"To the victor belong the spoils" or so said New York Senator William L. Marcy in 1828. Maybe that’s why we award court costs to the winners. But what happens when both sides win? Or lose? Can a court award court costs to one side in those instances?
That was the issue the Dallas Court of Appeals case Sullivan v. White.
Robert Sullivan sued his client, Pam E. White, for unpaid attorney’s fees. She counterclaimed for negligence and DTPA violations. They went to trial and the jury returned a verdict awarding no damages to either party. The trial court, however, signed a final judgment awarding White $3,068.58 in costs. Sullivan appealed arguing White should not get costs because she was not the successful party at trial.
Did the trial court abuse its discretion by awarding costs to White?
Rule 131 allows a successful party in a suit to recover court costs. But Rule 141 allows a court to award costs for other reasons if there is good cause that is stated on the record. The Dallas Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling on court costs, but not because the judge did not have discretion to award court costs to one side in a suit that ended in a tie. Instead, the Court noted the judge failed to specify good cause in the record. Failing to so do precluded an award of court costs where both sides prevailed. Consequently, the Court reversed the award and rendered judgment that each side bear its own costs.
Here is the opinion.