Recovering Court Costs In Illinois Litigation – What’s Covered?

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 Huang v. CNA, 2012 Ill. App. 1st 1112243-U provided a useful discussion of recoverable court costs in the context of a malicious prosecution suit.

To prove malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must show (1) the commencement or continuance of a criminal or civil proceeding; (2) the proceeding terminated in the plaintiff’s favor; (3) absence of probable cause; (4) malice; and (5) damages.

If the defendant had probable cause to sue or to file criminal charges, regardless of whether the suit or charges was successful, this will completely defeat a malicious prosecution claim.

“Probable cause” in the context of dropped criminal charges means a state of facts that would lead a person of ordinary caution and prudence to believe – or to have a strong suspicion – that the person committed a crime.

The key inquiry is on the state of mind of the one commencing the prosecution, not the actual facts of the case or whether the accused was guilty or innocence, that determines probable cause. As long as there is a an “honest belief” that the accused is probably guilty of an offense, the probable cause standard is met (and a malicious prosecution claim will fail). ¶ 40.

Here, the evidence reflected the defendant’s probable cause for charging the plaintiff with trespassing: He refused to leave the premises after his employer fired him.  The Illinois Criminal Code defines trespassing as a person remaining on the land of another, after receiving notice from the owner or occupant to depart. 720 ILCS 5/21-3(a)(3).

Based on the evidence that the plaintiff was belligerent and insistent (on staying), the court found the defendant had a reasonable basis to charge the fired employee plaintiff. ¶¶ 42-45.

The next issue grappled with by the court concerned what costs could the defendant employer recover after defeating plaintiff’s claims. Code Section 5-108 and 109 (735 ILCS 5/5-108, 5-109) work in tandem to govern recoverable costs in litigation.

Code Section 5-109 allows the winning party to recover costs. Case law interprets Section 5-108’s “court costs”  to encompass filing fees, subpoena fees and statutory witness fees. While court costs are recoverable, “litigation costs” (e.g. photocopying, research costs, etc.) generally are not.

Supreme Court Rule 208(d) also gives the trial court discretion to tax deposition costs where the deposition is “necessarily used at trial.” But where a case is disposed of before trial (like on a motion for summary judgment or dismissal), deposition costs aren’t properly taxed to the losing party. ¶¶ 49-50.

Here, the court affirmed the filing fees and subpoena fees but reversed the cost award for defendant’s depositions. Since there was no trial, the defendant’s deposition costs shouldn’t have been assessed against the plaintiff.

Take-aways:

– To establish probable cause in a malicious prosecution case, a defendant only needs to show an objective, honest belief that the plaintiff committed a crime;

– Deposition costs can be recovered by a winning litigant but only where the deposition is necessarily and actually used at trial;

– If a case is disposed of on a summary judgment or dismissal motion, the winner only can recover court filing fees, service/sheriff fees and subpoena costs.

 

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PaulP

Litigation attorney at Fisher Kanaris, P.C. representing businesses and individuals in all types of commercial disputes.