Thursday, April 3, 2014

Federal Judge Denies Nashville’s Motion for Costs In Metro Livery Case

by Daniel Horwitz

Daniel Horwitz
In an Order issued last week, the Honorable Kevin H. Sharp, District Court Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee, denied Metro’s motion for $6,785.40 in court costs in Bokhari v. Nashville, an economic liberty case that was tried by the renowned libertarian public interest firm the The Institute for Justice in January of last year. The case was brought on behalf of Mr. Syed Bokhari, the owner of the discount limousine company Metro Livery, and two other plaintiffs who challenged a variety of Metro’s limousine regulations. Most notable among the challenged provisions was Metro’s livery price-fixing ordinance, which required that limousine and sedan service operators charge their customers a minimum fare of $45.00 per trip.

As I begrudgingly predicted at the outset of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs faced a steep uphill climb from the beginning. They initially lost the battle when a jury rejected their claim that the challenged regulations violated their rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, they ultimately won the war after Metro slashed its minimum fare from $45.00 to $9.00 just a few months ago, allowing the discount limousine companies to continue serving their customers.

Federal law provides that certain costs of litigation—such as the cost of obtaining transcripts or making copies of key documents—“should be allowed to the prevailing party.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d)(1). However, judges retain discretion to deny costs under appropriate circumstances, and in exercising that discretion, they may consider factors such as the losing party’s good faith, the difficulty of the case, and the prevailing party’s conduct.

Describing Mr. Bokhari’s lawsuit as “a close case and one worth litigating,” Judge Sharp’s Order was based on the first of these factors. He also noted that “imposing costs would have a chilling effect on similarly situated litigants” that could discourage them from “pressing important public interest issues.” Most crucially, though, Judge Sharp explained that the case “was important because it allowed the public at large to scrutinize Metro’s actions, actions which the jury ultimately decided passed constitutional muster.”

Certainly, this case brought much-needed attention to the ridiculous and highly suspect set of limousine regulations enacted by Metro at the request of the expensive limousine lobbying organization TennLA. Accordingly, it stands to reason that the case played a key role in the ensuing legislative repeal of Metro’s $45.00 minimum fare, although the sudden entrance of companies like Uber and Lyft to Nashville’s transportation market undoubtedly contributed as well. As a result, Judge Sharp’s Order denying Metro’s motion for costs in this case was right on the money, and his obvious understanding of the importance of public interest litigation and the benefits of a free market economy should be applauded by all.

Daniel Horwitz is an attorney in Nashville and a 2013 graduate of Vanderbilt Law School. He can be reached at daniel.a.horwitz@gmail.com.

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