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Judgement Search

Judgment records or judgment files refer to documents containing the court's final declaration following a concluded judicial proceeding or legal action. Across the United States, these records are generated and maintained by the judicial arm of the government and are usually part of official court records. Judgment records are considered public information and can be accessed by interested members of the public upon request from custodians or repositories.

While the judgment records of both criminal and civil cases are significantly similar, they bear quite a few similarities. The judgment record of a civil case features the personal information of the plaintiff and defendant and the details of the case. Civil case judgment records also contain the court's information, the case number, details of the presiding judge, a summary of the pleadings, a motion summary, and the judge's final declaration, including the legal rights and expectations of the plaintiff and defendant following the final judgment.

What is a Judgment?

The term "judgment" is used to describe a court's final order in a lawsuit as well as court-ordered compensation or claim granted to a complainant when a case is concluded. According to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a judgment provides a legal explanation for the final ruling issued by a court after a judicial proceeding. Consequently, U.S. judgments are designed to feature the rights and obligations of the parties involved in the suit. They also include a summary of the court's findings, which explains the judgment rendered following the conclusion of a legal proceeding.

In the U.S. there are various kinds of judgments issued after a legal proceeding - they may be verbal or in writing during the court hearing or a specific date may be set to issue the judgment. However, while written judgments are more prevalent in the judicial system, oral judgments are issued when a quick decision is necessary. When a judgment is rendered, it is based on the court's findings, the arguments of the feuding parties, and the evidence presented before the court.

Types of Judgments

Aside from the standard judgment entered by a court to settle a legal dispute, other types of judgments can be rendered by a U.S. court. These decisions have distinct effects on a case and different procedures in which they can be obtained. Below are the types often used by the courts:

Declaratory judgment: Also known as a "declaratory relief" or "declaration." This type of judgment establishes (declares) someone's rights and liabilities. It is often rendered when one party seeks clarification of their rights or duties due to dissenting views or uncertainty. Under the law, an individual can ask for a declaration of their rights, either alone or with other relief (if the court permits it). This declaration is binding and has the force of a final judgment.

Summary judgment: Here, a case party (usually the plaintiff) asks the court to enter judgment without a trial. This typically happens when there is no reason for a case to be further litigated (i.e., no challenge to the facts of the case), and it is obvious which side is entitled to a judgment in their favor.

Consent judgment: This is also known as a "stipulated (agreed) judgment." In this instance, the parties agree to settle their dispute to avoid costly or prolonged litigation and ask the court to render a judgment based on their settlement agreement. When rendered, this type of judgment cannot be appealed.

Default judgment: This results from a case party's failure to act when required by the court. For instance, failing to show up for a trial proceeding or respond to a summons. When a person fails to appear or answer a summons, the court can render a judgment that favors the other side. As such, the other side wins by default.

Interlocutory judgment: Unlike other judgment types, this is not a final court decision but one made in the interim. An interlocutory judgment is a tentative order entered before the conclusion of a trial, usually when there is a matter of some urgency to be decided.

U.S. Judgment Laws

The judgment laws of the United States are outlined in §3201 through §3206 of the 28 U.S. Code Sub-chapter C. These statutes provide guidelines for the issuance and enforcement of judgments in the country's judicial system. It also states the legal procedure for installment payment orders, garnishment, and discharge of orders.

What is a Judgment Lien?

A judgment lien (sometimes called an 'abstract of judgment') can be best described as a liability or security interest placed on a debtor's real estate property in a bid to satisfy a judgment. Judgment liens are typically established in favor of the creditor or winning party in a civil case, and it facilitates the execution of a judgment. Where the debtor fails to meet the demands of the judgment, the lender can recover their entitlements from the proceeds of the property.

In the U.S., judgment liens are typically non-consensual or involuntary. Hence, a creditor may exact the lien without the debtor's consent. However, these liens are more frequently considered in cases where the losing party in the lawsuit fails to pay their monetary obligations to the plaintiff. Since courts cannot collect a judgment debt directly, they can enforce the judgment by issuing a judgment lien to the creditor.

What is a Summary Judgement?

A U.S. summary judgment is a final declaration made by a federal or state court without a formal judicial proceeding. These decrees are typically made at the request of the complainant or defendant in cases where it is obvious to all the parties involved that there are no disputed allegations or facts of the case. In this case, there is either no reason to proceed to trial, or the facts of the case suggest that the judgment should be made in favor of one party. Typically, summary judgments may award the winning party a monetary award or demand the losing side to complete tasks in favor of the other.

However, once a summary judgment is issued, no subsequent trial request can be made to a court. However, the issued judgment can be appealed to a higher court.

What is a Summary Judgment Motion?

A summary judgment motion is made when one of the feuding parties in a lawsuit requests a summary judgment based on the facts of the case. Where a motion for summary judgment is made, the judgment is likely to be made in favor of the requesting party, and the decree is made without conducting a trial.

The legal provisions for the motion for summary judgment are outlined in Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; per this law, a movant may only file a summary judgment motion within a specific period, pursuant to the rules of civil procedure of jurisdiction where the suit was filed.

In the United States, a motion for summary judgment consists of a motion and a memorandum. While the former is a written request addressed to the court to rule in favor of the movant, the latter is a memo countering the motion.

The non-moving party may respond to the summary judgment motion by countering the request and demonstrating that there are disputed facts of the case. Alternatively, they may accept that there are no disputed facts, but counter the movant's motion on a different basis.

At the hearing for a summary judgment motion, both parties will be offered the opportunity to reiterate their argument. However, since it is not common practice for motion summary judgment hearings to require oral testimony, the legal representatives of either party present said arguments.

Following the hearing, the court may opt to grant or deny the motion based on the arguments made. However, once a rule is entered by the court, the motion cannot be appealed since it is deemed an order. Nonetheless, the final judgment consequent to the order may be appealed.

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U.S. Judgment Record Search

According to the U.S. freedom of information act, interested and eligible members of the public may access public court record information, including judgment records. However, the eligibility requirements and limitations on accessing these records will vary depending on the jurisdiction where the case was heard.

Requestors who aren't directly involved in the suit may obtain judgment records by querying the record custodian or the repository where the case was filed. The requesting party may use the public access databases or the Case Records Search tool provided by each local court. However, where the record is sealed or restricted, remote access will not be available unless the court issues an order

How Do I Look Up a Judgment?

To look up a judgment in the U.S. interested and eligible parties may opt to visit the courthouse where the case was filed and the judgment declared. Requestors may retrieve judgments using the public access computers available in the courthouse or request a copy of the record from the office of the clerk of courts.

Requestors may contact the record custodian's office via mail, email, or through the website of the local court. For instance, requestors may find a copy request form on the Santa Barbara County Superior Court website. Alternatively, the requesting party may view each judgment by using the Case Search portals on a court website.

Motion For Judgment On The Pleadings

A judgment on the pleadings is a motion made by a case party when no material issue of fact (i.e., no disagreement relevant to a claim) exists, and one side of the litigation is entitled to a judgment per the law.

Though often confused with a summary judgment as both have similar definitions and effects, there is a major distinction between the two procedures. A judgment on the pleadings happens after the pleading but before discovery. Meanwhile, a summary judgment occurs after discovery but before the trial.

In the U.S, a plaintiff or defendant can move for judgment on the pleadings, but the court has discretionary authority to grant or deny the motion. If the moving party is the plaintiff, the court can approve the motion if it can be established that the defendant has no adequate defense. Whereas, if the moving party is the defendant, the court can grant the motion upon the following grounds:

  • The court has no jurisdiction over the legal matter.
  • There is no sufficient cause of action for the matter to proceed in court.

What Happens if You Have a Judgment Against You?

When a U.S. court declares a judgment against an individual, the decree is binding on all parties concerned - both plaintiff or defendant. The losing party may be obligated to pay monetary compensation to their creditor. Failure to satisfy the requirements of the court-ordered injunctive order will deem the losing party in contempt of the court and liable to further penalization.

Where the debtor opts to wilfully disparage the order, the creditor may enforce the judgment by taking specific legal steps. To collect a judgment, the creditor may place a lien on the debtor's property, seize their assets, or request a court-ordered wage garnishment to the tune of their monetary entitlement.

The debtor may appeal an unfavorable judgment provided there is a legal basis to demand the appeal.

How Do I Find Out if I Have Any Judgments Against Me?

Interested members of the public may obtain information regarding judgments against them by querying the clerk of courts in the locality where they are resident. Besides requesting the judgment from the office of the clerk of courts, interested persons may also check their mail for past judgment notices sent to them by the court.

How Long Does A Judgment Stay On Your Record?

Judgments are considered a permanent fixture of criminal court records, especially if a particularly severe criminal conviction is declared. However, this may not be the case with civil court records.

The length of time a judgment stays on an individual's record is primarily determined by the statutory laws of the jurisdiction where the judgment was declared. On average, judgments may remain on an individual's record for up to 7 years from the date of its entry. As soon as the debtor satisfies all the required obligations, the judgment may be removed from the record if the indebted party obtains a satisfaction of judgment form or report.

How To Enforce A Judgment

In most cases, a judgment awards one of the feuding parties in a lawsuit various forms of compensation. However, the court cannot collect the judgment on behalf of the creditor, even though they may facilitate the process of enforcing the decree.

To enforce the judgment, the entitled party may do any of the following -

  • Collect the amount from the wages of the debtor (wage garnishment)
  • Obtain a writ of execution
  • Place a levy on the debtor's bank account or safety deposit box
  • Place a lien on the debtor's property
  • Seizing or selling the debtor's assets.
  • Place a lien on any of the debtor's ongoing lawsuits.

The creditors reserve the right to also initiate a debtor's examination hearing during which the debtor will be required to provide information about their assets to facilitate the judgment enforcement.

Debtors who fail to satisfy the court-ordered obligations and fail to appear for subsequent hearings may be found in contempt and a warrant for their arrest may be issued. However, where possible, the debtor may negotiate a payment plan for meeting their monetary obligations.

How To Collect A Judgment

Judgments are due as soon as the court makes the decree or notarizes a document bearing the responsibilities of the debtor. Hence, creditors may proceed to collect judgments immediately, provided there is no court order restricting the creditor or stopping the enforcement of a judgment following an appeal. Most judicial districts have special guidelines regarding the collection or enforcement of small claim judgments. In some cases, the court may specify a brief 'stay period' before the creditor can begin collecting their court-mandated entitlements.

Most state courts provide online resource pages outlining the jurisdiction-specific guidelines for collecting judgments. Interested persons may study these online resources or self-help pages for further information on the judgment collection procedures and practices of their respective judicial districts.

What Happens if a Defendant Does Not Pay a Judgment?

When a debtor refuses to pay a judgment, they run the risk of being further penalized by the court. Defendants are typically advised to begin fulfilling the obligatory requirements of the judgment as soon as they are notified of it unless they have legal grounds to appeal it. In most U.S. states, failure to pay a judgment results in post-judgment interests accrued on the initial amount. Moreover, creditors are allowed to request and obtain a court order mandating the debtor to reimburse them for expenses made during the collection process - provided the costs were necessary.

What Personal Property Can Be Seized in a Judgment?

In enforcing a judgment, creditors reserve the right to seize or place a lien on the debtor's property or assets. However, the rules of engagement may vary depending on the jurisdiction where the debtor is resident or where the judgment was declared. In most states, selected assets, personal property, and wages may be exempt and the creditor will be restricted from levying, seizing, or demanding the items from a judgment debtor.

Interested and eligible creditors may obtain information regarding what personal property can be seized by querying the local court where the judgment was declared. Creditors may also request a hearing if they require information regarding the debtor's property.

Judgment Interest Rate

U.S. federal courts allow interests to be accrued on most judgments from the date of its entry until it is paid. The provisions for judgment interest are indicated in 28 U.S.C. 1961, 18 U.S.C. 3612 (f)(2), and 40 U.S.C. 3116. However, interest rates may vary from state to state. Ultimately, most judgments will accrue interest until it is paid or the statute of limitations elapses. However, where the creditor renews a judgment the accumulated interest will be added to the initial amount owed and recalculated.

Judgment Interest Calculator

Most U.S courts provide a web-based calculator for individuals seeking to determine their monetary obligations given the state's interest rates and other factors.

What is a Default Judgment?

A default judgment refers to a kind of judgment rendered when a defendant or debtor fails to make a court appearance or respond to a summons. This is typically considered an automatic win for the complainant or creditor, and a judgment is often declared in favor of the plaintiff. In any case, where the defendant can offer a justifiable reason for their absence or inability to respond, they may have the legal premise to have the judgment set aside and the case revived.

How to File Motion To Vacate Judgment

When a defendant believes a judgment to be unjust, they may seek to set it aside or vacate the judgment. The process of vacating a judgment is employed to cancel the judgment and its resulting obligations.

In the U.S. a judgment can be set aside or vacated on the request of one of the feuding parties in the civil suit. While the process for vacating a judgment may vary between jurisdictions, the most popular method employed is to file a motion to vacate pursuant to the legal provisions of the judicial district. However, a defendant is only eligible to file a motion to vacate the judgment if

  • Theee is proof that the complainant misled the court about when the court summon was served.
  • If the defendant's non appearance is justificable
  • If the legal representative of the defendant is a no show.

However, the time limit for the defendant to file a motion to vacate is approximately 180 days.

How Long Is a Judgment Good For?

In the U.S, the length of time a judgment is good for varies with the judicial provisions of the state where the judgment was declared. After the statutory limitations of the judgment are exceeded, the judgment - monetary obligation or not, is considered void. Thus, relieving the debtor of the responsibility of paying the debt.

Judgment Statute of Limitations Law

The statute of limitations on judgments in the U.S. is primarily determined by the judicial district where the case was heard.

The law governing statute of limitations in the U.S. is established under 20 U.S. Code § 1091a of the U.S. Code (statute of limitations and state court judgments). Pursuant to this law, the obligations to pay judgments must be enforced without federal or state statutory limitations on the period within which the payment is enforceable. However, when the specified period elapses, the judgments are subject to the statutory limitation of the state where it was declared. Notwithstanding, most states offer creditors the opportunity to request a judgment renewal before the initial time limit elapses.

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