2016 Mass. App. Div. 116

June 3, 2016 - September 30, 2016

Appellate Division Northern District

Court Below: District Court, Lowell Division

Present: Coven, P.J., Singh & Nestor, JJ.

In the LOWELL DIVISION: Justice: Crane, J. [Note 1]

Robert R. White for the plaintiff.

No brief filed for the defendant.

NESTOR, J. Trinity EMS, Inc. (“Trinity”) is an ambulance company that brought suit to collect payment for services rendered to Josef P. Wentzell (“Wentzell”) after a motor vehicle accident on May 13, 2010. Wentzell was riding a motorcycle and was injured in the accident. Trinity transported Wentzell to Lawrence General Hospital. Trinity then billed Wentzell for $1,924.50. Trinity sent its first bill on May 20, 2010. Trinity then billed Wentzell periodically until April 13, 2011. Wentzell never paid any of the bills he received. There is no disagreement between the parties on these facts. This appeal arises from which date should be used to calculate prejudgment interest. The judge ordered that prejudgment interest would begin to accrue on the filing of the small claims action. Trinity filed this appeal seeking to recover prejudgment interest from May 13, 2010.

The underlying claim was originally filed as a small claims action. After judgment entered in the small claims action, Wentzell moved to vacate the judgment and to

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transfer the matter to the civil session. After a hearing, that motion was allowed, and the case was transferred. The judge granted Trinity’s motion for partial summary judgment but reserved for trial the issue of damages in Trinity’s claim. The trial judge also left determination of Wentzell’s counterclaims to the trial. The same judge heard the jury-waived trial. Trinity produced a representative to testify and entered various exhibits. Wentzell produced no witnesses or introduced any evidence. The judge dismissed all of Wentzell’s counterclaims and found in favor of Trinity in the amount of $1,924.50, with interest from the date of the commencement of the action.

The judge specifically declined to award interest pursuant to G.L. c. 231, § 6C from the date of demand until the commencement of the small claims action. The judge reasoned that prejudgment interest under G.L. c. 231, § 6C was limited to express contracts and did not apply to quantum merit or implied contracts. The Appeals Court has expressly ruled that G.L. c. 231, § 6C applies equally to quantum meruit claims. Zabin v. Picciotto, 73 Mass. App. Ct. 141, 155-156 (2008). The judge declined, however, to view that holding as dispositive of the issue because it was not a decision of the Supreme Judicial Court. The judge also declined to award prejudgment interest because he did not want Trinity to gain a “minor windfall.” The judge reasoned that with interest rates generally below 1% during this time period, the awarding of 12% interest would result in unjust compensation to Trinity.

Trinity filed a motion to revise, revoke, and amend judgment, requesting prejudgment interest pursuant to G.L. c. 231, § 6C. After a hearing, that motion was denied.

It is settled law that any action where a party seeks recovery under an implied contract or based on quantum meruit is also subject to the provisions of G.L. c. 231, § 6C. Zabin, supra at 155-156. “It goes without saying that Appeals Court decisions may appropriately be cited as sources of Massachusetts law.” Ford v. Flaherty, 364 Mass. 382, 388 (1973). Appeals Court opinions are binding precedent. Adamowicz v. Town of Ipswich, 395 Mass. 757, 759 n.4 (1985).

The calculation of prejudgment interest is governed by G.L. c. 231, § 6C, which provides:

“In all actions based on contractual obligations, upon a verdict, finding or order for judgment for pecuniary damages, interest shall be added by the clerk of the court to the amount of damages, at the contract rate, if established, or at the rate of twelve per cent per annum from the date of the breach or demand.”

Section 6C is “‘designed to compensate a damaged party for the loss of use or unlawful detention of money.’ An award of interest is made ‘so that a person wrongfully deprived of the use of the money should be made whole for his [or her] loss.’” Sterilite Corp. v. Continental Cas. Co., 397 Mass. 837, 841 (1986), quoting Perkins Sch. for the Blind v. Rate Setting Comm’n, 383 Mass. 825, 835 (1981). The statute directs the clerk, in a ministerial act, to add interest to contract damages as of the date that the breach of contract has been established. “In these circumstances the statute permits no compromise; it commands a ministerial act.” Sterilite Corp., supra at 840, quoting Sterilite Corp. v. Continental Cas. Co., 20 Mass. App. Ct. 215, 218 (1985). The

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Legislature has determined that 12% is the statutory rate for prejudgment interest. It is error for a judge to substitute his or her own rationale to amend the rate.

Trinity prevailed in its lawsuit against Wentzell. Trinity is entitled by statute to collect prejudgment interest from the date of demand on May 20, 2010. On that date, Trinity demanded payment for services rendered. Wentzell failed to make that required payment.

Accordingly, the judgment is vacated, and the denial of Trinity’s request for prejudgment interest is reversed. The trial court clerk is directed to recalculate prejudgment interest from the May 20, 2010 date of demand, and to enter a new judgment in favor of Trinity and against Wentzell that includes said interest.


[Note 1] The Honorable Daniel C. Crane recused himself from this appeal, and did not participate in its hearing, review, or decision.