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Declaratory Judgment

laws judgments rights parties

Statutory remedy for the determination of a JUSTICIABLE controversy where the plaintiff is in doubt as to his or her legal rights. A binding adjudication of the rights and status of litigants even though no consequential relief is awarded.

Individuals may seek a declaratory judgment after a legal controversy has arisen but before any damages have occurred or any laws have been violated. A declaratory judgment differs from other judicial rulings in that it does not require that any action be taken. Instead, the judge, after analyzing the controversy, simply issues an opinion declaring the rights of each of the parties involved. A declaratory judgment may only be granted in justiciable controversies—that is, in actual, rather than hypothetical, controversies that fall within a court's jurisdiction.

A declaratory judgment, sometimes called declaratory relief, is conclusive and legally binding as to the present and future rights of the parties involved. The parties involved in a declaratory judgment may not later seek another court resolution of the same legal issue unless they appeal the judgment.

Declaratory judgments are often sought in situations involving contracts, deeds, leases, and wills. An insurance company, for example, might seek a declaratory judgment as to whether a policy applies to a certain person or event. Declaratory judgments also commonly involve individuals or parties who seek to determine their rights under specific regulatory or criminal laws.

Declaratory judgments are considered a type of preventive justice because, by informing parties of their rights, they help them to avoid violating specific laws or the terms of a contract. In 1934 Congress enacted the Declaratory Judgment Act (28 U.S.C.A. § 2201 et seq.), which allows for declaratory judgments concerning issues of federal law. At the state level, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws passed the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (12 U.L.A. 109) in 1922. Between 1922 and 1993, this act was adopted in forty-one states, the Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Most other states have varying laws that provide for declaratory judgments. Most declaratory judgment laws grant judges discretion to decide whether or not to issue a declaratory judgment.

FURTHER READINGS

Howard, Davis J. 1994. "Declaratory Judgment Coverage Actions." Ohio Northern University Law Review 13.

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