568 U.S. 371 (2013), 11-1175, Marx v. General Revenue Corp.

Docket Nº:11-1175
Citation:568 U.S. 371, 133 S.Ct. 1166, 185 L.Ed.2d 242, 81 U.S.L.W. 4135, 84 Fed.R.Serv.3d 1486, 24 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 60
Opinion Judge:Thomas, Justice.
Party Name:OLIVEA MARX, Petitioner v. GENERAL REVENUE CORPORATION
Attorney:Allison M. Zieve argued the cause for petitioner. Eric J. Feigin argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court. Lisa S. Blatt argued the cause for respondent.
Judge Panel:Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kagan, J., joined, post, p.___. Justice Sotomayor, with whom Justice Kagan joins, dissenting.
Case Date:February 26, 2013
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 371

568 U.S. 371 (2013)

133 S.Ct. 1166, 185 L.Ed.2d 242, 81 U.S.L.W. 4135, 84 Fed.R.Serv.3d 1486, 24 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 60

OLIVEA MARX, Petitioner

v.

GENERAL REVENUE CORPORATION

No. 11-1175

United States Supreme Court

February 26, 2013

Argued November 7, 2012.

Page 372

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

Marx v. General Revenue Corp., 668 F.3d 1174 (10th Cir. Colo., 2011)

SYLLABUS

[133 S.Ct. 1168] Petitioner Marx filed suit, alleging that General Revenue Corporation (GRC) violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by harassing and falsely threatening her in order to collect on a [133 S.Ct. 1169] debt. The District [185 L.Ed.2d 247] Court ruled against Marx and awarded GRC costs pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FRCP) 54(d)(1), which gives district courts discretion to award costs to prevailing defendants " [u]nless a federal statute . . . provides otherwise." Marx sought to vacate the award, arguing that the court's discretion under Rule 54(d)(1) was displaced by 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3), which provides, in pertinent part, that " [o]n a finding by the court that an action under this section was brought in bad faith and for the purpose of harassment, the court may award to the defendant attorney's fees reasonable in relation to the work expended and costs." The District Court rejected Marx's argument. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, in pertinent part, agreeing that costs are allowed under the Rule and concluding that nothing in the statute's text, history, or purpose indicates that it was meant to displace the Rule.

Held: Section § 1692k(a)(3) is not contrary to, and, thus, does not displace a district court's discretion to award costs under, Rule 54(d)(1). Pp. ___ - ___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 250-257.

(a) Rule 54(d)(1) gives courts discretion to award costs to prevailing parties, but this discretion can be displaced by a federal statute or FRCP that " provides otherwise," i.e., is " contrary" to Rule 54(d)(1). Contrary to the argument of Marx and the United States, as amicus, language of the original 1937 version of the Rule does not suggest that any " express provision" for costs should displace Rule 54(d)(1), regardless of whether it is contrary to the Rule. Pp. ___ - ___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 250-252.

(b) Section 1692k(a)(3)'s language and context demonstrate that the provision is not contrary to Rule 54(d)(1). Pp. ___ - ___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 252-257.

(1) GRC argues that since § 1692k(a)(3) does not address whether costs may be awarded in an FDCPA case brought in good faith, it does not set forth a standard that is contrary to the Rule and therefore does not displace the presumption that a court has discretion to award costs. Marx and the United States concede that the statute does not expressly limit a court's discretion to award costs under the Rule, but argue that it does so by negative implication. They claim that unless § 1692k(a)(3) sets forth the exclusive basis on which to award costs, the phrase " and costs" would be superfluous with Rule 54(d)(1). And the United States also argues that § 1692k(a)(3)'s more specific cost statute displaces Rule 54(d)(1)'s more general rule. Pp. ___ - ___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 252-253.

(2) The argument of Marx and the United States depends critically on whether § 1692k(a)(3)'s allowance of costs creates a negative implication that costs are unavailable in any other circumstances. The expressio unius canon that they invoke does not apply " unless it is fair to suppose that Congress considered the unnamed possibility and meant to say no to it," Barnhart v. Peabody Coal Co., 537 U.S. 149, 168, 123 S.Ct. 748, 154 L.Ed.2d 653, and can be overcome by " contrary indications that adopting a particular rule or statute was probably not meant to signal any exclusion," United States

v. Vonn, 535 U.S. 55, 65, 122 S.Ct. 1043, 152 L.Ed.2d 90. Here, context indicates that Congress did not intend § 1692k(a)(3) to foreclose courts from awarding costs under the Rule. First, under the [185 L.Ed.2d 248] American Rule, each litigant generally pays his own attorney's fees, but the Court has long recognized that federal courts have inherent power to award attorney's fees in a narrow set of circumstances, e.g., when a party brings an action in bad faith. The statute is thus best read as codifying a court's pre-existing authority to award both attorney's fees and costs. Next, § 1692k(a)(3)'s second sentence must be understood in light [133 S.Ct. 1170] of its first, which provides an award of attorney's fees and costs, but to prevailing plaintiffs. By adding " and costs" to the second sentence, Congress foreclosed the argument that defendants can only recover attorney's fees when plaintiffs bring an action in bad faith and removed any doubt that defendants may recover costs as well as attorney's fees in such cases. Finally, § 1692k(a)(3)'s language sharply contrasts with that of other statutes in which Congress has placed conditions on awarding costs to prevailing defendants. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. § 1928. Pp. ___ - ___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 253-255.

(3) Even assuming that their surplusage argument is correct, the canon against surplusage is not absolute. First, the canon " assists only where a competing interpretation gives effect to every clause and word of a statute." Microsoft Corp. v. i4i Ltd. P'ship, 564 U.S. 91, 106, 131 S.Ct. 2238, 180 L.Ed.2d 131. (internal quotation marks omitted).Here, no interpretation of § 1692k(a)(3) gives effect to every word. Second, redundancy is not unusual in statutes addressing costs. See, e.g., 12 U.S.C. § 2607(d)(5). Finally, the canon is strongest when an interpretation would render superfluous another part of the same statutory scheme. Because § 1692k(a)(3) is not part of Rule 54(d)(1), the force of this canon is diminished. Pp. ___ -___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 255-256.

(4) Lastly, contrary to the United States' claim that specific cost-shifting standards displace general ones, the context of the statute indicates that Congress was simply confirming the background presumption that courts may award to defendants attorney's fees and costs when the plaintiff brings an action in bad faith. Because Marx did not bring this suit in bad faith, the specific provision is not applicable. Pp. ___ - ___, 185 L.Ed.2d, at 256-257.

668 F.3d 1174, affirmed.

Allison M. Zieve argued the cause for petitioner.

Eric J. Feigin argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court.

Lisa S. Blatt argued the cause for respondent.

Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kagan, J., joined, post, p.___.

OPINION

Page 373

Thomas, Justice.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) gives district courts discretion to award costs to prevailing defendants " [u]nless a federal statute . . . provides otherwise." The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 91 Stat. 881, 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3), provides that " [o]n a finding by the court that an action under this section was brought in bad faith and for [133 S.Ct. 1171] the purpose of harassment, the court may award

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to the defendant attorney's fees reasonable in relation to the work expended and [185 L.Ed.2d 249] costs." This case presents the question whether § 1692k(a)(3) " provides otherwise" than Rule 54(d)(1). We conclude that § 1692k(a)(3) does not " provid[e] otherwise," and, thus, a district court may award costs to prevailing defendants in FDCPA cases without finding that the plaintiff brought the case in bad faith and for the purpose of harassment.

I

Petitioner Olivea Marx defaulted on a student loan guaranteed by EdFund, a division of the California Student Aid Commission. In September 2008, EdFund hired respondent General Revenue Corporation (GRC) to collect the debt. One month later, Marx filed an FDCPA enforcement action against GRC.[1] Marx alleged that GRC had violated the FDCPA by harassing her with phone calls several times a day and falsely threatening to garnish up to 50% of her wages and to take the money she owed directly from her bank account. Shortly after the complaint was filed, GRC made an offer of judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68 to pay Marx $1,500, plus reasonable attorney's fees and costs, to settle any claims she had against it. Marx did not respond to the offer. She subsequently amended her complaint to add a claim that GRC unlawfully sent a fax to her workplace that requested information about her employment status.

Following a 1-day bench trial, the District Court found that Marx had failed to prove any violation of the FDCPA. As the prevailing party, GRC...

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