Wednesday, May 8, 2013
C.A. Rejects Challenge to Court Reporter’s Allegedly Excessive Fees
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The sole means of challenging a court reporter’s fees for deposition transcripts as excessive is by motion filed in the action in which the depositions were taken, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Six affirmed the dismissal of an equitable action seeking an injunction on behalf of a class made up of litigants who had purchased transcripts of depositions taken by various defendants—including Merrill Communications, LLC and its subsidiary Wordwave, Inc., which Merrill has described as the world’s largest court reporting and transcription firm—over a four-year period.
The plaintiff, The Los Canoas Company, Inc., alleged that it was added as a defendant in a construction defects case in Santa Barbara Superior Court several years ago, after 57 depositions had been taken. The company said it inquired of the court reporters how much it would cost to obtain copies of the transcripts, and was told $2 per page.
The company said it objected to the charge, which would have run to $16,000 for copies of all 57 depositions. Instead, it paid about $1,200 for copies of three of the depositions. While it made its objections known to the court reporters, the company did not seek to have the rate reduced by the court.
About four years later, the company filed suit. It sought an injunction limiting the defendants’ charges for transcripts to 25 cents per page, or flat rates of between $15 and $35 for electronic copies, depending on the mode of transmission.
Ventura Superior Court Judge Mark Borrell sustained a demurrer, ruling that the company should have filed a motion under Code of Civil Procedure Secs. 2025.510 and 128(a)(5), which allow trial courts to determine the reasonableness of court reporters’ charges for copies of transcripts. The judge cited Serrano v. Stefan Merli Plastering Co., Inc. (2008) 162 Cal.App.4th 1014, which suggested that the statutes could be enforced upon motion of a party that did not notice a deposition.
“The deposition process is central to the administration of civil litigation, and court reporters, as deposition officers, are officers of the court and subject to the court’s supervision. A non-noticing party’s right to obtain a deposition transcript at a reasonable fee is statutory, and the means to enforce that right is by motion to the judge presiding over the action in which the deposition is conducted. That judge is in the ‘best position’ to resolve any dispute. Reserving the issue to be subsequently determined by another judge would undermine the discretion vested in the original trial judge to control proceedings in his or her courtroom.”
He also said the request for injunctive relief was “[p]articularly troublesome” because granting it would “directly abridge the discretion of judges assigned to future cases to determine the reasonableness of defendant’s fees.”
Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed.
No Extraordinary Circumstances
He acknowledged that nothing in the statutes or in Serrano expressly precluded a separate action to determine the reasonableness of transcript fees. But the concerns expressed by the trial judge, he said, illustrate why “absent extraordinary circumstances, the court in the action in which the dispute arises is the only court to resolve the issue.”
The case is The Las Canoas Company, Inc. v. Kramer, 13 S.O.S. 2335.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company