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Enforcement Of Foreign Judgments

A decision by a court or other tribunal that resolves a controversy and determines the rights and obligations of the parties.

A judgment is the final part of a court case. A valid judgment resolves all the contested issues and terminates the lawsuit, since it is regarded as the court's official pronouncement of the law on the action that was pending before it. It states who wins the case and what remedies the winner is awarded. Remedies may include money damages, injunctive relief, or both. A judgment also signifies the end of the court's jurisdiction in the case. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and most state rules of civil procedure allow appeals only from final judgments.

A judgment must be in writing and must clearly show that all the issues have been adjudicated. It must specifically indicate the parties for and against whom it is given. Monetary judgments must be definite, specified with certainty, and expressed in words rather than figures. Judgments affecting real property must contain an explicit description of the realty so that the land can easily be identified.

Once a court makes a judgment, it must be dated and docketed with the court administrator's office. Prior to modern computer databases, judgments were entered in a docket book, in alphabetic order, so that interested outsiders could have official notice of them. An index of judgments was prepared by the court administrator for record keeping and notification purposes. Most courts now record their judgments electronically and maintain computer docketing and index information. Though the means of storing the information are different, the basic process remains the same.

A court may amend its judgment to correct inaccuracies or ambiguities that might cause its actual intent to be misconstrued. Omissions, erroneous inclusions, and descriptions are correctable. However, persons who were not parties to the action cannot be brought into the lawsuit by an amended judgment. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow a judgment to be amended by a motion served within ten days after the judgment is entered. State rules of civil procedure also permit amendment of a judgment.

Different types of judgments are made, based on the process the court uses to make the final decision. A judgment on the merits is a decision arrived at after the facts have been presented and the court has reached a final determination of which party is correct. For example, in a NEGLIGENCE lawsuit that is tried to a jury, the final decision will result in a judgment on the merits.

A judgment based solely on a procedural error is a dismissal WITHOUT PREJUDICE and generally will not be considered a judgment on the merits. A party whose case is dismissed without prejudice can bring the suit again as long as the procedural errors are corrected. A party that receives a judgment on the merits is barred from relitigating the same issue by the doctrine of RES JUDICATA. This doctrine establishes the principle that an issue that is judicially decided is decided once and for all.

A SUMMARY JUDGMENT may occur very early in the process of a lawsuit. Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and analogous state rules, any party may make a motion for a summary judgment on a claim, counterclaim, or cross-claim when he or she believes that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he or she is entitled to prevail as a MATTER OF LAW. A motion for summary judgment can be directed toward the entire claim or defense or toward any portion of the claim or defense. A court determines whether to grant summary judgment.

A JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE VERDICT is a judgment in favor of one party despite a verdict in favor of the opposing litigant. A court may enter a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, thereby overruling the jury verdict, if the court believes there was insufficient evidence to justify the jury's decision.

A consent judgment, or agreed judgment, is a final decision that is entered on agreement of the litigants. It is examined and evaluated by the court, and, if sanctioned by the court, is ordered to be recorded as a binding judgment. Consent judgments are generally rendered in domestic relations cases after the HUSBAND AND WIFE agree to a property and support settlement in a DIVORCE.

A default judgment results from the named defendant's failure to appear in court or from one party's failure to take appropriate procedural steps. It is entered upon the failure of the party to appear or to plead at an appropriate time. Before a default judgment is entered, the defendant must be properly served notice of the pending action. The failure to appear or answer is considered an admission of the truth of the opposing party's PLEADING, which forms the basis for a default judgment.

A deficiency judgment involves a creditor and a debtor. Upon a debtor's failure to pay his or her obligations, a deficiency judgment is rendered in favor of the creditor for the difference between the amount of the indebtedness and the sum derived from a JUDICIAL SALE of the debtor's property held in order to repay the debt.

Once a judgment is entered, the prevailing party may use it to collect damages. This may include placing a judgment lien on the losing party's real property, garnishing (collecting from an employer) the losing party's salary, or attaching the losing party's PERSONAL PROPERTY. A judgment lien is a claim against the real estate of a party; the real estate cannot be sold until the judgment holder is paid. Attachment is the physical seizure of property owned by the losing party by a law officer, usually a sheriff, who gives the property to the person holding the judgment.

Under the FULL FAITH AND CREDIT CLAUSE of the Constitution, a judgment by a state court must be fully recognized and respected by every other state. For example, suppose the prevailing party in a California case knows that the defendant has assets in Arizona that could be used to pay the judgment. The prevailing party may docket the California judgment in the Arizona county court where the defendant's property is located. With the judgment now in effect in Arizona, the prevailing party may obtain a writ of execution that will authorize the sheriff in that Arizona county to seize the property to satisfy the judgment.

Once a judgment has been paid by the losing party in a lawsuit, that party is entitled to a formal discharge of the obligation, known as a satisfaction of judgment. This satisfaction is acknowledged or certified on the judgment docket.


McCarter, W. Dudley, and Christopher L. Kanzler. 2001. "Dismissal Without Prejudice: A Trap for the Unwary." Journal of the Missouri Bar 56.

Tunick, Mark. 2000. Practices and Principles: Approaches to Ethical and Legal Judgment. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press.

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