482 U.S. 437 (1987), 86-322, Crawford Fitting Co. v. J. T. Gibbons, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 86-322
Citation:482 U.S. 437, 107 S.Ct. 2494, 96 L.Ed.2d 385, 55 U.S.L.W. 4820
Party Name:Crawford Fitting Co. v. J. T. Gibbons, Inc.
Case Date:June 15, 1987
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 437

482 U.S. 437 (1987)

107 S.Ct. 2494, 96 L.Ed.2d 385, 55 U.S.L.W. 4820

Crawford Fitting Co.

v.

J. T. Gibbons, Inc.

No. 86-322

United States Supreme Court

June 15, 1987

Argued April 29, 1987

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Title 28 U.S.C. § 1920 provides that a federal court "may tax" specified items, including witness fees, as costs against the losing party, and § 1821(b) states that a witness "shall be paid" a fee of $30 per day for court attendance. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d) provides in part:

Except when express provision therefor is made either in a statute of the United States or in these rules, costs shall be allowed as of course to the prevailing party unless the court otherwise directs.

In No. 86-322, petitioners prevailed as the defendants in an antitrust action filed by respondent, and the Federal District Court awarded, as part of petitioners' costs, an amount for expert witness fees in excess of § 1821(b)'s $30-per-day limit, holding that Rule 54(d) granted it discretion to exceed such limit. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that § 1821(b)'s limit controlled. In No. 86-328, petitioner prevailed in an action against it by respondents for alleged violations of federal civil rights statutes. The Federal District Court refused to order respondents to reimburse petitioner for its expert witness fees to the extent they exceeded the $30-per-day limit, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: When a prevailing party seeks reimbursement for fees paid to its expert witnesses, a federal court is bound by the limits of § 1821(b), absent contract or explicit statutory authority to the contrary. There is no merit to petitioners' contentions that, since § 1920 lists expenses which a court "may" tax as costs, it only authorizes taxation of such items, and does not preclude taxation for other items or amounts in excess of the § 1821(b) fee; and that the discretion granted by Rule 54(d) is a separate power to tax expenses as costs. If Rule 54(d) were so construed, § 1920 would serve no role whatsoever. The better view is that § 1920 defines the term "costs" as used in Rule 54(d) and enumerates expenses that a federal court may tax as costs under the discretionary authority found in Rule 54(d). Section 1920 is phrased permissibly because Rule 54(d) generally grants a federal court discretion to refuse to tax costs in favor of

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the prevailing party. Such discretion is not a power to evade the specific congressional command limiting the amount of witness fees. Rather, it is solely a power to decline to tax, as costs, the items enumerated in § 1920. The dictum to the contrary in Farmer v. Arabian American Oil Co., 379 U.S. 227, is disapproved. Henkel v. Chicago, S. P., M. & O. R. Co., 284 U.S. 444 -- which held that federal courts had no authority to award expert witness fees in excess of the 1853 statutory limit -- controls here, even though it was decided before the adoption of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the merger of law and equity in the federal courts. Cf. Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. Wilderness Society, 421 U.S. 240. Pp. 441-445.

790 F.2d 1193, affirmed and remanded; and 790 F.2d 1174, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J. filed a concurring opinion, [107 S.Ct. 2496] post p. 445. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post p. 445.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

In these two consolidated cases, we address the power of federal courts to require a losing party to pay the compensation of the winner's expert witnesses. In No. 86-322, respondent J. T. Gibbons, Inc., sued petitioner Crawford Fitting Co. and other petitioners for alleged violations of the

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antitrust laws. The District Court directed a verdict in favor of petitioners. 565 F.Supp. 167 (ED La.1981), aff'd, 704 F.2d 787 (CA5 1983). Petitioners then filed a bill of costs with the Clerk of that court, seeking reimbursement from respondent for over $220,000 in litigation expenses, including substantial expert witness fees. The District Court held that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d) granted it discretion to exceed the $30-per-day witness fee limit found in 28 U.S.C. § 1821(b). It accordingly awarded petitioners $86,480.70 for their expert witnesses. 102 F.R.D. 73 (ED La.1984). En banc, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the limit of § 1821(b) controlled. 790 F.2d 1193 (1986). In No. 86-328, respondent International Woodworkers of America (IWA) sued petitioner Champion International, alleging racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. After a trial on the merits, the District Court dismissed all of respondent's claims. Petitioner thereafter filed a bill of costs, including $11,807 in expert witness fees. The District Court declined to order respondent to reimburse petitioner for these fees to the extent they exceeded the $30-per-day limit. The en banc Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding the limit set forth in § 1821(b) dispositive. 790 F.2d 1174 (1986). We agree, and hold that, when a prevailing party seeks reimbursement for fees paid to its own expert witnesses, a federal court is bound by the limit of § 1821(b), absent contract or explicit statutory authority to the contrary.

In 1793, Congress enacted a general provision linking some taxable costs in most cases in federal courts to the practice of the courts of the State in which the federal court sat. Act of Mar. 1, 1793, § 4, 1 Stat. 333. This provision expired in 1799. Apparently, from 1799 until 1853, federal courts continued to refer to state rules governing taxable costs. See Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. Wilderness Society, 421 U.S. 240, 250 (1975). By 1853, there was a "great diversity

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in practice among the courts" and "losing litigants were being unfairly saddled with exorbitant fees." Id. at 251. Accordingly, Congress returned to the issue and comprehensively regulated fees and the taxation of fees as costs in the federal courts. The resulting 1853 Fee Act "was a far-reaching Act specifying in detail the nature and amount of the taxable items of cost in the federal courts." 421 U.S. at 251-252.

It provided, in part,

That in lieu of the compensation now allowed by law to attorneys, solicitors, . . . and . . . witnesses . . . in the several States, the following and no other compensation shall be taxed and allowed.

Act of Feb. 26, 1853, 10 Stat. 161. The rate for witnesses was set at $1.50 per day. 10 Stat. 167. The sweeping reforms of the 1853 Act have been carried forward to today, "without any apparent intent to change the controlling rules." Alyeska Pipeline, supra, at 255. Title 28 U.S.C. § 1920 now embodies Congress' [107 S.Ct. 2497] considered choice as to the kinds of expenses that a federal court may tax as costs against the losing party:

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 of the court reporter for all or any part of the stenographic transcript necessarily obtained for use in the case;

(3)...

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