Final Judgment Lacking Decretal Language: What Happens to Your Case?

school_bus_canada_highway-1024x1024It is well known that every court order contains a physical copy declaring what the verdict of the case is, otherwise known as a final judgment. However, the order must contain what we call “decretal language.” But what in the world does that mean?  The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal discusses this question and when a final judgment can be amended to contain all the necessary language crucial for the order.

Upon appeal, in the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in the State of Louisiana, Cedrick Laundry alleged that his son, Sengal, was injured when the school bus he was riding hit a curb and ran into a pothole. Defendants (the School Board and others) filed for summary judgment as they believed they were not responsible for Sengal’s injuries.

Summary judgment is when there is no genuine issue of material fact as it pertains to the case. Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, if the School Board cannot prove its case, the court will dismiss it. The trial court granted their motion for summary judgment but did not state the dismissal of any or all of the claims against the School. The judgment simply stated:

“IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the Motion for Summary Judgment filed on behalf of ST. MARTIN PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, BRITTANY USIE AND LOTTIE P. BEEBE, is hereby GRANTED at Plaintiff’s costs[.]”

Laundry then filed an appeal, believing the Court erred because the judgment did not indicate whether the claims were dismissed.

Per La. Const. Art. V, § 10(A), the Louisiana Constitution will allow appeals of all civil affairs. A party can exercise its constitutional right to ask for a judgment of a trial court revised, modified, set aside, or reversed by an appellate court, per La. C.C.P. art. 2082.

When a court grants or denies a motion, they must write the judgment with “decretal language”: a portion of a court’s judgment that officially states what the court is ordering. It must be spelled out, and the quality of definiteness must be essential for proper judgment. Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University & Agricultural & Mechanical College v. Mid City Holdings, L.L.C.

The appellate Court explained that a final judgment by a court must have decretal language along with the names of both parties and if the relief is granted or denied. While the decision by the lower court does clearly grant the motion for summary judgment, it does not state whether any or all the claims of Laundry were dismissed. Therefore, the court held the order did not contain all the necessary decretal language to meet the requirements for a valid final judgment. 

The case was sent back to the lower court with instructions to grant a new judgment that included proper language on the ruling of the motion for summary judgment.

The court process is the legal system’s backbone, ensuring everything flows promptly. In this case, the appellate court overturned the trial court’s ruling because the final judgment lacked the important decretal language in the binding document. While it takes time to amend a court order, each judgment must be valid for all parties to be justly represented. In sum, when the language of a final judgment isn’t clear, it’s essential to work with an experienced attorney to guide you through making sure it is legit.


Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer Brianna Saroli

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Proper Decretal Language in Judgments: Missing Golden Ticket: Lafayette Final Judgment Lacks Decretal Language; A Louisiana Court Signs Two Final Judgments, What Happens?

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