What’s the Difference Between an Order and a Judgment?

This is a parallel question to the previous question (what is the difference between a hearing and a trial), because, generally speaking, an order is what follows a hearing, whereas a judgment is what follows a trial.

Normally, a judgment is the final, decisive act that resolves a dispute in court.  It is always in writing and signed by the judge, and it declares who wins the lawsuit and what, if anything, the winner receives as the prevailing party. Ordinarily, a judgment resolves all of the disputes between all of the parties in the case.[1] 

An order, on the other hand, resolves a dispute between the parties but does not normally resolve the entire case.[2] In many cases, dozens or even hundreds of orders may be issued before a final judgment is signed in a case.  For example, judges sign orders of continuance (moving a trial setting to a later date), orders of transfer (moving the case to another court), docket control orders (establishing a schedule for the case) and discovery orders (requiring the parties to exchange certain information), none of which actually resolve the lawsuit.  Also, while judgments are always in writing, orders sometimes are not – orders may simply be issued verbally from the judge in open court (such as, “I order the parties to be back in court at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning”).

Labels can sometimes be deceptive, however.  Summary judgments and default judgments, for example, do not always dispose of the entire case, even though they are called “judgments.” Sometimes these two types of judgments only dispose of some of the parties or some of the issues in the case, leaving other parties and issues to be adjudicated at a later date or at trial.  (These non-final judgments are technically referred to as an “interlocutory” – meaning interim, or temporary – judgments to distinguish them from final judgments.)  Interlocutory judgments are really interim orders, despite being labeled as a “judgments.”

Likewise, occasionally a lawsuit will be resolved by an order of dismissal or order of non-suit.  If the entire lawsuit is resolved through an order of dismissal, then it is a judgment, despite the fact that it is entitled “order.”

To determine whether a judgment is really a final judgment or an order is merely an order, a person must read beyond the labels.  To decide which is which, compare the wording of the order or judgment with the pleadings which set forth all of the parties and claims in the lawsuit.  If the “order” actually disposes of all of the parties and all of the claims remaining in the case, then the order is a final judgment.  If, on the other hand, the “judgment” leaves claims still pending between parties in the lawsuit, then it is only an order and there are still matters to be resolved in the lawsuit before a final judgment is signed.

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  – spoken by Juliet (Romeo and Juliet, III, II, 1-2)

— Bonnie Sudderth, Judge of the 352nd District Court of Tarrant County, Texas

[1] However, this is not always the case.  Some judgments are “interlocutory” – keep reading.

[2] This, too, is not always the case.  Some orders are final – keep reading. 

This entry was posted in Definitions, Studying for the Texas Bar Exam? Useful Topics, Understanding Basic Legal Concepts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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