After making some changes of its own, the Florida Supreme Court approved amendments proposed by the Civil Procedure Rules Committee to the Uniform Guidelines for Taxation of Costs in Civil Cases.
The first guidelines were issued by order of the chief justice in 1981, and in 1999, the committee suggested changes. The court rejected those in 2001, primarily because they didn’t follow sufficiently the court’s policy of reducing costs to parties and reducing the overall cost of litigation.
The committee then redrafted the proposals, consulting with several groups, and resubmitted them to the court. The changes also received the unanimous endorsement of the Bar Board of Governors.
In its unanimous per curiam opinion, the court noted that the guidelines will remain advisory for trial judges, but are intended to help those judges when they award costs and also provide predictability for attorneys and parties when they argue costs after a case has been resolved.
The guidelines, as approved by the court, divide costs into three categories: those that should be taxed, those that may be taxed, and those that should not be taxed.
The court also agreed with the committee that the use of innovative, cost-cutting technology should be encouraged. In a footnote, the court said one such example would be considering the availability of low-cost technology for scanning and saving electronically documents when awarding costs for document copying.
The court added a preamble and statement on burden of proof to the guidelines, to help clarify their purpose and operation. Those read:
“Purpose and Application. These guidelines are advisory only. The taxation of costs in any particular proceeding is within the broad discretion of the trial court. The trial court should exercise that discretion in a manner that is consistent with the policy of reducing the overall costs of litigation and of keeping such costs as low as justice will permit. With this goal in mind, the trial court should consider and reward utilization of innovative technologies by a party which subsequently minimizes costs and reduce the award when use of innovative technologies that were not used would have resulted in lowering costs. In addition, these guidelines are not intended to (1) limit the amount of costs recoverable under a contract or statute, or (2) prejudice the rights of any litigant objecting to an assessment of costs on the basis that the assessment is contrary to applicable substantive law.
“Burden of Proof. Under these guidelines, it is the burden of the moving party to show that all requested costs were reasonably necessary either to defend or prosecute the case at the time the action precipitating the cost was taken.”
The court rejected a proposed change that would place the burden on the objecting party to show the deposition and copy costs related to discovery were not “reasonably necessary.” It left the burden on the moving party to show the costs were necessary, which the court noted was consistent with the proof burden in the remainder of the guidelines.
It also switched costs for attorney travel from the may-be-taxed to the should-not-be-taxed category.
“The revised guidelines also are intended to be easier to apply, which should allow attorneys to better predict the aggregate costs of litigation and, when incurring costs, to anticipate which of these costs likely will have to be paid by their clients,” the court said. “This increased predictability also should result in decreased costs.”
The court also thanked the rules committee for “spearheading the arduous task of revising and improving the cost guidelines.”
The revised guidelines went into effect January 1. A copy of the opinion in In Re: Amendments to Uniform Guidelines for Taxation of Costs, case no. SC96726, and a copy of the revised guidelines can be found on the court’s Web site at www.floridasupremecourt.org.