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The following is for informational purposes only

Civil Judgments – Consent Judgment

An Overview

There are two general types of courts in the United States, criminal and civil. Criminal cases are brought by state prosecutors responsible for enforcing criminal law. When an individual or company seeks to stop, prevent, or penalize another individual or company for some activity, the civil courts are where the case is heard.

A judge is the sole arbiter of most civil court cases through a process in which the parties involved waive a jury trial. Time and costs of a full-blown trial persuade most parties to settle such cases before they’re complete.

Consent Judgment

Consent Judgment

Also known as a consent decree, this is created when the two parties in a civil case are able to come to an agreement or settlement outside of a full trial (whether a bench trial with a judge only or a jury trial) the judge will review the agreement and issue a consent judgment, essentially blessing the settlement.

Consent judgments are:

  • legally binding and cannot be appealed unless one party misrepresented (lied about) the facts or a mistake was made in the decree or if the court did not have jurisdiction to approve the decree;
  • can be used to change the behavior or functioning of a public agency;
  • a common tool to settle debts with a binding agreement, and
  • often used to settle antitrust cases or cases involving public agencies.

Examples of Consent Decrees

Police officers in a rural Maryland county entered a consent decree with their employer after suing for practicing racial discrimination and retaliation. The agreement awarded the officers six-figure payments for their personal anguish while agreeing to change the atmosphere and behavior of the police agency that employed them. Among the provisions of the agreement is diversity training for fellow police officers who harassed the Black officers at the center of the issue.

Consent decrees bind many parties that the federal Environmental Protection Agency finds in violation of clean air and clean water standards. Rather than entering a protracted trial, the agency and the company involved find common ground to settle the cases. Examples include the natural gas processing company MPLXLP which struck agreements with the EPA to improve air pollution controls at 20 sites in three states. The agreement likely includes deadlines to meet certain standards and monitoring of the sites. Another settlement involved a company named Derive systems, which sold after-market auto parts designed to override the auto manufacturer’s limits on emissions, essentially allowing a vehicle to pollute more than legally allowed. The EPA’s consent agreement with the company will phase out many of Derive’s products, stop teaching customers how to defeat emissions regulations, and train employees on the Clean Air Act.

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