BLOG: “I won my case! Now what?”
By: Rudman Winchell Attorney Mark D. Beaumont
Congratulations, you pursued your rights and availed yourself of our country’s civil judicial system, and you won! Since making that decision to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit (or to defend one filed against you), you’ve probably spent more than a year of your life working with your attorney; expending countless hours and more money than you want to think about; all the while worrying and stressing over every minute detail and eventuality; and constantly fighting with “the other side.”
But you stuck it out – through interrogatories and boxes and DVDs full of documents and emails; through depositions and expert witnesses; through mediation and other informal settlement talks; through multiple motions and hearings; and eventually – finally – through trial. And you won. When the judge announced your decision, or you first heard from your attorney that a written decision was issued in your favor, you were probably filled with an immediate rush of vindication and euphoria. You were right! (At least partially) And now everyone knows it.
But what’s next? Throughout it all, you probably hadn’t given much thought to what came after the judgment. Sure, the judge or jury ruled in your favor, and that ruling has been reduced to a written judgment that your attorney sent you a copy of, but what does that mean? What can you do with that judgment, and when can you start? And what happens if “the other side” appeals? What then?
Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is the same as most of the others that you’ve asked your attorney: “It depends.”
Procedurally, the judgment that you received from the court (by way of your attorney) is the written formal declaration that you have indeed prevailed.
What you can do with that judgment, what immediate impact it has on your life, and what your next steps are – all of that depends on the type of case you were involved in.
For instance, a money judgment indicates that “the other side” owes you a certain sum of money, presumably with post-judgment interest, and there are several processes that you can go through to ensure that you are paid that money (unfortunately, being handed a briefcase full of cash isn’t usually one of those processes), and you and your attorney will often still have to do a fair bit of legwork to actually collect the money that you’re owed. A judgment awarding you ownership of a piece of property also usually requires additional paperwork, such as a deed transferring that ownership to you. Contrast that with a divorce judgment which may dictate who has primary custody of your children, as well as who is entitled to what marital property, and whether you owe, or are owed, any spousal support. And those are only a select few different situations.
What is important to know is that your judgment is final, effective, and enforceable beginning the day that your judgment is signed by the Judge or Justice who presided over your case.1 This wasn’t always the case.2
Before 2004, your judgment wouldn’t have been effective or enforceable until the court Clerk entered the judgment on the official “civil docket.” The “docket” is the schedule of all civil (non-criminal) proceedings in a lawsuit. Maintaining this docket involves entering, or recording, every important incident that occurs during the life of the lawsuit, and is one of the many jobs that the court Clerks are tasked with (others include accepting and processing the materials filed by the parties, scheduling court events, and serving as the face of the Court every time you have to speak with someone at the court about your case).
By 2004, continuing budgetary problems had led to court staffing shortages which had in turn caused significant delays in the docketing process.3 In extreme occasions this meant that while the Judge or Justice may have signed your judgment on January 10, it may not have been docketed by the Clerk until sometime in February, which meant that you were stuck in an uncomfortable limbo where your case was essentially over, and a decision had been reached, but your judgment still wasn’t enforceable.
In 2004, the Court Rule governing judgments was amended to address this problem.4 So now, your judgment is enforceable on the date it is signed by the Judge or Justice, instead of when it is docketed. While the delay between when a judgment is signed and when it is docketed has shrunk, there is still some delay – which is important for another reason…
While a judgment is final, effective, and enforceable upon signature, the date that a judgment is docketed by the Clerk is still important – and still controls – the timing of those actions that can follow a judgment.5 In a civil case, the losing side generally has 21 days to file their notice of appeal.6 By rule, this 21 day countdown does not begin to run until the date that the Clerk enters the judgment on the docket.
However, it is important to note that while your judgment is enforceable as of the date it is signed by the Judge, once a notice of appeal has been filed, the judgment is stayed – or suspended – until the appeal is completed.
The same holds true for motions seeking a new trial, or asking the Judge to reconsider his ruling, or to amend the judgment because of mistakes or a number of other reasons; the time by which you must file all of those motions does not begin to run until the judgment is entered on the docket by the Clerk.7
If you have questions about the contents of this article, or any other litigation-related issues, we invite you to contact us and welcome the opportunity to assist you.
1. See M.R. Civ. P. 58; see also Estate of Banks v. Banks, 2009 ME 34, ¶¶ 7-9.
2. See Pease v. Jasper Wyman & Son, 2004 ME 29, ¶¶ 15-16 (Alexander, J., dissenting) (discussing former M.R. Civ. P. 58 and the historic practice of a judgment only being effective once entered on the docket by the Clerk).
3. Banks, 2009 ME 34, ¶ 8.
4. See M.R. Civ. P. 58 advisory committee’s notes to 2004 amend. (available at: www.courts.state.me.us/rules_adminorders/rules/TableMRCivPPlus6-10.html)
5. See M.R. Civ. P. 58; see also M.R. App. P. 2(b)(1); Banks, 2009 ME 34, ¶ 9.
6. See M.R. App. P. 2(b)(3).
7. See M.R. Civ. P. 58 advisory committee’s notes to 2004 amend. (available at: www.courts.state.me.us/rules_adminorders/rules/TableMRCivPPlus6-10.html); see also M.R. Civ. P. 59 and 60.