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Brown v. Office of Commissioner of Probation

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

October 11, 2016

HELEN BROWN
v.
OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF PROBATION.

          Heard: March 7, 2016.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on August 13, 2007. Following review by the Appeals Court, 84 Mass.App.Ct. 1109 (2013), a motion for postjudgment interest was considered by Paul E. Troy, J., and judgment was entered by him.

         After review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.

          Jonathan J. Margolis (Beth R. Myers with him) for the plaintiff.

          Sally A. VanderWeele, Assistant Attorney General, for the Office of the Commissioner of Probation.

          Jamie Goodwin, for Massachusetts Employment Lawyers Association & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, & Hines, JJ.[1]

          LENK, J.

         In this case, we consider whether sovereign immunity bars a plaintiff who is awarded punitive damages, costs, and attorney's fees as part of a judgment under G. L. c. 151B, § 9, from recovering postjudgment interest on those awards from a public employer. The trial judge denied a request by the plaintiff, Helen Brown, for such interest, concluding that sovereign immunity has not been waived with respect to such interest, and judgment was entered accordingly. A divided panel of the Appeals Court affirmed the judgment, see Brown v. Office of the Commissioner of Probation, 8 7 Mass.App.Ct. 72 9, 7 35 (2015), and we allowed the plaintiff's application for further appellate review. Because we conclude that G. L. c. 151B, § 9, does not waive sovereign immunity from liability for postjudgment interest, either expressly or by necessary implication, we affirm.[2]

         Background.

         We recite only those facts necessary for understanding in context the question of law at issue here. The plaintiff and a colleague sued the defendant, the office of the Commissioner of Probation, for sex discrimination, race discrimination, and retaliation, pursuant to the procedure set forth in G. L. c. 151B, § 9. On February 9, 2011, a Superior Court jury found for the plaintiff on her retaliation claim, [3] and awarded $6, 000 in compensatory damages and $500, 000 in punitive damages. The award of punitive damages was reduced to $108, 000 by an order of remittitur. On January 18, 2012, the office of the Commissioner of Probation additionally was ordered to pay $233, 463.48 in attorney's fees and $13, 294.47 in costs related to the trial.[4] Following a decision by the Appeals Court affirming the order of remittitur, [5] judgment after rescript was entered on March 12, 2014. That judgment, which provided for prejudgment interest and was paid in full on July 15, 2014, did not provide for the requested postjudgment interest.[6]

         Discussion.

         The plaintiff contends that her request for postjudgment interest on punitive damages, costs, and attorney's fees should have been granted, because G. L. c. 151B generally waives sovereign immunity with respect to such interest.[7] As that argument presents a question of law, we consider it de novo. See Commonwealth v. Spencer, 465 Mass. 32, 46 (2013).

         "The general rule of law with respect to sovereign immunity is that the Commonwealth or any of its instrumentalities 'cannot be impleaded in its own courts except with its consent, and, when that consent is granted, it can be impleaded only in the manner and to the extent expressed [by] statute.'" DeRochev.Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, 447 Mass. 1, 12 (2006), quoting General Elec. Co. v.Commonwealth, 329 Mass. 661, 664 (1953). While G. L. c. 235, § 8, provides for postjudgment interest against private entities for "[e]very judgment for the payment of money, " that statute does not apply to claims against the Commonwealth or its subdivisions. See Onofriov.Department of Mental Health, 411 Mass. 657, 660 n.5 (1992), citing C & M Constr. Co. v.Commonwealth, 396 Mass. 390, 393 (1985). Thus, public employers are not liable for postjudgment interest unless some other statute clearly waives sovereign ...


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