Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan

PETITIONER:Kouichi Taniguchi
RESPONDENT:Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd.
LOCATION: Marianas Resort and Spa

DOCKET NO.: 10-1472
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 566 US (2012)
GRANTED: Sep 27, 2011
ARGUED: Feb 21, 2012
DECIDED: May 21, 2012

Dan Himmelfarb – for the respondent
Michael S. Fried – on behalf of the petitioner

Facts of the case

On November 6, 2006, Kouichi Taniguchi, a Japanese baseball player, visited the Marianas Resort and Spa in the Northern Mariana Islands. During a tour of the resort, Taniguchi fell through a wooden deck. Immediately after the accident, Taniguchi stated that he did not need medical attention. Two weeks later, he informed Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd., the owner of the resort, that he had sustained injuries, which he claimed resulted in various medical expenses and loss of income.

Taniguchi subsequently brought a diversity lawsuit against Kan Pacific alleging negligence and seeking damages for losses suffered because of the accident. After discovery, the district court awarded summary judgment to Kan Pacific and awarded Kan Pacific litigation costs under 28 U.S.C. § 1920. During litigation, Kan Pacific spent $5,517.20 for the translation of contracts and other documents from Japanese to English. The district court included these costs in the award because it interpreted “compensation of interpreters” in U.S.C. § 1920(6), as including compensation for the translation of documents.

Taniguchi appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed the award of $5,517.20 for the document translation. The court denied Taniguchi’s petition for rehearing on May 11, 2011, and Taniguchi subsequently appealed.


Are costs incurred in translating documents “compensation of interpreters” under 28 U.S.C. Section § 1920(6)?

Media for Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 21, 2012 in Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 21, 2012 in Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Alito has our opinion this morning in Case 10-1472, Taniguchi versus Kan Pacific Saipan.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

This case concerns the terms “interpreter” and “translator”.

A federal statute, 28 U.S.C. Section 1920 entitles the prevailing party in a civil case to recover certain costs from the loosing party.

The Court Interpreters Act amended this provision to include “compensation of interpreters”.

The question here is whether compensation of interpreters covers the costs of producing English language versions of documents that are written in another language.

This is a personal injury suit brought by a professional Japanese basketball player, Kouichi Taniguchi against the owner of a property on which the plaintiff was injured, Kan Pacific Saipan.

The plaintiff lost the case and the District Court awarded costs to the defendant.

These costs included the expense of translating from Japanese to English certain documents that the defendant used in preparing its defense.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the award.

It concluded that compensation of interpreters is not limited to the cost of translating live speech but reasonably encompasses the cost of translating written documents.

We disagree.

Because the term “interpreter” is not defined in the statute, we give the word its ordinary meaning and it is not customary to speak of the interpretation of a written document from one language into another.

Instead, the term that is customarily used is “translation”.

At the time of the statute’s enactments — enactment, dictionaries uniformly define “interpreter” to include persons who translate orally but only a handful define the word broadly enough to encompass translators of written materials.

One of the few dictionaries in the latter category was the Oxford English Dictionary, but the OED’s treatment is illustrative.

The OED stated that the use of the term “interpret” to refer to the translation of written documents had become obsolete.

Any definition of the word that is absent from many dictionaries and is deemed obsolete in others is hardly a common or ordinary meaning.

We, therefore, conclude that the term “interpreter” is normally understood as one who translates orally from one language to another.

Nothing in the Court Interpreters Act or in other provisions of Section 1920 hints that Congress intended to go beyond this ordinary meaning.

All of this is explained in greater detail in our opinion.

For anyone who is interested, the opinion is written in English. Anybody [Laughter] who wants to read it in another language will have to pay to have it translated [Laughter] not interpreted.

Justice Ginsburg has filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Breyer and Justice Sotomayor have joined.