The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday ruled 6-3 [opinion, PDF] in Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd. [SCOTUS blog backgrounder] that the cost of translating documents cannot be awarded to the winning party in federal court under 28 USC § 1920(6) [text]. Although it had been common practice for 70 years for federal courts to include people who translate written documents as "interpreters" under § 1920(6), the Supreme Court held that the most natural definition of "interpreter" was one that did oral translation and that the standard was for parties to bear their own litigation costs unless Congress explicitly states otherwise. Kan Pacific Saipan argued that the text was broad enough to permissibly include both oral and written translation and that distinguishing between them was artificial as evidenced by federal courts' practice over the last 70 years, but the court was unpersuaded and reversed the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] in an opinion delivered by Justice Samuel Alito.
The controversy in the case was over the $5000 document translation cost relating to Taniguchi's failure to prevail in his suit against a Saipan hotel for an injury he suffered when his leg fell through the hotel's deck [WSJ report]. The Supreme Court took the case to resolve a split between the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] and the other circuits over the definition of "interpreter."