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Irani v. Palmetto Health

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

July 21, 2016

Afraaz R. Irani, M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
Palmetto Health, University of South Carolina School of Medicine, David E. Koon, M.D., in his individual capacity, and John J. Walsh, M.D., in his individual capacity, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART BILLS OF COSTS ECF NOS. 190, 192

          CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court for a ruling on Defendants' bills of costs (ECF Nos. 190, 192), to which Plaintiff has interposed various objections (ECF Nos. 194, 199). Plaintiff argues, inter alia, that all costs should be denied due to his financial circumstances. Alternatively, Plaintiff argues that specific costs should be denied on various grounds.

         For the reasons set forth below, the court overrules Plaintiff's objections to the extent he seeks to avoid payment of any costs. The court overrules Plaintiff's other objections except as to three itemized costs Palmetto Health agrees should not be awarded (reductions totaling $1, 503.52) and copying costs in the amount of $1, 197.26 sought by the remaining Defendants (collectively "University Defendants"). Ultimately, the court awards costs in the amount of $10, 902.46 to Defendant Palmetto Health and costs in the amount of $5, 106.90 to the University Defendants.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed this action on September 8, 2014, asserting multiple claims relating to his treatment during and termination from an orthopaedic surgery medical residency program ("Residency Program") and subsequent events related to that termination. Defendant Palmetto Health ("Palmetto Health") was the official sponsor of the Residency Program and operated the Program in affiliation with Defendant University of South Carolina School of Medicine ("USC-SOM"). Defendants David E. Koon, M.D. ("Dr. Koon"), and John J. Walsh, M.D. ("Dr. Walsh"), are employees of USC-SOM and were involved in operation of the Residency Program at the time of Plaintiff's participation and thereafter.

         Collectively, the University Defendants filed three early motions for judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment. ECF Nos. 18, 22, 31 (filed in December and January 2015). While those motions were pending, Plaintiff sought and was granted leave to file an Amended Complaint. ECF Nos. 27, 48. The Amended Complaint asserted a total of thirteen causes of action against the various Defendants, though not all claims against all Defendants.

         The early motions for summary judgment were denied without prejudice to renewal following the close of discovery. The motion for judgment on the pleadings was granted in part, ending one claim in full and dismissing several others to the extent asserted against Dr. Walsh. ECF No. 95.

         Following the close of discovery, all Defendants moved for summary judgment on all remaining claims. ECF Nos. 136, 137, 139. These motions were supported and opposed with substantial briefing and evidentiary attachments, including excerpts of multiple depositions (the costs for which are at issue here). Ultimately, the court granted summary judgment in Defendants' favor on all claims. ECF No. 188. Defendants, thereafter, filed the bills of costs that are now at issue.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Objection to Payment of Any Costs Based on Financial Circumstances Plaintiff's Argument.

         Plaintiff first argues that no costs should be awarded due to his financial circumstances, particularly when contrasted with Defendants' circumstances. ECF No. 194 at 2-4 (describing Plaintiff as a person of "modest means, " who would face "tremendous hardship" if required to pay costs and Defendants as "large, non-profit or governmental entities that are regularly required to defend themselves from lawsuits"). Plaintiff argues he pursued the action in good faith and notes the sheer volume of the briefs, exhibits, and summary judgment order. Id. at 3 ("[U]ndersigned counsel for Plaintiff has never before faced such voluminous briefs and attachments on summary judgment as were presented in this case, nor has he ever received a 116-page order on a summary judgment motion."). In arguing that the court should deny costs under these circumstances, Plaintiff relies on Ellis v. Grant Thornton LLP, 434 Fed.App'x. 232 (4th Cir. 2011), which affirmed a district court's denial of costs following a trial. Id. at 4 (noting issues were close and difficult, the case was hotly contested, judgment was reached with difficulty and only after a thorough and careful evaluation of the applicable law, and evidence presented at trial allowed the district court to carefully evaluate Plaintiff's financial condition). Plaintiff suggests that awarding costs to Defendants would be "inequitable and unjust ‘rubbing of salt' in Plaintiff's considerable, proverbial wounds." Id. at 4.

         In his attached declaration, Plaintiff states that the four-plus years since his termination from the Residency Program "have caused a tremendous financial hardship" for him and his parents. ECF No. 194-1 ¶ 2. He avers the annual costs of his education exceeded $50, 000 (expenses incurred prior to his residency) and paying these costs was "financially challenging." Id. ¶ 3. He does not, however, indicate how these expenses were paid (e.g., what amounts were paid from employment, savings, scholarships or loans or the balance of the latter), although he does, in a later paragraph, refer without specificity to a "huge education debt." Id. ¶¶ 3, 10. Plaintiff also states that he borrowed $10, 000 from his parents following his termination from the Residency Program to apply to other programs. Id. ¶ 4. He refers to his decision to move back in with his parents following his termination from the program due to his "substantial debt from undergraduate and medical school, " his inability to find a job other than as a driver for Uber and Lyft, and the over $100, 000 in expenses he incurred in successfully appealing the denial of his application to practice medicine in California. Id. ¶¶ 6, 8. He acknowledges he has been working for a management consulting company since July 2015, but provides no detail as to his compensation. Id. ¶ 9. He also states that he has "huge educational debt" from his years at Stanford and has "incurred approximately $100, 000 in attorney's fees and over $35, 000 in expenses in connection with [the present action], most of which is still unpaid." Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff concludes that he lacks the funds to pay the costs sought and suggests he would be required to borrow from his parents to satisfy any award. Id. ¶ 10.[1]

         Discussion.

         As Defendants note in their responsive memoranda, Plaintiff's claims of financial difficulties are not supported by any proffer of evidence beyond his relatively generic declaration. For example, while claiming the existence of substantial debt, Plaintiff fails to state the amount of the debt or provide any supporting documentation. He also fails to disclose the amount of his present income (over $140, 000 per year according to evidence proffered by Defendants) or that he was offered an opportunity to start the job six months earlier. While the delayed start date may have a reasonable explanation (that Plaintiff needed time to dedicate to this litigation), the failure to volunteer ...


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