Definition of declaratory judgment
declaratory judgment (plural declaratory judgments)
- (law) A ruling of a court in a civil case which declares the rights, duties, or obligations of each party in a dispute, but does not necessarily award any damages or other relief.
- advisory opinion
- declaratory relief
- declaratory ruling
A declaratory judgment is a judgment of a court in a civil case which declares the rights, duties, or obligations of one or more parties in a dispute. A declaratory judgment is legally binding, but it does not order any action by a party. In this way the declaratory judgment is like an action to quiet title, a paternity petition, or any other form of preventive adjudication. The declaratory judgment is generally distinguished from an advisory opinion because the latter does not resolve an actual case or controversy. A court may issue a declaratory judgment by itself or along with some other relief (such as an award of damages or an injunction). A declaratory judgment is sometimes called a declaratory ruling, a term which also includes decisions of regulatory agencies.
A declaratory judgment is typically requested when a party is threatened with a lawsuit but the lawsuit has not yet been filed; or when it is thought by one of two (or more) parties that their rights under law and/or contract might conflict; or as part of a counterclaim to prevent further, similar lawsuits from the same plaintiff (for example, when only a contract claim is filed, but a copyright claim might also be applicable). It may also be sought in administrative law instead of prerogative writs such as certiorari or prohibitions.
Declaratory judgments are authorized by statute in most common law jurisdictions. In the United States, the federal government and most states enacted statutes in the 1920s and 1930s authorizing their courts to issue declaratory judgments. Although the declaratory judgment is generally a statutory remedy, it resembles remedies historically associated with equity (especially because it is discretionary and has an in rem or quasi-in rem aspect). As a result, the declaratory judgment has sometimes been described as a form of equitable relief.
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