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Siding with the minority of its sister courts on an issue that has divided the federal circuits, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that post-judgment interest on an award of attorney fees runs from the date that the court “actually quantifies the award” and not the date that the plaintiff became entitled to the award. “We recognize, of course, that our approach in this case is different from that of the Courts of Appeals for the 5th, 8th, 9th, 11th and Federal circuits, and thus that the weight of authority is against our position,” U.S. Circuit Judge Marjorie O. Rendell wrote in Eaves v. County of Cape May. “We nevertheless reject the majority view because, in most cases, the courts predicated their result on a broader interpretation of Section 1961(a) based primarily on policy considerations rather than the plain language of the statute,” Rendell wrote in an opinion joined by U.S. Circuit Judges Theodore A. McKee and Walter K. Stapleton. Rendell found that since the federal post-judgment interest statute, 28 U.S.C. Section 1961(a), uses the term “money judgment,” a plain reading of the law is that the interest cannot begin to accrue until the court fixes the amount of the attorney fees. In the suit, a jury found that Cape May County had discriminated against Pamela Eaves and awarded her $90,000 in damages. U.S. District Judge Jerome B. Simandle entered judgment on the jury verdict in August 1998 and added pre-judgment interest of more than $12,000. The order also said that Eaves was entitled to an award of attorney fees. But Simandle did not fix the amount of the fee award until January 2000, when he ruled that Eaves was entitled to $254,248.57 in fees and expenses. Simandle found that Eaves was entitled to post-judgment interest on the fees dating back to his August 1998 order because “it was the court’s intent, in entering the judgment on August 11, 1998, that the plaintiff was found to be entitled to recover her attorney’s fees, with only the amount to be determined.” By awarding post-judgment interest, Simandle said, the court “recognizes that plaintiff and her counsel have been deprived of the benefit of the payment of this sum since it was due and that the fee award is calculated upon plaintiff’s counsel’s 1998 billing rates rather than current rates.” Cape May appealed and argued that Simandle erred in “backdating” the post-judgment interest award. It contended that the decision to award post-judgment interest from that date ignores the fact that the amount of the award was not quantified until nearly a year and one-half later and unfairly penalizes the county because the delay was apparently caused by court backlog rather than dilatory tactics on the county’s part. But Eaves responded that “the majority rule among the circuit courts of appeals is that post-judgment interest accrues from the date that the party becomes unconditionally entitled to fees, even if those fees are not yet quantified.” Post-judgment interest, Eaves argued, accrues on an attorney-fee award “from the date establishing the right to the award, not the date of the judgment establishing its quantum.” The justification for commencing the post-judgment interest period from the earlier of two judgments is grounded in equitable considerations, Eaves argued, because postponing the accrual of post-judgment interest “would effectively reduce the judgment for attorney’s fees and costs, because a certain sum of money paid at a certain time in the future is worth less than the same sum of money paid today. Failing to allow awards of attorney’s fees to bear interest would give parties against whom such awards have been entered an artificial and undesirable incentive to appeal or otherwise delay payment.” Rendell found that the 3rd Circuit has never confronted the question before but that only two circuits — the 7th and 10th — have adopted the county’s argument, holding that where the district court enters an order stating that the prevailing party is entitled to a fee award but does not quantify the amount of the award until a later date, post-judgment interest does not begin to accrue until the court fixes the amount of the award. The majority of the federal circuits, Rendell found, had adopted Eaves’ argument for the same policy reasons she cited. But Rendell sided with the minority, saying the statute’s language clearly supported their approach. “We do not find the reasoning of the courts adopting the ‘majority view’ persuasive, because they ignore a textual analysis of Section 1961(a) and, instead, base their result on policies they find to underlie post-judgment interest and attorney’s fee awards. In our view, the correct answer is dictated by the text of Section 1961(a) and by our case law construing the meaning of the term ‘money judgment,’ a common legal term which we believe is critical to the outcome of this appeal,” Rendell wrote. Although Eaves’ award of fees came in the form of two “judgments,” Rendell found that the “pivotal” question was whether the first judgment was a “money judgment.” The statute itself does not define the term “money judgment,” but Rendell found that the 3rd Circuit already has and held that it means a judgment that fixes the sum due. “Thus, we are constrained to agree with the county that Section 1961(a) simply does not permit post-judgment interest on an attorney’s fee award to run from the date that the court initially determines that the prevailing party is entitled to an award if the amount was not also quantified and included in that judgment,” Rendell wrote. “It necessarily follows that the ‘money judgment’ in this case was not entered until Jan. 27, 2000 — the date on which the court quantified the amount of the attorney’s fees and awarded plaintiff a fixed sum. Put differently, the Aug. 11, 1998 judgment stating that Eaves was entitled to an award of attorney’s fees could not have been the judgment triggering the post-judgment interest period because the court’s statement that Eaves was entitled to such an award cannot be considered the functional equivalent of a judicial finding that the county was liable to Eaves to pay a fixed sum of attorney’s fees.” Cape May was represented by attorney Marc I. Bressman of Budd Larner Gross Rosenbaum Greenberg & Sade in Cape May, N.J. Eaves was represented by attorney William M. Tambussi of Brown & Connery in Westmont, N.J.

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