Massachusetts Appeals Court: An Award for Attorney Fees is Entitled to Post-Judgment Interest

Attorney fee award is a judgment for payment of money on which the winner is entitled post judgment interest. Front v. Fowler, 81 Mass. App. Ct. 326 (2012).

Summary: The Appeals Court held that when a defendant prevails against the frivolous claims of a plaintiff and obtains an award of attorney fees and costs pursuant to G.L. c. 231 § 6F, the defendant is entitled to post judgment interest on the award pursuant to G.L. c. 235 § 8. The Defendants in this case successfully obtained verdict against all of the Plaintiffs’ claims which were all found to be insubstantial, frivolous, and not brought forth in good faith. After the Plaintiffs appealed and lost, the Defendants filed a motion seeking fees and costs. After the trial court’s receipt of the rescript, the Defendants filed a motion for computation of statutory interests on the earlier Superior Court award of fees and costs of 1.23 million dollars. The Superior Court held that attorney’s fees and costs qualifies as a judgment for the payment of money and applied a post judgment interests statutory rate of 12 percent pursuant to G.L. c. 235 § 8.

Discussion: The central issue of whether a judge can apply post judgment statutory interest on award of attorney’s fees and costs made pursuant to G.L. c. 231 § 6F is a question of first impression in Massachusetts. As an initial matter the Court followed Osborne v. Biotti, 404 Mass. 112 (1989) in holding that an award of costs was a judgment for the payment of money within the meaning of to G.L. c. 235 § 8 and that an award of costs bears interests from the date of entry to the date of execution. According to the Court, a judgment is the act of the trial court finally adjudicating the rights of the parties affected by the judgment and starts the timetable for appellate review. Award of fees and costs made under 6F is subject to immediate appeal and falls under this definition. However, a motion made under 6F is collateral to the underlying judgment of the case and therefore is not final until all appeals of the underlying judgment are completed. In this case the Court found that all the appeals were completed and although the Defendant’s 6F motion was granted in 2011 along with the completion of all appeals regarding the motion, it was entered into the docket in 2007 meaning that the statutory interest rate applies from 2007 onwards.

The Appeals Court rejected the Plaintiff’s statutory construction argument that because 6F explicitly allows an enhanced interest under certain circumstances, the intent of the statute is to bar interest on awards on which 6F does not explicitly allow such enhanced interest.

Implications: Notwithstanding the possibility that the underlying judgment against the frivolous claims may be overturned, attorneys who successfully defend against a plaintiff’s frivolous claims may file a motion for award of attorney’s fees and costs under G.L. c. 231 § 6F. If an award of attorney fees is obtained on motion, then pursuant to G.L. c. 235 § 8, interest on the award will apply from the date the motion enters the docket to the date the award is actually paid out. Bear in mind, however, that G.L. c. 235 § 8 does not authorize post judgment interest on any judgment against the Commonwealth.

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