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Skeberdis v. Brill

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 31, 2019

DAVID M. SKEBERDIS, et al., Plaintiffs,
CLARK BRILL, M.D., et al., Defendants.



         Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs David and Kara Skeberdis' Motion to Review the Clerk's Order Taxing Costs (ECF No. 98). The motion is fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the following reasons, the Court grants Plaintiffs' motion, vacates the Clerk's Order, and denies Defendants' Bill of Costs.

         I. Background

         This medical malpractice case was tried for eight days before a jury, from July 30 to August 9, 2019. ECF Nos. 74-83. Plaintiff David Skeberdis had suffered a Methicillin-Resistant staph aureus (MRSA) infection following an attempted cervical epidural injection performed by one of the Defendants, Doctor Clark Brill. ECF No. 98 ¶ 6; ECF No. 92-2 at 3, 12-13. Skeberdis underwent emergency surgery on his neck to evacuate pockets of abscess and infection, including a ten-level (C4-to-T4) laminectomy, or fusing, of his spinal column. Id. As a result, and as demonstrated at trial, Skeberdis suffers from permanent chronic pain and is limited in his daily life activities. ECF No. 98 ¶ 6; ECF No. 92-2 at 4-9, 14, 16.

         The central question for the jury at trial was whether the physicians who performed the epidural injection and cared for Skeberdis immediately following the injection were medically negligent. ECF No. 98 ¶ 6; ECF No. 90. After nearly a day of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in Defendants' favor. ECF No. 90. On August 23, 2019, Defendants filed a Bill of Costs, requesting $28, 911.40. ECF No. 94. On September 10, 2019, the Clerk of the Court entered an Order Taxing Costs in the amount of $11, 068.08. ECF No. 97. The Clerk excluded those costs that fell outside those authorized under Rule 54 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and also expressly noted that only this Court may review whether costs should be further reduced or denied on equitable grounds. ECF No. 97 at 2-3. On September 20, 2019, Skeberdis moved for this Court to perform that very review. ECF No. 98.

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) provides: “Unless a federal statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise, costs-other than attorney's fees-should be allowed to the prevailing party.” In this District, the Clerk of Court is entrusted with the taxation of costs in the first instance. See U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland Guidelines for Bills of Costs § I.A (2013); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d) (providing that the “clerk may tax costs on 14 days' notice”). This Court reviews de novo the Clerk's taxation of costs. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d)(1); Schwartz v. Rent-A-Wreck of Am., No. PJM 07-1679, 2016 WL 3906581, at *2 (D. Md. July 14, 2016).

         Although “the rule creates the presumption that costs are to be awarded to the prevailing party, ” Cherry v. Champion Int'l Corp., 186 F.3d 442, 446 (4th Cir. 1999), the court retains “discretion to deny an award of costs, ” so long as “good reason” for the denial is articulated. Ellis v. Grant Thornton LLP, 434 Fed. App'x, 232, 235 (4th Cir. 2011). “Among the factors for consideration are: (1) misconduct by the prevailing party; (2) the unsuccessful party's inability to pay the costs; (3) the excessiveness of the costs in a particular case; (4) the limited value of the prevailing party's victory; or (5) the closeness and difficulty of the issues decided.” Ellis, 434 Fed.Appx. at 235 (citing Cherry, 186 F.3d at 446). In essence, there must “be an element of injustice in a presumptive cost award.” Id. (quoting Cherry, 186 F.3d at 446).

         III. Discussion

         Skeberdis objects to the award of costs, arguing that payment would pose a financial hardship and that such payment is unjust when considering the issues in his case were close and difficult. ECF No. 98. The Court analyzes each argument in turn.

         A. Inability to pay

         If the non-prevailing party is of sufficiently “modest means” such that it would be unjust or inequitable to enforce Rule 54(d)(1) against him, then the court acts within its discretion to deny costs to the prevailing party. Cherry, 186 F.3d at 447. However, the non-prevailing party must provide sufficient documentation establishing his inability to pay costs. Wyne v. Medo Industries, Inc., 329 F.Supp.2d 584, 588 (D. Md. 2004) (citations omitted).

         Skeberdis has shown, through tax returns and other earning information produced during discovery and at trial, that he has earned no income since 2016. ECF No. 98 ¶ 7; ECF No. 98-1. He fared little better in the two preceding years. In 2015, he earned just $6, 902, and in 2016, a mere $92. Id. By comparison, the award is nearly double what Skeberdis earned in those years. Further, testimony at trial from both David and his wife, Kara Skeberdis, confirm that the couple live modestly and that Skeberdis has little to no ability to work.[1] Cf. Ellis, 434 Fed. App'x at 236 (finding it proper for the district court to rely on evidence of a party's financial condition admitted at trial when assessing ability to pay costs). Accordingly, the record amply supports granting the motion on the grounds of financial hardship. See Levy v. Lexington County, S.C., No. CA 3:03-3093-MBS, 2012 WL 6675051, at *3 (D.S.C. Dec. 20, 2012) (denying $12, 898.70 in costs where non-prevailing parties with yearly incomes of $44, 598 and $109, 647, but with outstanding debt of $21, 000, was found to be of “modest means.”); Musick v. Dorel Juvenile Grp., Inc., No. 1:11CV00005, 2012 WL 473994, at *1-2 (W.D. Va. Feb. 13, 2012) (denying bill of costs in products liability personal injury claim after review of plaintiff's limited financial means); Broccoli v. Echostar Commc'ns Corp., 229 F.R.D. 506, 517 (D. Md. 2005) (finding the non-prevailing party, who had an annual income of $3, 627.07, was “clearly” of sufficiently modest means to justify denial of $16, 104.40 in costs). On this record, the Court finds Skeberdis' limited income renders assessment of costs, now or in the future, inequitable.

         B. Closeness and ...

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