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Harrison v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

February 27, 2018

DONNA LEE HARRISON and JERRY LEE HARRISON, Appellants,
v.
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP OF AMERICA, INC., Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Cause No. 1522-CC09759 Honorable Steven Russell Ohmer

          GARY M. GAERTNER, JR., PRESIDING JUDGE.

          Introduction

         Donna Lee Harrison and Jerry Lee Harrison (collectively, Appellants) appeal the trial court's judgments denying their respective motions to vacate and retax court costs in their underlying suit against Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. (Volkswagen), in which Volkswagen was the prevailing party. Appellants argue the trial court did not have authority to tax costs in the first instance, and that the circuit clerk's ultimate order taxing costs is invalid due to procedural violations. Because we find any procedural violations leading to the circuit clerk's order did not prejudice Appellants here, we affirm.

         Background

         Appellants initiated the underlying suit against Volkswagen, and after trial, a jury found in favor of Volkswagen on all of Appellants' claims. The trial court entered judgment upon the jury's verdict on October 5, 2016, ordering costs to be taxed against Appellants.

         On November 4, 2016, Volkswagen filed a proposed bill of costs and supporting exhibits, seeking costs in the amount of $77, 613.14. The trial court heard argument regarding the requested costs and entered judgment on February 9, 2017. The trial court found that some of Volkswagen's requested costs were not taxable and ordered the remaining costs taxed against Appellants, in the amount of $60, 383.14.

         Appellants filed a motion to vacate this order, which the trial court denied on April 11, 2017. Appellants filed a notice of appeal on April 20, 2017. Appellants' stated ground for appeal was that "the trial court's cost order contravene[d Section] 514.260, which provides that only the circuit clerk can tax costs."

         Meanwhile, on April 13, 2017, the Circuit Clerk for the 22nd Judicial Circuit issued a bill of costs taxing costs against Appellants in the amount of $60, 383.14. Appellants then moved the trial court to retax costs, and the trial court denied this motion on June 26, 2017. Appellants then appealed the trial court's denial of the motion to retax costs. This Court consolidated the appeal with Appellants' first appeal, and we consider them together.

         Discussion

         Appellants raise three points on appeal. First, Appellants argue that the trial court lacked authority to enter its February 9, 2017 judgment ordering specific costs to be taxed to Appellants because Section 514.260[1] provides that only the circuit clerk may tax costs. In Point II, Appellants argue that the trial court erred in denying Appellants' motion to retax costs because Volkswagen waived its right to costs by failing to make a proper timely request for costs to the circuit clerk. In their third point, Appellants argue that the trial court erred in denying their motion to retax costs because the bill of costs issued by the circuit clerk failed to itemize the costs pursuant to Section 514.310.

         Point I

         Appellants argue that the trial court had no authority to enter its February 9, 2017 judgment ordering costs to be taxed to Appellants in the amount of $60, 383.14 because Section 514.260 provides that only the circuit clerk may tax costs. Because the circuit clerk ultimately did tax costs in this case, we deny this point as moot.[2]

         Typically, a trial court makes a general award of costs in its final judgment, and then specific costs are taxed thereafter by the circuit clerk.[3]See Riggs v. State Dept. of Soc. Servs., 473 S.W.3d 177, 182-84 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015) (explaining difference between trial court's function to make general award of costs to parties and circuit clerk's ministerial duty of calculation or taxation of specific costs); see also Collector of Revenue v. Wiley,529 S.W.3d 42, 46 n.5 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017). Section 514.260 states, "The clerk shall tax and subscribe all bills of costs arising in any cause . . . agreeably to fees which shall, for the time being, be allowed by law . . . ." Appellants argue this section places authority to tax costs exclusively with the circuit clerk, ...


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