sought, and the relief awarded, not necessarily the number of claims on which a party prevailed. “[W[hen one party gets substantial relief it ‘prevails' even if it doesn't win on every claim.” Slane v. Mariah Boats, Inc., 164 F.3d 1065, 1068 (7th Cir. 1999) (finding that a plaintiff that prevailed on two of four claims and got $225, 000 from the jury prevailed within the meaning of Rule 54(d)(1)); see also Smart v. Local 702 Intern. Broth. of Elec. Workers, 573 F.3d 523, 525 (7th Cir. 2009) (“A party prevails for purposes of Rule 54(d) when a final judgment awards it substantial relief.”).

         Rule 54(d) allows a prevailing party to recover only those costs listed in 28 U.S.C. § 1920. Crawford Fitting Co. v. J.T. Gibbons, Inc., 482 U.S. 437, 441-42 (1987); Winniczek v. Nagelberg, 400 F.3d 503, 504 (7th Cir. 2005). These costs include:

(1) Fees of the clerk and marshal;
(2) Fees for printed or electronically recorded transcripts necessarily obtained for use in the case;
(3) Fees and disbursements for printing and witnesses;
(4) Fees for exemplification and the costs of making copies of any materials where the copies are necessarily obtained for use in the case;
(5) Docket fees . . .;
(6) Compensation of court appointed experts . . . .

28 U.S.C. § 1920. Before assessing costs, the court must determine (1) “that the expenses are allowable cost items, ” and (2) “that the amounts are reasonable and necessary.” Northbrook Excess & Surplus Ins. Co. v. Procter & Gamble Co., 924 F.2d 633, 642 (7th Cir. 1991).

         Defendants argue that Vukadinovich should not be awarded costs under Rule 54(d)(1) because he did not prevail “as to the substantial part of the litigation” because he only prevailed on his Due Process claim, and the jury found against him on his age discrimination and retaliation claims. [DE 420 at 1-2.] But the substance of this litigation can be boiled down to a single question, “Was Vukadinovich treated fairly when he was terminated?” The jury answered a resounding “NO” when it found in Vukadinovich's favor on his Due Process claim and awarded him $203, 840.89 in damages. So while ...


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