The Supreme Court decided Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, holding that the cost of document translation is not a taxable cost under the federal cost-shifting statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1920. In an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court ruled – by a vote of six to three – that the Ninth Circuit had it wrong when it ruled that 28 U.S.C. § 19206’s allowance for “compensation of interpreters” includes translation of written documents, and not only what everyone agrees that provision comfortably covers: oral interpretation, such as in-court interpretation of testimony in a language other than English. Interestingly, it wasn’t just the Ninth Circuit that had it wrong. Most federal courts that had addressed the question had ruled that subsection 19206 covers document translation, and, as the dissent pointed out, awards for those costs have been commonplace in the district courts.
In this case, the Court held that “because the ordinary meaning of ‘interpreter’ is someone who translates orally from one language to another,” … ‘compensation of interpreters’ in [28 U.S.C.] § 1920(6) does not include costs for document translation.” Put even more simply, people who win federal-court lawsuits cannot be reimbursed by the losing party for any of their document translation costs.