On December 3, 2009, the Supreme Court of Ohio decided the case of Mayer et al. v. Medancic et al., in an effort to clarify the calculation of interest on an obligation upon the occurrence of a default. As stated by the Court, “compound interest is not available upon a default on a written instrument absent agreement of the parties or another statutory provision expressly authorizing it.” Accordingly, lenders should ensure that their loan documents clearly state that interest will be compounded not only during the term of the loan, but also after default.

The case involved the calculation of default interest on three promissory notes executed and delivered by the Medancics to the Mayers. All principal and accrued interest on each note was due and payable at maturity and the Medancics failed to make those payments in each case. Although the maturity dates fell in 1995 and 1997, the Mayers did not receive judgment on the notes until May of 2006. The Mayers contended that they were entitled to post-judgment interest at the rates set forth in the notes, compounded annually, but the trial court held that the Mayers were entitled to post-judgment simple interest at the rates set forth in the notes. The Eleventh District Court of Appeals reversed, on the basis of the Supreme Court of Ohio case, State ex rel Bruml v. Brooklyn, which the Eleventh District held provided for “interest upon interest” and, therefore, provided for compound default interest. In doing so, the Eleventh District acknowledged the general rule that compound interest is not available absent a statutory provision or agreement of the parties, but found that the rule applied only to cases decided under Ohio Revised Code 1343.03.

The Supreme Court of Ohio disagreed. The Court evaluated both statutes: Ohio Revised Code 1343.02 and 1343.03. 1343.02 provides that “upon all judgments, decrees, or orders, rendered on any bond, bill, note, or other instrument of writing containing stipulations for the payment of interest in accordance with section 1343.01 of the Revised Code, interest shall be computed until payment is made at the rate specified in such instrument.” 1343.03 sets forth the applicable statutory rate of interest when the instrument does not specify the interest rate. The Court made two crucial findings: (1) it saw no reason to withhold application of the general rule to cases decided under 1343.02, despite its historic application to cases decided under 1343.03, and (2) Bruml v. Brooklyn allowed for only “interest upon interest,” which it distinguished from compound interest. “Bruml merely permits the collection of interest on an amount that is due and payable, but not paid, even if that amount includes previously earned interest.” According to the Court, this meant that Bruml provides for the collection of simple interest on the judgment, whether that judgment amount included unpaid interest or solely principal was irrelevant.

Ultimately, this decision takes a middle position between that urged by the Mayers and that urged by the Medancics. Because the payment at maturity on each note included both principal and accrued interest, the default interest would be on that entire missed payment amount, but would be simple interest instead of compounded annually. Still, the decision is a costly one for the Mayers who lost compound interest over a nearly ten year period. This case should serve as a warning to all lenders in Ohio. Even if the instrument fully describes the accrual and calculation of interest during the term of the obligation, it must also do so for the period following a default.