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Pizza Inn Inc. v. Clairday

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

November 4, 2019

PIZZA INN INC., Plaintiff,
v.
BOB CLAIRDAY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          David C. Godbey, United States District Judge

         This Order addresses Plaintiff Pizza Inn, Inc.'s (“Pizza Inn”) renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law [70], Pizza Inn's objection to Defendant Bob Clairday's bill of costs [68], and Clairday's motion for attorneys' fees [67]. For the following reasons, the Court denies Pizza Inn's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, sustains Pizza Inn's objection to Clairday's bill of costs, taxes court costs against Pizza Inn, and grants Clairday's motion for attorneys' fees.

         I. Origins of the Motions

         This breach of contract dispute concerned two development agreements between Pizza Inn and Clairday. Pizza Inn, a franchisor of pizza restaurants, contracted with Clairday to give Clairday the right to promote and develop Pizza Inn restaurants within a designated geographic territory. The agreements contained a renewal option, which Clairday exercised, but he submitted his request to renew two months late. Pizza Inn brought this declaratory judgment suit in state court and sought a declaration that the agreements expired and Clairday had no lawful right to renew. Clairday removed this suit to federal court and asserted counterclaims for violations of the Arkansas Franchise Practices Act (AFPA) and claims for declaratory judgment and breach of contract. The Court granted Pizza Inn's motion for summary judgment on Clairday's claims under the AFPA. The parties proceeded to trial on the remaining claims. The jury found that Pizza Inn failed to comply with the agreements and awarded Clairday $250, 000 in damages.

         Pizza Inn filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law, but the Court denied its motion. Pizza Inn filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, and Clairday requests entry of his bill of costs and an award for attorneys' fees.

         II. The Court Denies Pizza Inn's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         First, the Court denies Pizza Inn's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. After considering all of the evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, the Court finds that there is sufficient evidence to support the jury verdict. Finding no basis for granting Pizza Inn's alternative requested relief, the Court declines to modify the judgment or provide relief from judgment.

         III. The Court Sustains Pizza Inn's Objection and Reduces the Court Costs Taxed Against Pizza Inn

         The Court sustains Pizza Inn's objection and taxes $2, 558.78 in court costs against Pizza Inn. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) allows the prevailing party to collect costs, unless restricted by statute, rule, or otherwise. Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). 28 U.S.C. § 1920 defines “costs” as used in Rule 54(d)(1). See Crawford Fitting Co. v. J.T. Gibbons, Inc., 482 U.S. 437, 441-42 (1987). Section 1920 outlines the permitted statutory costs that can be taxed against a party, including:

(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 under section 1923 of this title; (6) Compensation of court appointed experts, compensation of interpreters, and salaries, fees, expenses, and costs of special interpretation services under section 1828 of this title.

28 U.S.C. § 1920. Witnesses are also allowed travel expenses and an attendance fee of $40 per day for each day of travel and attendance. Id. § 1821(b), (c)(1). The attendance fee and travel reimbursement apply to expert witnesses, unless the expert is court appointed. Crawford Fitting Co., 482 U.S. at 442. Courts cannot tax more than $40 per day for expert witnesses but can tax costs exceeding $40 per day for court-appointed experts. Id.

         The prevailing party has the burden to establish the necessity of the costs. See Fogleman v. ARAMCO (Arabian Am. Oil Co.), 920 F.2d 278, 286 (5th Cir. 1991). Nonetheless, if the nonprevailing party does not object to a specific cost or fee, the Court will presume the cost is reasonable. See, e.g., Manderson v. Chet Morrison Contractors, Inc., 666 F.3d 373, 384 (5th Cir. 2012) (“[T]here is a strong presumption under Rule 54(d)(1) that the prevailing party will be awarded costs.”); Interstate Contracting Corp. v. City of Dallas, 2002 WL 236676, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Jan. 31, 2002) (“Plaintiff, as the prevailing party, is presumptively entitled to its costs and Defendant, as the non-prevailing party, bears the burden of overcoming the presumption.”).

         Here, the Court sustains Pizza Inn's objection and taxes a total of $2, 558.78 in court costs against Pizza Inn. Clairday requests reimbursement for his court filing fee, two deposition transcripts, and expert witness fees. Req. Entry Bill Costs, Ex. A 1 [66]. Pizza Inn does not object to the costs for his filing fee or deposition transcripts. See Pl.'s Opposition Def.'s Req. Entry Bill Costs 1-3 [68]. Accordingly, the Court finds that Clairday's filing fee and deposition transcript costs, totaling $1, 562.00, are reasonable and within the statutorily permitted costs.

         However, Pizza Inn objects to Clairday's requests for expert fees for Matt Knight. Clairday requests $3, 951.78 in expert witness labor and travel expenses. Req. Entry Bill Costs, Ex. A 1 [66]. But Pizza Inn argues that the expert labor fees are unrecoverable. Pl.'s Opposition Def.'s Req. Entry Bill Costs 1-3 [68]. The Court agrees with Pizza Inn and reduces the recoverable fees for Matt Knight. Matt Knight was not a court-appointed expert, so the only recoverable costs include travel expenses and an attendance fee of $40 per day. The Court finds the costs of Knight's travel reasonable and taxes $876.78 in travel expenses against Pizza Inn. Additionally, the Court reduces the witness labor costs and ...


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