Recovering Litigation Costs in Illinois State Court – What About Westlaw Research?

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In a small dollar case, a plaintiff’s recoverable “costs” typically include filing fees and service fees. See Household Int’l v. Liberty Mutual, 195 Ill. 2d 578 (2001).  This amount is usually negligible (usually less than $500) and not worth fighting over. However, where a fee-shifting provision in a contract provides for prevailing party “litigation expenses” or “costs of collection” (as many commercial contracts do) and the case drags on one or more years, the litigation costs can be substantial.

In Illinois, “[c]osts are allowances in the nature of incidental damages awarded by law to reimburse the prevailing party, to some extent at least, for the expenses necessarily incurred in the assertion of his rights in court.” Galowich v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 92 Ill. 2d 157, 165-66 (1982).

Code sections 5-108 and 5-109 – allow the a winning party to recover costs. The First District, in  analyzing a Federal Truth in Lending claim, held that any expenses paid to a third party including expert witness expenses, special process server expenses, deposition expenses, filing and messenger fees and computerized legal research costs can all be recovered by the prevailing plaintiff. Johnson v. Thomas, 342 Ill.App.3d 382, 401-402 (1st Dist. 2003).

By contrast, “overhead expenses” – costs a lawyer incurs independent of a specific case – are generally not recoverable.  Overhead costs include: telephone charges, in-house delivery charges, in-house photocopying, check processing, newspaper subscriptions, and in-house paralegal and secretarial assistance. Id. at 401-402.

The reason: overhead costs, at least in theory, are already reflected in an attorney’s hourly rate. See Harris Trust & Savings Bank, 230 Ill. App. 3d 591, 599 (1st Dist. 1992).

Whether a prevailing party can recover for computerized legal research expenses will turn on the winning side’s billing method.  Where the attorney’s fee is contingent or fixed – computer research expenses are not allowed.  The theory being that the computer research benefitted the contingent fee lawyer by reducing his research time and increasing his efficiency.  Because of this, the contingent lawyer should not be able to shift the computer research costs to a losing party. 

In contrast, for an attorney charging by the hour, the saved time resulting from computer research actually works against him – he will bill for fewer hours than if he researched the “old fashioned way” (does anyone remember Shepardizing?). 

With hourly billing, “the attorney should not be required to absorb the additional expense engendered by computer research fees in light of the diminished billable hours that result from such computer assistance”. Id.

Johnson does caution that computer research expenses are properly denominated “fees”; not costs. This is because computer research is part of the attorney’s overall effort in prosecuting or defending his client’s case. Id. So, if the statute or contract allows for recovery of fees and costs, computerized research expenses will be recoverable.  Conversely, if the contract only provides for winning party “costs”, computer research charges can’t be recovered under Johnson‘s rationale.

The take-away: I’ve been involved in more than a few multi-year cases where the litigation expenses (aside from the attorneys’ fees) exceeded $10,000.  As a consequence, a working knowledge of what litigation expenses an Illinois court will and will not permit is essential for practitioners engaged in protracted commercial litigation.  

 

Recovering Litigation Costs in Federal Court (Northern District of Illinois)

Federal court litigants in Illinois should be versed in 28 U.S.C. §1920, FRCP 54 and Northern District Local Rule 54.1 – both of which govern recoverable costs and the procedures for recovering those costs in Federal court.  Broadly, the prevailing party has 30 days from date of judgment to file a Bill of Costs.  Failing that, all of his costs – except for “clerk” costs (28 U.S.C. § 1920) – are waived. LR 54.1(a).

FRCP 54 creates a strong presumption that the prevailing party may recover reasonable and necessary litigation costs from the losing party.  Huerta v. Village of Carol Stream, 2013 WL 427140 (N.D.Ill. 2013).  28 U.S.C. §1920 provides that a winning party can recover: (1) clerk and marshal fees [filing and service fees, e.g.]; (2) fees for transcripts necessarily obtained for use in a case; (3) printing and witness fees; (4) exemplification/certification costs for materials necessarily used in a case; (5) docket fees; and (6) court-appointed experts and interpreters’ fees.  Id.  The prevailing party has the burden of showing that the requested costs are necessary and reasonable and once that burden is met, the losing party must show that the costs are not appropriate.  Beamon v. Marshall & Isley Trust Co., 411 F.3d 854 (7th Cir. 2005). 

A prevailing Federal court party’s private process server fees are also recoverable, so long as they don’t exceed the applicable marshall’s fees ($55/hour pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 0.0114(a)(3); see Huerta, 2013 WL 427140, *3.  As for deposition costs, whether transcript costs are allowed depends on whether it was reasonably and necessarily “related to an issue that was present in the case at the time the deposition was taken.”  Independence Tube Corp. v. Copperweld Corp., 543 F.Supp. 706, 718 (N.D.Ill. 1982).  If so, the victor gets the cost of the original transcript, one copy and an additional copy – so long as the additional copy is tendered to the court.  LR 54.1(b).  The prevailing party can recover up to $3.65 per deposition page.  Huerta, at *3; citing Maximum Transcript Rates, http://www.ilnd.uscourts.gov/home/clerksoffice/CLERKS_OFFICE/CrtReporter/trnscrpt.htm

 However, shipping and handling costs are “ordinary business expenses” and not recoverable.  Bogan v. City of Chi., 2010 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 64187 (N.D.Ill. 2010).

The take-away:  If litigating in Federal court, the recent Huerta case provides a lucid and detailed treatment of allowable and dis-allowable litigation costs.  If presenting or opposing a Bill of Costs, this case and the applicable rules it references should prove useful in supporting your arguments.  Also, effective, May 23, 2013, LR 54.1(b) was amended to provide that court reporter appearance fees may be awarded but those rates shall not exceed the rates published on the Court website.  

References:

Huerta opinion: http://www.abisoft.org/opinions/2013/1_09-cv-01492_20130204.pdf

Local Rule 54.1http://www.ilnd.uscourts.gov/legal/newrules/New00039.htm

Local Rule 54 (amendment May 23, 2013) http://www.ilnd.uscourts.gov/home/clerksoffice/rules/admin/pdf-orders/General%20Order%2013-0011%20-%20Local%20Rule%2054.1.pdf

FRCP 54: http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcp/rule_54

28 U.S.C. §1920: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/28/1920

Misnomer vs. Mistaken Identity – More Than Semantic Hairsplitting?

The misnomer and mistaken identity doctrines apply where a plaintiff sues a defendant too late.

Misnomer occurs when the plaintiff has the wrong name of the right party (ex: I intend to sue Donald Trump but instead name “Ronald Trump” as Defendant). 

Mistaken identity is involved where the plaintiff has named the wrong party. (I sue and serve Marla Maples but later realize I should have served Mr. Trump all along.)

Misnomer is basically a spelling error and the proper party defendant’s name can be corrected at any time, even after judgment.  735 ILCS 5/2-401(b).  

With mistaken identity, Code Section 2-616(d) controls. 

Determining whether misnomer or mistaken identity applies turns on the intent of the plaintiff as established by his objective manifestations of that intent including who the plaintiff actually named in the original complaint.  Maggi v. RAS Development, Inc., 2011 IL App (1st) 091955, ¶ 23. 

In Maggi, a construction negligence case, the First District affirmed the trial court’s ruling that an amended complaint that named the right general contractor (but not until after the statute of limitations ran) – related back to the original complaint’s filing date. 

Maggi followed the US Supreme Court in Krupski v. Costa Crociere, 130 S. Ct. 2485 (2010) and held that the contractor should have known that it was the intended target of plaintiff’s suit; noting the relation-back test is what the defendant to be added knew; not what the adding plaintiff knew.

Code Section 2-616(d)’a three mistaken identity elements are:

(1) whether the original complaint was timely filed;

(2) the defendant to be added – within the time that an action might have been brought against him plus the time for service under Supreme Court Rule 103(b) – received notice of the commencement of the action such that (a) he will not be prejudiced in defending the case and (b) knew or should have known that but for mistaken identity, the action would have been brought against him; and

(3) the original and amended pleadings grew out of the same transaction.  Maggi, ¶ 35.

In finding the amended complaint against the general contractor related back to the original complaint, the Maggi Court analyzed factor (2) above and focused on whether the proper defendant knew or should have known that it would have been named a defendant but for plaintiff’s error and did not focus on what the plaintiff knew (or should have known) .  (¶ 37). 

The Court pointed to evidence that the general contractor defendant knew it was the intended target of plaintiff’s suit.  The plaintiff engaged in extensive discovery to determine the correct identities of the defendants and the general contractor didn’t produce the prime contract (which specifically confirmed the general contractor’s identity) until after the four-year construction repose period lapsed despite repeated requests from the plaintiff. (¶¶ 5, 38). 

Finally, Maggi emphasized that under the Supreme Court Krupski decision, the plaintiff’s speed in moving to amend a complaint (once it has proper defendant info in its possession) is not a factor to consider under Section 2-616(d).  ¶ 39. 

The take-away:

It’s clear that when determining whether a time-barred complaint relates back, the focus is on what the defendant knew or should have known, not on plaintiff’s knowledge, diligence or speed with which he tries to amend a pleading. 

Clearly, the courts are giving primacy to the policies of deciding cases on the merits over a defendant’s competing interest in repose and finality.  

My guess is that cases that follow Maggi and  Krupski will result in more denials of Section 2-619 motions to dismiss based on untimeliness grounds.