Jacek Stramski |

In a 5-2 decision issued on June 9, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the interest awarded on judgments entered between 1998 and 2011 remains unchanged until the judgment is paid and is not affected by 2011 statutory amendments that provide for variable interest. Townsend v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (SC15-722).

Townsend obtained a judgment against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJR) in 2010. The judgment provided that the award would bear interest at 6% annually. Section 55.03, Florida Statutes, which governs interest on judgments, stated in 2010 that the interest established on a judgment would remain fixed until the judgment was paid. RJR appealed the judgment. In 2011, while the appeal was pending, section 55.03, Fla. Stat. was amended to provide that the interest applicable to a judgment would be adjusted annually on January 1 until the judgment is paid. In 2012, an amended judgment was entered with a revised award on remittitur, but it provided that interest would be awarded in accordance with the law at the time of entry of the initial judgment. In 2014, RJR filed a motion to determine the rate of interest applicable to the amended judgment.

The Court noted that because the judgment was amended on remittitur, the interest rate applicable to the judgment applied back to the time judgment was first entered. Therefore, analysis of whether the 2011 amendment to section 55.03, requiring variable judgment interest rates, applied to the 2010 judgment would turn on whether doing so would be an unconstitutional retroactive application of a statute. The Court reasoned that a judgment that awards fixed interest pursuant to statutes creates a substantive vested right to that fixed interest. As a result, any subsequent legislative act that required judgment interest to be calculated on an annual, variable level, could not apply to judgments entered when the law provided that interest was fixed. In short, the Court held that judgments entered from the time that section 55.03(3) was enacted in 1998 until it was revised in 2011 will bear a fixed interest until paid as provided for by statute prior to the 2011 revisions.

2011 Law Making Judgment Interest Variable Does Not Apply Retroactively

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