United States: When Does Postjudgment Interest Start To Accrue?

Last Updated: October 27 2015
Article by Judith R. Blakeway

When an appellate court's remand results in multiple trial court judgments, which of the judgments starts postjudgment interest accrual? The Texas Supreme Court faced that question in Ventling v. Johnson, 58 Tex. S.Ct. J. 892 (Tex. May 8, 2015).

Ventling was a long-running (18 years, not including its duration in the Supreme Court) dispute over an agreed divorce decree. The case began with an April 1995 agreed divorce degree calling for certain periodic payments to the wife. When the husband stopped paying, the wife sued to enforce the decree.

The timeline looked like this:

  • April 1995.  Divorce decree entered terminating common-law marriage and dividing property. Two months later the husband stops paying and the wife sues.
  • January 9, 1998.  Court denies wife's enforcement motion and awards her attorney's fees.
  • July 25, 2001.  Trial court finds the parties were never married and signs judgment denying relief to wife. Wife appeals.
  • April 1, 2004.  Court of appeals holds trial court had no authority to modify 1995 divorce decree, deems the 2001 judgment void, and dismisses the appeal for want of jurisdiction.
  • October 2007.  Wife sues again to reduce unpaid contractual alimony to enforceable judgment and requests interest.
  • June 16, 2009.  Trial court denies all relief to wife. Wife appeals again.
  • October 21, 2010.  Court of appeals reverses, holding divorce decree is not void and remands to trial court to award wife unpaid contractual alimony and prejudgment interest.
  • February 21, 2012.  Trial court awards wife contractual alimony, prejudgment interest and postjudgment interest from February 21, 2012.
  • March 21, 2012.  Trial court signs an amended judgment changing the postjudgment interest rate. Wife appeals for third time.
  • December 19, 2013.  Court of appeals holds that the trial court should have awarded wife pre and postjudgment interest on contractual alimony from January 9, 1998—the date the court first ruled on the enforcement motion. The appellate court also instructed the trial court to award postjudgment interest on wife's attorney's fees and costs as of   February 21, 2012.

The Supreme Court reversed holding that: (1) June 16, 2009 was the date of the final judgment for purposes of calculating prejudgment and postjudgment interest on the award of damages, (2) March 21, 2012 was the date of final judgment for purpose of calculating postjudgment interest on the severable award of past attorney's fees

When an appellate court's remand results in multiple trial court judgments, deciding which judgment triggers accrual of postjudgment interest depends on whether additional evidence is required on remand. If the trial court is not required to hear additional evidence, interest begins to accrue on the date the trial court entered the original judgment. If the trial court must reopen the record, postjudgment interest accrues as of the date of the subsequent judgment.

In this case, because the trial court's only task on remand with respect to the merits of the contractual alimony claim was the ministerial act of entering the judgment as instructed, the relevant judgment date was June 16, 2009. Accordingly,  the wife was entitled to prejudgment interest from the date of the alimony award until June 16, 2009, and postjudgment interest thereafter.

Because the court of appeals remand of the severable issue of attorney's fees required the record to be re-opened, postjudgment interest on attorney's fees began accruing on March 21, 2012, the date the trial court entered its final judgment after hearing additional evidence on that issue.

The court further held that an award of conditional appellate attorney's fees accrues postjudgment interest from the date the appropriate appellate court judgment finalizes the award. Assuming the trial court took no additional evidence on attorney's fees, the wife was entitled to postjudgment interest on fees incurred in the court of appeals as of December 19, 2013, the date of the court of appeals final judgment. Likewise, postjudgment interest on the award of fees in the Supreme Court would accrue from the date of the Supreme Court's opinion and judgment.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Judith R. Blakeway
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