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Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc.

United States Supreme Court

March 4, 2019

RIMINI STREET, INC., ET AL„ PETITIONERS
v.
ORACLE USA, INC., ET AL.

          Argued January 14, 2019

          ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

         A jury awarded Oracle damages after finding that Rimini Street had infringed various Oracle copyrights. After judgment, the District Court also awarded Oracle fees and costs, including $12.8 million for litigation expenses such as expert witnesses, e-discovery, and jury consulting. In affirming the $12.8 million award, the Ninth Circuit acknowledged that it covered expenses not included within the six categories of costs that the general federal statute authorizing district courts to award costs, 28 U.S.C. §§1821 and 1920, provides may be awarded against a losing party. The court nonetheless held that the award was appropriate because the Copyright Act gives federal district courts discretion to award "full costs" to a party in copyright litigation, 17 U.S.C. §505.

         Held: The term "full costs" in §505 of the Copyright Act means the costs specified in the general costs statute codified at §§1821 and 1920. Pp. 3-12.

         (a) Sections 1821 and 1920 define what the term "costs" encompasses in subject-specific federal statutes such as §505. Congress may authorize awards of expenses beyond the six categories specified in the general costs statute, but courts may not award litigation expenses that are not specified in §§1821 and 1920 absent explicit authority. This Court's precedents have consistently adhered to that approach. See Crawford Fitting Co. v. J. T. Gibbons, Inc., 482 U.S. 437; West Virginia Univ. Hospitals, Inc. v. Casey, 499 U.S. 83; Arlington Central School Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Murphy, 548 U.S. 291. The Copyright Act does not explicitly authorize the award of litigation expenses beyond the six categories specified in §§1821 and 1920, which do not authorize an award for expenses such as expert witness fees, e-discovery expenses, and jury consultant fees. Pp. 3-6. (b) Oracle's counterarguments are not persuasive. First, Oracle argues that the word "full" authorizes courts to award expenses beyond the costs specified in §§1821 and 1920. The term "full" is an adjective that means the complete measure of the noun it modifies. It does not, therefore, alter the meaning of the word "costs" in §505. Rather, "full costs" are all the "costs" otherwise available under the relevant law.

         Second, Oracle maintains that the term "full costs" in the Copyright Act is a historical term of art that encompasses more than the "costs" listed in §§1821 and 1920. Oracle argues that Congress imported the meaning of the term "full costs" from the English copyright statutes into the Copyright Act in 1831. It contends that the 1831 meaning of "full costs" allows the transfer of all expenses of litigation, beyond those specified in any costs schedule, and overrides anything that Congress enacted in the Fee Act of 1853 or any subsequent costs statute. Courts need not, however, undertake extensive historical excavation to determine the meaning of costs statutes. See Crawford Fitting Co., 482 U.S., at 445. In any event, Oracle has not shown that the phrase "full costs" had an established meaning in English or American law that covered more than the full amount of the costs listed in the applicable costs schedule. Case law since 1831 also refutes Oracle's historical argument.

         Third, Oracle advances a variety of surplusage arguments. According to Oracle, after Congress made the costs award discretionary in 1976, district courts could award any amount of costs up to 100 percent, and so Rimini's reading of the word "full" now adds nothing to "costs." Because Congress would not have intended "full" to be surplusage, Oracle contends, Congress must have employed the term "full" to mean expenses beyond the costs specified in §§1821 and 1920. But even if the term "full" lacked any continuing significance after 1976, the meaning of "costs" did not change. Oracle's interpretation would also create its own redundancy problem by rendering the second sentence of §505-which covers attorney's fees-largely redundant because §505's first sentence presumably would already cover those fees. Finally, Oracle's argument, even if correct, overstates the significance of statutory surplusage and redundancy. See, e.g., Marxv. General Revenue Corp., 568 U.S. 371, 385. Pp. 6-11. 879 F.3d 948, reversed in part and remanded.

          OPINION

          KAVANAUGH, J.

         The Copyright Act gives federal district courts discretion to award "full costs" to a party in copyright litigation. 17 U.S.C. §505. In the general statute governing awards of costs, Congress has specified six categories of litigation expenses that qualify as "costs." See 28 U.S.C. §§1821, 1920. The question presented in this case is whether the Copyright Act's reference to "full costs" authorizes a court to award litigation expenses beyond the six categories of "costs" specified by Congress in the general costs statute. The statutory text and our precedents establish that the answer is no. The term "full" is a term of quantity or amount; it does not expand the categories or kinds of expenses that may be awarded as "costs" under the general costs statute. In copyright cases, §505's authorization for the award of "full costs" therefore covers only the six categories specified in the general costs statute, codified at §§1821 and 1920. We reverse in relevant part the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and we remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I

         Oracle develops and licenses software programs that manage data and operations for businesses and non-profit organizations. Oracle also offers its customers software maintenance services.

         Rimini Street sells third-party software maintenance services to Oracle customers. In doing so, Rimini competes with Oracle's software maintenance services.

         Oracle sued Rimini and its CEO in Federal District Court in Nevada, asserting claims under the Copyright Act and various other federal and state laws. Oracle alleged that Rimini, in the course of providing software support services to Oracle customers, copied Oracle's software without licensing it.

         A jury found that Rimini had infringed various Oracle copyrights and that both Rimini and its CEO had violated California and Nevada computer access statutes. The jury awarded Oracle $35.6 million in damages for copyright infringement and $14.4 million in damages for violations of the state computer access statutes. After judgment, the District Court ordered the defendants to pay Oracle an additional $28.5 million in attorney's fees and $4.95 million in costs; the Court of Appeals reduced the latter award to $3.4 million. The District Court also ordered the defendants to pay Oracle $12.8 million for litigation expenses such as expert witnesses, e-discovery, and jury consulting.

         That $12.8 million award is the subject of the dispute in this case. As relevant here, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court's $12.8 million award. The Court of Appeals recognized that the general federal statute authorizing district courts to award costs, 28 U.S.C. §§1821 and 1920, lists only six categories of costs that may be awarded against the losing party. And the Court of Appeals acknowledged that the $12.8 million award covered expenses not included within those six categories. But the Court of Appeals, relying on Circuit precedent, held that the District Court's $12.8 million award for additional expenses was still appropriate because §505 permits the award of "full costs," a term that the Ninth Circuit said was not confined to the six categories identified in §§1821 and 1920. 879 F.3d 948, 965-966 (2018).

         We granted certiorari to resolve disagreement in the Courts of Appeals over whether the term "full costs" in §505 authorizes awards of expenses other than those costs identified in §§1821 and 1920. 585 U.S. (2018). Compare 879 F.3d, at 965-966; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. v. Entertainment Distributing, 429 F.3d 869 (CA9 2005), with Artisan Contractors Assn. of Am., ...


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