On March 4th, a unanimous Supreme Court issued its opinion in Rimini Street v. Oracle USA, a case involving costs incurred in the course of copyright litigation. Section 505 of the Copyright Act provides that the expenses a prevailing party may recover include its “full costs.” All were agreed that Section 505 costs include the six categories of “taxable costs” defined in Section 1920 of the Judicial Code. The core question raised by Rimini was whether an award of “full” costs in copyright litigation can include costs beyond those costs that are “taxable” under Section 1920.

The lowers courts in Rimini did award certain nontaxable costs to the prevailing party. The Supreme Court held that such an award was a mistake, finding that Section 1920 requires a narrow reading of Section 505.  Writing for the Court, Justice Kavanaugh noted that Section 1920 and related provisions “create a default rule and establish a clear baseline against which Congress may legislate …[when it]…wants to authorize awards…beyond the six categories….” Congress has done so many times but, “absent such express authority, courts may not award litigation expenses” beyond the categories specified in Section 1920.

Joel Nolette is a litigation attorney at Mintz Levin in Boston, and an active member of the Administrative Law & Regulation Practice Group, currently serving on its Executive Committee.

More than two months ago, in early January, Mr. Nolette wrote a thoroughgoing analysis of the then-pending Rimini case for the Federalist Society Review. Writing with his characteristic clarity, Mr. Nolette crisply evaluates the positions of the respective parties in light of the relevant statutes, controlling precedent and fundamental principles of statutory interpretation. He notes that Rimini raises a “textbook statutory interpretation issue,” and that the apparently plain meaning of a word like “full” can be “a trap for the unwary.”  Proper interpretation of statutory text “requires reading it in its full context, taking into consideration any relevant historical or jurisprudential glosses to the text.”

After engaging in his own careful interpretation of section 505 and Section 1920, including a thoughtful consideration of history and precedent, Mr. Nolette concludes that “Rimini Street makes better sense of Section 505’s ‘full costs’” and a better case for limiting costs recoverable in copyright litigation to those taxable costs specified in Section 1920. The Supreme Court’s March 4 opinion tracks line of reasoning.

Anyone who reads Mr. Nolette’s January article will be rewarded with an interesting and engaging discussion of statutory interpretation, and with an analysis of the issues raised in Rimini that is both full and, given the outcome, impressively predictive.

* * * 

J. Kennerly Davis, Jr. is a former Deputy Attorney General for Virginia, a member of the Administrative Law & Regulation Practice Group, and a contributor to the Regulatory Transparency Project.