The Critical Role of Language in Legal Judgments

statues_amiens_cathedral_pic5-1024x768At the end of a trial, you are focused on whether or not the Judge ruled in your favor. However, it is not enough to only know who won the case, especially if you are considering an appeal. This case indicates the importance of paying attention not only to the outcome but also to the language in the final judgment the trial court issues. Louisiana has strict requirements for language that must be included in a final judgment for it to be valid so that an appellate court can hear the appeal. 

While Christopher Causey Jr. and Priscilla Hopkins were riding on a New Orleans Regional Transit Authority bus, they were allegedly injured following an incident involving hard braking. Their parents filed a lawsuit against the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. Following a bench trial, the court entered a judgment in favor of the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. The written judgment stated the plaintiffs had not provided sufficient evidence that the defendant had been negligent and caused the injuries. Notably, the judgment did not name any parties in the lawsuit but used the general terms, plaintiff and defendant. Additionally, the judgment did not explicitly state the relief the trial court granted or denied.

Before an appellate court in Louisiana can hear an appeal, it must first determine if there is a valid final judgment. See Urquhart v. Spencer. For a judgment to be a valid final judgment, it must include decretal language. That means the decision must be clearly and explicitly spelled out in the judgment and be precise and definite. It must also include the name of the party in whose favor the judgment is ordered and any relief granted or denied.  See Bd. of Supervisors of Louisiana State Univ. v. Mid City Holdings, LLC

Here, the trial court’s judgment did not satisfy the requirements for the appellate court to hear the appeal. First, the judgment did not identify the plaintiffs and defendants by name. Secondly, the judgment did not state the relief the court granted or denied. Because the judgment lacked decretal language, the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal. Therefore, the appellate court dismissed the appeal and sent it back to the trial order for the court to enter a new final judgment, including the required decretal language. The parties could file a new appeal once a new final judgment was entered. 

If you are involved in a lawsuit and considering an appeal, reviewing the judgment to ensure it contains the required language for the appellate court to consider your case is essential. A good attorney can assist you in reviewing or drafting the final judgment to ensure it contains the required decretal language. Otherwise, you may go back and forth between the trial and appellate courts to obtain a valid final judgment with the required decretal language so the appellate court can properly hear the appeal. 

Additional Sources: Christopher Causey Sr. et al. V. New Orleans Regional Transit Authority and Veolia Transportation Services

Article Written By Berniard Law Firm

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Decretal Language: Decretal Language: Last Words in a Final Judgment Why It’s Important to Dot your I’s and Cross Your T’s When Filing a Default Judgment

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