Medina v. County of San Diego et al

Filing 177

ORDER Granting 175 Motion to Retax Costs. Signed by Judge Cynthia Bashant on 3/13/2017. (jjg)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 JENNIFER MEDINA, Plaintiff, 12 13 Case No. 08-cv-01252-BAS-RBB ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION TO RETAX COSTS v. 14 15 COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO, et al., 16 Defendants. 17 18 19 ARLENE SUSAN MEDINA and ROBERT LEO MEDINA, 20 21 22 23 24 Plaintiffs, v. COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO, et al., Defendants. 25 26 27 Plaintiffs bring this Motion to Retax Costs requesting that the Court exercise 28 its discretion to deny costs to Defendants because this case presented a close or –1– 08cv1252 1 difficult legal question, the issue raised by the case was one of public importance, 2 and awarding costs would chill prosecution of future cases such as this. (ECF No. 3 175.) Defendants oppose, arguing that this case is not out of the ordinary. (ECF No. 4 176.) The Court, in its discretion, finds this is the kind of extraordinary case that 5 warrants denying costs and therefore GRANTS the Motion to Retax Costs. 6 Accordingly, each party must bear their own costs in this case. 7 I. STATEMENT OF FACTS 8 In the early morning hours of November 16, 2006, Robert Medina died in a 9 volley of gunshots fired at his truck by CHP Officers Nava and Fenton and San Diego 10 County Sheriff Officers Ritchie and Taft. The gunfire was the culmination of an 11 attempted traffic stop, in which Medina failed to yield. Eventually Medina was 12 surrounded by over a dozen law enforcement officers and multiple patrol cars, yet 13 refused to get out of his truck, despite the fact that his truck had been rammed by a 14 patrol car with such force that the squad car’s airbag deployed, and both Medina’s 15 front and rear passenger tires had been shot out and deflated. The four Defendant 16 Officers collectively fired more than 36 rounds at the truck. When Medina was then 17 pulled from his truck, he was alive, but he died shortly thereafter. 18 This consolidated lawsuit was filed by Medina’s widow and parents. In a 19 Memorandum Decision, the Court of Appeals found the defendants were entitled to 20 qualified immunity because at the time they fired the shots at Medina they “had 21 probable cause to believe that . . . he posed a threat of serious harm to the officers.” 22 (ECF Nos. 166, 167.) 23 Defendants now seek costs from the Plaintiffs in the amount of $34,441.88— 24 $12,165.24 for Defendant Nava, $11,552.72 for Defendants Richie, Taft and County 25 of San Diego, and $10,723.92 for Defendant Fenton. Most of these costs stem from 26 transcripts of depositions taken of the numerous officers present at the scene. 27 II. 28 STATEMENT OF LAW Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1), costs other than attorney’s –2– 08cv1252 1 fees should be allowed to the prevailing party unless a statute, rule, or court order 2 provides otherwise. Thus, Rule 54(d) states a presumption in favor of awarding costs 3 to the prevailing party, but vests discretion with the district court to deny these costs. 4 In the ordinary case, costs should be awarded to the prevailing party, so a Court 5 that exercises its discretion and orders that costs not be awarded must explain why 6 the case is not ordinary and why “in the circumstances, it would be inappropriate or 7 inequitable to award costs.” Assoc. of Mexican-American Educators v. State of 8 California, 231 F.3d 572, 593 (9th Cir. 2000). Among other reasons, the Court may 9 consider whether the case involves issues of substantial public importance and 10 whether the issues in the case are close and difficult. Id. The Court may also consider 11 “the chilling effect of imposing such high costs on future civil rights litigants.” Id. 12 (quoting Stanley v. University of Southern California, 178 F.3d 1069, 1079–80 (9th 13 Cir.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1022 (1999)). This is not to say that civil rights 14 defendants do not get the presumption in favor of costs. But the fact that a civil rights 15 litigant raises an important issue, with an answer that is far from obvious, and the 16 risk that future litigants may hesitate before raising such issues, are factors that may 17 appropriately lead the court to refrain from awarding costs. 18 III. ANALYSIS 19 Despite Defendants arguments to the contrary, a situation in which police 20 officers shoot and kill an individual is not an ordinary case. It is, one hopes, an 21 extraordinary case, one which should always lead to consideration of how and if a 22 different result could have been reached. Furthermore, this case poses an issue of 23 public importance, far beyond the obvious importance to the litigants. Whenever a 24 police officer kills an individual, the public has a great interest in understanding the 25 justification for the shooting and in the reassurance that the reasons have been fully 26 investigated. 27 Furthermore, this case was not clear cut. There were numerous officers at the 28 scene, several of whom perceived—in the heat of the moment—the situation –3– 08cv1252 1 differently than others. Medina was not armed. He had not verbally threatened the 2 officers, and, if anything, the situation could be described as chaotic. It posed a close 3 and difficult legal issue. In addition, the Plaintiffs in this case, all relatives of the 4 deceased who were not present at the scene, did not have access to facts allowing 5 them to assess the credibility of the different accounts of the police officer witnesses. 6 Finally, awarding costs in this type of situation could well chill future cases 7 like this one, a case that in the long run benefits the public and the officers. It 8 reassures the public that after investigation, the officers were justified in their actions. 9 IV. CONCLUSION 10 Therefore, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs’ Motion to Retax Costs (ECF No. 11 175) and orders that each party bear its own costs in the matter. Judgment is entered 12 in favor of the Defendants and against the Plaintiffs and the Clerk of Court is ordered 13 to close the case. 14 15 IT IS SO ORDERED. DATED: March 13, 2017 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 –4– 08cv1252

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