Although there’s no required form for a judgment, a judgment has to show that the issues raised in the action have been determined in favor of one of the parties. A basic requirement for all judgments is that it be certain. As the court in Imperial Cas. & Indem. Co. v Sogomonian (1988) 198 CA3d 169, 243 CR 639 stated:
Whatever the nature of a judgment, it must be sufficiently certain to enable the prevailing party to enforce it and to permit the defeated party to comply with the judgment’s requirements.
To show that certainty, make sure that the judgment includes all of the following formal requirements:
- Identify the parties. The judgment must clearly specify (1) which party obtained the judgment and (2) the party against whom the judgment was rendered. When you draft the judgment, make sure that the name of each judgment debtor is recited fully and spelled correctly and that all aliases or fictitious names they use are shown on the face of the judgment.
- Show the money (or not). For money judgments, show either that a certain sum is due to one party from another or that the plaintiff takes nothing. The amount of the judgment must be “computed and stated in dollars and cents, rejecting fractions.” CCP §577.5.
- Let it ride solo. Avoid incorporating documents by reference in the judgment. Technically, any document may be incorporated into a judgment either expressly or by reference, but local court rules frequently prohibit this. And even they don’t prohibit it, you should avoid “riders” because they make the judgment incomplete on its face. If the incorporated document is lost or destroyed, the meaning of the judgment may be rendered fatally uncertain. Even if the judgment is based on a written stipulation that is already a part of the court’s files, the judgment should be drafted so that the terms of the stipulation are clearly recited on the face of the judgment itself. In the case of a stipulated judgment, restate the consensual terms of the stipulation as a directive (e.g., “Defendant shall…” replaces “Defendant agrees to…”).
You always want to make it easy for a court to enforce your judgment. Don’t let ascertaining the terms of the judgment become something other than what it should be: a ministerial function. Assume that enforcement of the judgment will require the cooperation of a court clerk who knows nothing about the judgment other than the terms appearing on its face.
For everything you need to know about drafting judgments, including sample judgment forms, turn to CEB’s California Trial Practice: Civil Procedure During Trial, chapter 23.
Check out CEB blog posts on other aspects of litigation strategy.
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