PHILADELPHIA – A federal appellate court has upheld a trial court verdict which relieved litigation costs for a plaintiff involved in an employment discrimination lawsuit versus an Indiana pharmaceutical company.
Judges Theodore A. McKee, Julio M. Fuentes and Leonard I. Roth ruled Aug. 26 to affirm the verdict of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which waived litigation fees for Ana V. Reyes in the aforementioned case from 2014 against Eli Lilly and Company.
Fuentes authored the Court’s opinion in this matter.
“Reyes, along with several other plaintiffs, filed employment discrimination actions against Lilly in a Philadelphia state court. Lilly removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. After the completion of discovery, Lilly moved for summary judgment,” Fuentes said.
The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Lilly on all claims, aside from Reyes’ retaliatory discharge claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Subsequent to a trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Lilly on the lone claim.
Lilly then filed a Bill of Costs in the amount of $37,096. In response, Reyes filed a Motion for Relief from Costs before the District Court, to which the Court ordered Reyes to provide evidence in support of her motion. Reyes submitted a notice from Freddie Mac stating her home was subject to foreclosure, and a petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy that she had filed in United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
“The District Court granted Reyes’ motion for relief from costs, concluding that, contrary to Lilly’s contention, Reyes’ claims were brought in good faith and that she was unable to afford costs associated with litigation because of her financial hardships. Lilly’s unopposed appeal from the District’s Court’s order followed,” Fuentes explained.
Fuentes specified certain circumstances have to be present in order to reverse a trial court’s decision on the levying of costs.
“We review a District Court’s decision to waive a party’s costs for abuse of discretion. This standard dictates that a trial court’s decision on costs will not be reversed unless it ‘rests upon a clearly erroneous finding of fact, an errant conclusion of law or an improper application of law to fact,” Fuentes outlined.
Fuentes indicated in most cases, the losing party pays the legal fees of the winning party, but that a court may utilize its own discretion to waive those costs in certain circumstances, such as an inequitable award or financial indigence.
“Here, Lilly contends that Reyes was gainfully employed from 2011-2013, as demonstrated by her federal tax returns, and that Reyes continued to work at the time that she filed her motion for waiver of costs,” Fuentes said. “In response, however, Reyes presented evidence that showed she suffered from significant financial hardship at the time the motion was filed, demonstrating her inability to pay costs.”
Given this consideration, the Third Circuit ruled that Reyes was unable to pay the $37,096 sought by Lilly – and that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in finding the same.
“We have reviewed the record and the arguments presented by Lilly and conclude that the District Court did not abuse its discretion by granting Reyes’ motion for relief from costs. We further agree with the District Court’s finding that Reyes brought her lawsuit in good faith and thus it would be inequitable to compel her to pay costs,” Fuentes said.
The plaintiffs are represented by Gregg L. Zeff of Zeff Law Firm in Mount Laurel, N.J. and Jennifer L. Prior of Kraemer Manes & Associates, in King of Prussia.
The defendant is represented by Craig M. Borowski, Ellen E. Boshkoff, Joseph C. Pettygrove and Amanda L. Shelby of Faegre Baker Daniels in Indianapolis, Ind., plus Jocelyn L. Womack of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, in Philadelphia.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-3764
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:09-cv-00774
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org