A consent decree is an order issued by a judge that expresses a voluntary agreement by the participants in a lawsuit. Sometimes a suit ends when a judge issues a consent decree, or a consent judgment. This is especially the case when the decree is issued after one side of the case voluntarily agrees to cease a particular action without admitting to any illegality of the action.
Recognized by Court
For an agreement between two parties to be considered binding and legal, it must also be recognized by the court. A consent decree in this case is judicial recognition of the agreement. The decree often bars one side of the case from certain actions.
Examples of Cases
A consent decree is often applied in cases where a company is sued by government organizations. For example, an environmental regulatory agency might want a company to clean up a site that contains hazardous materials and might have difficulty obtaining cooperation from the company without a suit. Instead of having a long and expensive court case to gain compliance, the government might ask the company to agree to a consent decree to clean up the site using its own money. If the company wants to avoid litigation, it will accept the decree from the judge and will then be responsible for cleanup as defined by the decree.
Sometimes, a government agency will find serious problems in the manufacturing or quality of specific products. Unsafe handling of products or contamination might force the agency to seek a consent decree to have a company cease production or sale of a product until it complies with all laws for safe products. Again, the government and many companies would prefer a consent decree to lengthy legal action.
This type of degree can be interlocutory. This means that it is given before the resolution of the court case. So, for example, a lawsuit that is settled out of court is recognized by a consent decree, because the parties do not wait for a judgment from the court to settle their differences.
A consent degree also can be final and is sometimes called a consent judgment. It usually is not possible to appeal the decree unless one side of the lawsuit can prove that it has been forced into consent through fraud. Usually, the only other instance in which the decree can be appealed is when both parties agree that they misunderstood the terms of the agreement.