The Third Department, reversing (modifying) Supreme Court, determined plaintiff attorney was entitled to prejudgment interest in this breach of contract action against defendant, a former client, seeking payment of plaintiff’s fee for legal services:
… [W]e agree with plaintiff that her motion seeking an award of prejudgment interest should have been granted. Supreme Court faulted plaintiff for waiting until 2020 to commence this action to recover monies owed as a result of a legal representation that ended in 2015 but, as prejudgment interest only compensates the judgment creditor for the loss of use of money he or she was owed and is not a penalty, the “responsibility for the delay [in bringing suit] should not be the controlling factor in deciding whether interest is to be computed” … . Rather, prejudgment interest in a breach of contract action is required by CPLR 5001, running “from the earliest ascertainable date on which the prevailing party’s cause of action existed ‘[or,] if that date cannot be ascertained with precision, . . . from the earliest time at which it may be said the cause of action accrued’ ” … . Supreme Court determined in the April 2022 order that plaintiff’s claim for breach of contract accrued when she completed her legal services on May 23, 2015. Thus, plaintiff was entitled to prejudgment interest running from that date…. O’Keefe v Barra, 2023 NY Slip Op 01829, Third Dept 4-6-23
Practice Point: This was a breach of contract action brought by an attorney against a former client for failure to pay the legal fees. The fact that the attorney stopped representing the client in 2015 and didn’t bring suit until 2020 was not a ground for the denial of prejudgment interest, which is required in breach of contract actions by CPLR 5001. The court noted that prejudgment interest is not a penalty.