Default Judgment is Where a Judge Rules against a Party in a Civil Litigation because it Inexcusably Failed to Participate in the Litigation 

Judgment by default is intended to prevent a party from procrastinating or refusing to participate in a litigation.  If a party fails to participate in a litigation it risks having the judge rule against it by default.  In other words, the judge will rule against the party not based on the merits of the other side’s case, but because the party caused unacceptable delays through its inaction.

Courts Usually Hesitate to Order Judgment by Default but will do so if a Party is Sufficiently Recalcitrant

Default judgment is often a last resort that courts must impose after  a party declines to participate in a civil lawsuit.  Judgment by default is not intended to punish parties that simply don’t know about a lawsuit or have a good reason for not participating.  Instead, its purpose is to ensure that if a party is too lazy or too stubborn to participate in the case, the court and the other party are not prejudiced.

If the Court grants judgment by default, the defaulting party loses the case without a trial or an adjudication on the merits of the case.

Default judgment is entered in cases where a party refuses to participate in a litigation.  It can sometimes “wake up” a lazy party.

There are Usually Steps before a Final Order of Default Judgment to Provide the Defaulting Party with an Opportunity to Start Participating in the Litigation

Before a court orders default judgment against a party, most states have procedures that provide the defaulting party with time to correct its conduct and also to set aside an entry of default on the docket.  The federal rules for default judgment are similar and are found in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55 and also in Rule 60.

Often the first step on the way to a default judgment is a so-called “entry of default”.  An entry of default is where a judge or clerk of the court marks party as having failed to participate and now is in default.  At that point a judge might schedule a hearing on the amount of damages to which the plaintiff is entitled, if the defaulting party is a defendant.

Keep in mind that the defaulting party probably still has a fair chance to ask the judge to remove the entry of default.  He will need to explain why he missed deadlines or otherwise did not participate in the case.

If after the entry of default the defaulting party does not timely ask for the entry to be lifted, the court will probably at some point enter a final order of judgment by default.  This is a final judgment against the party and it is sort of like losing a sports match because you didn’t show up.

Asking a court to vacate a final order of judgment by default is usually much more difficult than asking the court to lift an entry of default.

Below you can click through the tabs to review different types of judgments:

A declaratory judgment is where a judge issues an order adjudicating the parties rights with respect to each other or something else.  It is not an award of money damages.  For example, an insurance company might ask for a declaratory judgment to determine whether it is obligated to insure property under an insurance contract.  Parties to a contract might ask for declaratory judgment with respect to their rights and obligations under that contract. 

Default judgment is where a court orders judgment against a party because of its failure to participate in a litigation.

For example, if Patty sues David and David never answers the complaint, Patty can probably ask the court to enter default judgment against David.

Summary judgment is where a court grants a judgment in favor of one party on all or some of the claims in the litigation pre-trial.  A court will grant summary judgment if a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and there is no dispute over a material fact.  Summary judgment is granted in cases where there is no need for a jury to decide the matter because one party must prevail and it would be a waste of time and resources to have a trial and a jury. 

Judgment as a matter of law provides a court with the power to enter judgment in favor of one party during a trial (and sometimes after a trial) if the evidence and the law demonstrate that the party must win.  Judgment as a matter of law is similar to summary judgment but it takes place after the trial started.  Summary judgment is when a court orders a judgment in favor of one party pre-trial.

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