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Murphy v. Murphy, Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Unpublished Disposition No. 12-P-167, January 28, 2013

In Murphy v. Murphy, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that the plaintiff/wife was automatically entitled to 6% interest on $160,000 that the husband was ordered to pay to accomplish an equitable division of assets. The Appeals Court otherwise refused to disturb two judgments of contempt with regard to interest and attorney’s fees. The parties’ April 13, 2010 judgment of divorce ordered the husband to pay the wife $160,000, as a division of assets, as well as transfer his interest in the marital home. The wife was to pay the mortgage so long as the husband complied with the judgment.  On July 14, 2010, the wife filed a complaint for contempt for the husband’s failure to pay the $160,000 or transfer his interest in the home. The judge ordered the husband to sign a deed and fined him a $100 for each day he failed to do so. The judge later issued a judgment ordering the husband to pay the $160,000, arrears on the mortgage, and $5,000 in attorney’s fees. The judge denied the wife’s request for interest on the $160,000 and did not enforce the $100 per day fine. The wife filed a second contempt alleging that the husband had still failed to pay the $160,000 or the back due mortgage on the marital home. The judge expressly found the husband in contempt, but would not award the wife attorney’s fees, costs or interest. The wife appealed.

 M.G.L.c. 235, § 8 provides that "[e]very judgment for the payment of money shall bear interest from the day of its entry…." The Appeals Court held that the interest on the $160,000, should have been an "automatic, ministerial task of the clerk … regardless of whether the judge instructs the clerk to add interest or not…." The Appeals Court held that since there was no statutory prejudgment rate of interest, a rate of six percent interest must apply pursuant to M.G.L. c. 107, § 3.

With regard to the first complaint for contempt, the Appeals Court held that under M.G.L.  c. 215, § 34A, a judge should specifically state in the judgment whether or not the defendant is in contempt and set forth any interest award. The Appeals Court was "not persuaded" that the judge found the husband guilty of contempt, and as such, could not rule that the wife was entitled to interest. With regard to the second contempt, the Appeals Court refused to disturb the judgment noting that the wife failed to address on appeal whether the allegations in her complaint fell within the purview of M.G.L.c. 215, § 34A.

The Appeals Court further denied the wife’s request for attorney’s fees, finding that the trial court had awarded her fees on the first contempt and the wife again failed to state that she was entitled to fees under M.G.L.c. 215, § 34A. With regard to the $100 per day sanction, the Appeals Court noted that sanctions are a matter left to the discretion of the judge, who is intimately familiar with the case.

The wife argued for attorney’s fees, costs and damages relating to the appeal pursuant to M.R.A.P. 25. Rule 25 permits the court to award fees, costs and even damages, in the case of a frivolous appeal. The Appeals Court found Rule 25 inapplicable in this instance since the wife initiated the appeal. The Appeals Court instead concluded that the wife was entitled to costs of the appeal.