Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Serrano v. Stefan Merli Plastering Co. (Cal. Ct. App. - May 7, 2008)

When I first read the caption, I thought to myself: "Why are all these amici and objectors participating? It seems from the identity of the parties to be a totally mundane case." Then I saw what the case was really about: How much court reporters get to charge for deposition transcripts. Now I understand the reason for the heavyweight participation!

It's a definite must-read for litigators. Or at least those who care at all about how much their clients have to pay in costs. The issue is whether court reporters can charge whatever they want -- however unreasonable -- for copies of deposition transcripts. We know that they can charge the noticing party whatever they want. What about the non-noticing party who wants a transcript? Here, for example, can you charge the party who wants a copy hundreds or thousands of dollars for "expediting" a transcript that the ordering party has already fully paid to have expedited? Is there any reasonability review at all, or can the reporter charge whatever the market -- as defined by the noticing (not receiving) party -- will bear?

Justice Croskey writes an outstanding answer to this question. The Court of Appeal holds that costs do indeed have to be reasonable, and that courts are able to rein in unreasonable fees pursuant to a party's request. It's an opinion that's both well-written and seems entirely right to me. There are, admittedly, some administrative problems with the resulting regime, and I doubt that challenges to transcript costs will ever become routine as a result of the relevant economics. But the alternative -- that reporters are free to charge flatly unreasonable rates, with no recourse whatsoever for the party forced to pay -- is, in my mind, simply untenable. So, if only for that reason alone, I think that Justice Croskey hits the nail right on the head.