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Dunn v. Robinson

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 7, 2017

TAMISHA RAE DUNN, Cross-Claimant/Cross-Defendant in Interpleader,
KRISTEENA ROBINSON, in her capacity as guardian ad litem to I.R., Cross-Defendant/Cross-Claimant in Interpleader.


          Honorable Paul Papak United States Magistrate Judge

         Prudential Insurance Company of America ("Prudential") filed this action in interpleader against Tamisha Rae Dunn (the domestic partner of Prudential's insured at the time of the insured's decease), minor child I.R. (Prudential's insured's minor daughter), and Kristeena Robinson ("Robinson, " Prudential's insured's former wife) in her capacity as guardian ad litem to I.R. on May 10, 2016. By and through its complaint in interpleader, Prudential alleged that prior to his decease, its insured Sean Robinson (Prudential's "insured") received life insurance coverage under a group insurance plan (the "Plan") Prudential issued to CUNA Mutual Group, the insured's then-employer. Prudential further alleged that the insured designated I.R. as his sole beneficiary in connection with Plan benefits on October 15, 2015, that on or around November 5, 2015, the insured expressed his intention to change that designation to name Dunn as his sole beneficiary of Plan benefits, and that on December 25, 2015, the insured died, triggering a $221, 000 life insurance benefit under the Plan. Prudential further alleged that on December 31, 2015, the insured's former employer made a claim on the Plan for the benefit on behalf of I.R., and that Dunn made a similar claim, on her own behalf, on February 8, 2016. By and through its complaint, Prudential sought judicial resolution of the competing claims for Plan benefits made on behalf of I.R. and Dunn. This court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this interpleader action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1335 and 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(2).

         On July 11, 2016, Dunn filed a cross-claim against I.R. and Robinson seeking this court's declaration that she (Dunn) is the sole valid designee for purposes of determining the beneficiary of the insured's Plan benefits, and on that same day Robinson filed a cross-claim against Dunn on I.R.'s behalf seeking this court's declaration that I.R. is the sole valid designee. On August 3, 2016, Prudential deposited money in the amount of the disputed life insurance benefit into escrow for the benefit of the insured's beneficiary, following which it was discharged from this action. Effective March 17, 2016, 1 granted summary judgment in Robinson's favor, declaring that I.R. was the sole valid designee. Effective April 4, 2017, Dunn appealed my decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

         Now before the court are Robinson's bill (#43) of costs, by and through which Robinson seeks award of her costs incurred in connection with litigating this matter in the amount of -$693.05, Robinson's motion (#45) for disbursement of funds, by and through which Robinson seeks disbursement to I.R. of the insurance benefits Prudential deposited into escrow prior to being discharged from this action, Robinson's motion (#46) for interpleader disbursement, by and through which Robinson seeks the same relief sought in connection with her motion for disbursement of funds, and Dunn's motion (#49) to stay disbursement of the insurance benefits to I.R. pending resolution of her appeal from this court's decision. I have considered the motions, oral argument on behalf of the parties, and all of the pleadings and papers on file. For the reasons set forth below, Robinson's bill (#43) of costs is granted, and Dunn is directed to pay Robinson's costs in the requested amount of $693.05, Robinson's motion (#45) for disbursement of funds is denied as moot with leave to refife if appropriate following resolution of Dunn's appeal, Robinson's motion (#46) for interpleader disbursement is denied as moot, and Dunn's motion (#49) to stay is granted, and further proceedings in this action are stayed pending resolution of Dunn's appeal from this court's judgment.


         I. Bill of Costs

         The entitlement of a prevailing party in a federal lawsuit to recover its costs, other than attorney fees, is governed by Federal Civil Procedure Rule 54(d)(1). In relevant part, Rule 54(d)(1) provides that such costs "should be allowed to the prevailing party" except where federal statute, the rules of civil procedure, or a court order "provides otherwise." Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). "By its terms, the rule creates a presumption in favor of awarding costs to a prevailing party, but vests in the district court discretion to refuse to award costs." Association of Mexican-American Educators v. California, 231 F.3d 572, 591 (9th Cir. 2000), citing National Info. Servs., Inc. v. TRW, Inc., 51 F.3d 1470, 1471 (9th Cir. 1995). "A district court need not give affirmative reasons for awarding costs; instead, it need only find that the reasons for denying costs are not sufficiently persuasive to overcome the presumption in favor of an award." Save Our Valley v. Sound Transit, 335 F.3d 932, 945 (9th Cir. 2003). However, in the event a court declines to award a prevailing party its costs under Rule 54(d)(1), its reasons for so declining must be specified. See Association of Mexican-American Educators, 231 F.3d at 591, quoting Subscription Television, Inc. v. Southern Cal. Theatre Owners Ass'n, 576 F.2d 230, 234 (9th Cir. 1978). It is the burden of the party against whom costs are to be taxed to establish grounds for denying award of costs. See Save Our Valley, 335 F.3d at 944-945, citing National Info. Servs. v. TRW, Inc., 51 F.3d 1470, 1471-1472 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The expenses that the district courts are authorized to tax as costs under Rule 54(d)(1) are enumerated at 28 U.S.C. § 1920. See 28 U.S.C. § 1920; see also Crawford Fitting Co. v. J.T. Gibbons, Inc., 482 U.S. 437, 441-445 (1987). Although the district courts have broad discretion to allow or disallow a prevailing party to recoup the ordinary costs of litigation, the court may not rely on that discretion to tax expenses beyond those enumerated at Section 1920. See id.; see also Frederick v. City of Portland, 162 F.R.D. 139, 142 (D. Or. 1995). Nevertheless, the district courts enjoy independent discretion to construe and interpret the expenses enumerated at Section 1920. See Alflex Corp. v. Underwriters Lab., Inc., 914 F.2d 175, 177-178 (9th Cir. 1990) (per curiam).

         II. Stay of Enforcement of Judgment Pending Appeal

         The district courts are authorized to "stay the enforcement of a judgment pending the outcome of an appeal" under appropriate circumstances. Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 421 (2009), quoting Scripps-Howard Radio, Inc. v. FCC, 316 U.S. 4, 9 (1942).

A stay is not a matter of right, even if irreparable injury might otherwise result. ... It is instead an exercise of judicial discretion, and the propriety of its issue is dependent upon the circumstances of the particular case. . .. The party requesting a stay bears the burden of showing that the circumstances justify an exercise of that discretion. ...
The fact that the issuance of a stay is left to the court's discretion does not mean that no legal standard governs that discretion.... A motion to a court's discretion is a motion, not to its inclination, but to its judgment; and its judgment is to be guided by sound legal principles. . . . [T]hose legal principles have been distilled into consideration of four factors: (1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that [s]he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies.. ..

Id. at 433-434 (internal quotation marks, modifications, and citations omitted). The first two of the four enumerated factors are considered "the most critical." Id. at 434. If a stay applicant satisfies those two factors, the court must then weigh ...

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