Ford Motor Company, having prevailed in a 15-year-long class-action suit by truck dealerships, may tax litigation costs jointly and severally against the plaintiffs, a federal judge says.
The May 29 ruling may mark the end of Bayshore Ford Truck Sales v. Ford Motor Co., a litigation saga that began in 1999 when 74 dealers claimed Ford violated a contract to supply them company products when it exited the heavy truck business two years earlier.
U.S. District Judge Jose Linares granted the plaintiffs summary judgment in 2005 and certified the class in 2006. In a damages trial of 11 bellwether cases in June 2012, a jury awarded $29 million.
But in September 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the judgment and the damages award, finding Ford’s continuing sale of spare parts fulfilled its obligations under the Ford Heavy Truck Sales and Service Agreement that each dealer signed.
On remand, Linares dismissed the breach-of-contract claims. That ruling is the subject of two separate appeals pending at the Third Circuit, one by the 11 plaintiffs who participated in the trial and another by the 63 who did not.
In October 2013, Ford moved for $393,953 in costs as a prevailing party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d). The total was reduced to $327,987. Of that, $213,756 was for a supersedeas bond that Ford purchased to allow it to pursue its appeal without paying the underlying judgment from the jury trial.
The plaintiffs argued that imposing joint and several liability would distribute the costs unevenly. But Linares said it would be unfair for Ford to have to collect costs from 74 parties individually. The plaintiffs failed to show it would be difficult to coordinate dividing the costs among themselves, he said.
Linares also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that they should not bear the cost of the bond because they were willing to waive its posting. The taxing of the bond cost is allowed under local court rules, Linares said, and he called “disingenuous” the plaintiffs’ claim that they would waive posting, noting they never objected to the bond or indicated their willingness to waive it.
The plaintiffs further argued that the taxation of costs should be deferred while the Third Circuit appeals are pending. But Linares said the pending appeal only addresses the application of the court’s mandate and therefore the taxation of costs is not premature.
Linares, in granting costs other than attorney’s fees, affirmed a March 28 decision by Deputy Court Clerk John O’Brien, who reduced the total by $65,966. Among those knocked out were costs for digital preparation of clips from videotaped depositions for showing at trial, and preparation of visual aids to present at trial. The court called the digital video expenditure “glitz” and “an effort to wow” the jury. The $10,137 bill for that service was disallowed, as was all but $450 of a $48,522 bill for preparation of visual aids, which was deemed the work of an expert or consultant and thus not subject to taxation.
Plaintiff lawyer Eric Chase, of Bressler, Amery & Ross in Florham Park, declined to comment on the ruling, as did Erica Songer of Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C., representing Ford.
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