California River Watch v. City of Vacaville

Filing 93

ORDER signed by Chief District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on 11/30/2020 ORDERING that Vacaville will bear its own costs. This order resolves ECF No. 84 . (Kastilahn, A)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 California River Watch, 12 Plaintiff, 13 14 No. 2:17-cv-00524-KJM-KJN ORDER v. City of Vacaville, 15 Defendants. 16 17 The City of Vacaville was the defendant in this action under the Resource Conservation 18 and Recovery Act (RCRA). It has requested an award of costs, and River Watch, the plaintiff, 19 objects. The matter was submitted without a hearing. 20 River Watch alleged at the outset of this case that Vacaville had violated the RCRA 21 because hexavalent chromium in the City’s public water supply endangered both the public health 22 and the environment. See Compl. ¶¶ 27–32, ECF No. 1. While the parties’ cross motions for 23 summary judgment were pending, they reached a settlement agreement that resolved the 24 environmental claims. See Stip., ECF No. 77. The settlement agreement imposes several pages 25 of obligations on the City. See generally Settlement Agmt. & Release, Silver Decl. Ex. A, 26 ECF No. 88-2. For example, Vacaville agreed to limit potable water releases from hydrants near 27 wells that had exhibited relatively higher levels of hexavalent chromium within the last ten years. 28 ///// 1 1 See id. at 6. River Watch’s environmental claims were then dismissed by stipulation. See Stip. & 2 Order, ECF No. 78. 3 The settlement agreement did not, however, resolve River Watch’s claim about public 4 health dangers. The court addressed that claim in its order on the parties’ cross-motions for 5 summary judgment. It held that River Watch could not prevail. The hexavalent chromium in its 6 public water was not “discarded material” or “solid waste” within the terms of the RCRA, so 7 Vacaville could not be liable under that statute. See generally Order, ECF No. 79. Summary 8 judgment on the public health claim was thus granted to Vacaville, and judgment was entered. 9 See id.; Judgment; ECF No. 80. Vacaville then filed its bill of costs, and River Watch appealed 10 the order granting partial summary judgment. See Bill of Costs, ECF No. 84; Not. Appeal, ECF 11 No. 85. River Watch also objects to the bill of costs. ECF No. 88. 12 “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d) gives courts the discretion to award costs to 13 prevailing parties.” Taniguchi v. Kan Pac. Saipan, Ltd., 566 U.S. 560, 565 (2012). The Ninth 14 Circuit has held that this Rule establishes an effective presumption in favor of an award of costs 15 to a prevailing party, i.e., one that obtains judgment in its favor. See d’Hedouville v. Pioneer 16 Hotel Co., 552 F.2d 886, 896 (9th Cir. 1977). The same is true of a litigant who “prevails” by 17 obtaining some court-ordered material change in the legal relationship between itself and its 18 opponent. See Saint John’s Organic Farm v. Gem Cty. Mosquito Abatement Dist., 574 F.3d 19 1054, 1058 (9th Cir. 2009). The degree of that success is irrelevant. See Richard S. v. Dep’t of 20 Developmental Servs. of State of Cal., 317 F.3d 1080, 1087 (9th Cir. 2003). But when a 21 judgment is “mixed” in the sense that some claims succeed and others fail, “it is within the 22 discretion of a district court to require each party to bear its own costs.” Amarel v. Connell, 102 23 F.3d 1494, 1523 (9th Cir. 1996). And similarly, a district court may deny an award of costs if it 24 would chill future litigation, if the issues in the case were close and difficult, or if the parties 25 litigated in good faith, among other reasons. See Quan v. Computer Scis. Corp., 623 F.3d 870, 26 888 (9th Cir. 2010), abrogated on other grounds by Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer, 573 27 U.S. 409 (2014). 28 ///// 2 1 Here, River Watch obtained a change in the legal relationship between itself and the City; 2 as a result of the settlement agreement, the City was “required to do something directly 3 benefitting [River Watch] that [it] otherwise would not have had to do.” Richard S., 317 F.3d at 4 1087. In that sense, River Watch has no lesser claim to prevailing party status than Vacaville, 5 which prevailed on a central question of statutory interpretation at summary judgment. This case 6 is thus an example of a mixed judgment. The parties also litigated close and difficult technical 7 questions of statutory interpretation and environmental law, and they did so in good faith. 8 Imposing an award of costs here would unjustly chill similarly complex and potentially successful 9 claims. District courts in this Circuit have declined to award costs in similar circumstances. See, 10 e.g., Rutherford v. Palo Verde Health Care Dist., No. 13-01247, 2015 WL 12864248, at *4 (C.D. 11 Cal. Nov. 16, 2015), aff’d in relevant part sub nom. Klune v. Palo Verde Health Care Dist., 761 12 F. App’x 751 (9th Cir. 2019) (unpublished); Endurance Am. Specialty Ins. Co. v. Lance-Kashian 13 & Co., No. 10-1284, 2011 WL 6012213, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 1, 2011). This court does so here 14 as well. 15 Vacaville will bear its own costs. This order resolves ECF No. 84. 16 IT IS SO ORDERED. 17 DATED: November 30, 2020. 3

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