The Requirement for Interest on Judgments

May 16, 2016 § Leave a comment

The COA reversed and remanded in a recent case because the chancellor did not award interest on a contempt judgment.

In Oster v. Ratliff, handed down April 19, 2016, Judge Irving wrote for the court:

¶21. Consuelo [Ratliff] argues that under Mississippi Code Annotated section 75-17-7 (Rev. 2009), the chancellor erred in failing to award post-judgment interest on the judgment against Crieg [Oster]. In response, Crieg argues that this issue is barred because Consuelo failed to raise it during the hearing. In the alternative, he argues that an award of interest on the judgment would have been punitive in nature and would have resulted in a windfall for Consuelo.

¶22. In the final judgment, the chancery court did not award Consuelo interest on the judgment. Section 75-17-7 provides, in relevant part: “All other judgments or decrees shall bear interest at a per annum rate set by the judge hearing the complaint from a date determined by such judge to be fair but in no event prior to the filing of the complaint.” Under that section, “it is error, as a matter of law, for a chancellor not to award interest on a judgment for past-due support.” Caplinger v. Caplinger, 108 So. 3d 992, 999 (¶25) (Miss. Ct. App. 2013) (citation omitted). Under a different set of circumstances, we would agree with Crieg that the issue is procedurally barred because Consuelo failed to raise this issue for resolution by the chancery court (see Scally v. Scally, 802 So. 2d 128, 131 (¶¶27-28) (Miss. 2001) (citations omitted)), but because this involves child support, which cannot be waived, we see no reason why interest on it should be waived. Moreover, section 75-17-7 makes it clear that a judge should award interest at a per annum rate on judgments such as this one. The chancery court rendered a judgment in favor of Consuelo for $7,819.50 in past-due child support and insurance premiums and $2,500 in attorney’s fees, which were incurred in attempting to collect past-due child support from Crieg. Interest should be calculated on these amounts.

A few points:

  • Not only did Ratliff fail to give the chancellor the chance to address the error via a R59 motion, but I have it from an informed source that she did not even ask in her pleadings for interest. So the duty to impose an interest rate is with the judge, who must assign it whether there is a prayer for it, and whether there is any evidence to support the rate assigned.
  • MCA 75-17-7 says that the rate is whatever the chancellor has “determined to be fair,” but what evidence is required to support that determination? In this case, obviously none. And in my experience, lawyers never put on such proof. And what findings must the judge make to support a finding that the rate is fair?
  • I talked about various aspects of judgment interest in this previous post.

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