Declaratory Judgment

The Declaratory Judgment: What It Is and How It Works

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When a civil court renders a decision in a lawsuit, that decision is known as a judgment. There are different types of judgments that can be issued based on the type of lawsuit being brought. One of them is a declaratory judgment. It is arguably the least utilized judgment due to its nature.

In short, a declaratory judgment clarifies the rights and legal obligations of the parties involved without awarding any kind of direct relief. That being the case, outright enforcement efforts are not needed. You would not bring in an agency like Salt Lake City’s Judgment Collectors to work on a declaratory judgment because there is nothing requiring enforcement.

The point is further clarified by comparing a declaratory judgment with a default judgment. In the case of the latter, enforcement efforts are almost always necessary.

Relief Via Monetary Award

A default judgment is entered when one party to a lawsuit fails to participate in legal proceedings. In a debt collection case for example, a creditor may sue a debtor. The debtor fails to respond to the subpoena and does not show up in court. As a result, the court enters a default judgment against the debtor.

Relief is offered to the creditor by way of a monetary award. Enforcing the judgment is a matter of collecting. If the judgment creditor is smart, he brings in Judgment Collectors to manage collection for him.

No Relief in a Declaratory Judgment

The big difference with a declaratory judgment is that relief isn’t part of the order. Parties involved in the case are not necessarily looking for it, either. Rather, they want to know what their rights and obligations are under the law. Settling a patent dispute is a classic example.

One party might claim a patent to a particular invention. Another party challenges the validity of the claimed patent. Neither party is looking for any kind of direct relief. They simply want the court to determine whether the patent is indeed valid. Why? Because its validity determines the rights and obligations of the two parties.

Another scenario that could call for declaratory judgment would involve two parties trying to iron out their obligations under a contract. Maybe there is some disagreement over contract language. In order for the two parties to move forward, they need a court to clarify things.

Courts Can Be Hesitant

Declaratory judgments are arguably the least utilized type of judgment in civil law. That could be due to court hesitancy. According to a post from the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, “courts are sometimes hesitant to issue declaratory judgments, as they would prefer to see the case develop more before issuing a judgment.”

This could be the case when two parties are seeking a declaratory judgment as a precursor to future litigation, litigation through which they might seek relief. A court could foresee future litigation and decide to let the case evolve on its own rather than making a declaratory judgment.

Different Judgments for Different Purposes

The declaratory judgment’s uniqueness is evidence that there are different judgments for different purposes. Judgments can have different outcomes as well. Some judgments involve a monetary award while others do not. Some judgments compel losing parties to take certain actions or refrain from others.

There is no one-size-fits-all judgment applicable to every civil case. The declaratory judgment is just one of many that the parties in a civil case could seek. Its main purpose is to clarify the rights and legal obligations of those involved. In that regard, it is pretty straightforward.

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