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Supreme Court’s Differing Interpretations of “Interpreter”

Posted on June 25th, 2012

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd., 566 U. S. ____ (2012). Taniguchi had brought a personal injury claim against the defendant in a federal district court in the Marina Islands. As part of discovery, defendant Kan Pacific paid for the written translation of a number of documents from Japanese to English. The district court summarily dismissed the case, and Kan Pacific sought document translation costs from Taniguchi pursuant to the Court Interpreters Act, 28 U.S.C. §1920(6).  The district court agreed that §1920(6) allowed for written translation to be included in “compensation of an interpreter,” and ordered Taniguchi to pay those costs. Taniguchi appealed, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Taniguchi appealed again, and the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Justice Alito wrote for a six-justice majority and reversed the award of costs. He looked to the dictionary definition of ‘interpreter’ as being limited to oral interpreters to conclude the statute does not provide for the costs of written document translation. Id. at 15. Justice Ginsburg pointed out some loopholes in this logic and her dissent listed examples of other dictionaries and federal court opinions that included written translation under the definition of ‘interpreter.’ She stressed the importance of high-quality translation and adeptly noted, “…it is not extraordinary that what documents say, more than what witnesses testify, may make or break a case.” Id. at 5 (Ginsberg, J. dissenting).

Regardless of whether one thinks the majority was correct or missed the mark in this decision, it brings to light a serious new issue when litigation involves foreign corporations. In many of these cases, the discovery production is largely electronic documents, which can rise to literally millions of pages. Human translation, for example from Japanese to English, can cost as much as $200 per page!

For plaintiffs who are in need of foreign document translation, they may not be in a position to afford such high interpreter costs. Leveling the playing field for plaintiffs is why our firm utilizes modern enhanced machine translation (MT) as a cost containment solution for electronic document discovery.  Old computer translation software has received a bad reputation for not understanding idioms and colloquialisms, often to laughable effect. However, there is nothing funny about poor document translation in multidistrict litigation, where hundreds to thousands of plaintiffs are counting on accurate information that could “make or break a case.”

MT ensures the best possible translation accuracy by using a dual system of both dictionary foreign language analytics combined with artificial intelligence algorithms, designed by using actual human translations against original texts. This system ensures that a foreign language’s nuance is not lost, but appreciated, and translates the documents accordingly. By using MT, our clients receive highly comprehensible translations, but at a mere fraction of the time and expense of native-tongue live interpreters.

ILS – Plaintiff eDiscovery Experts

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