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Appeals of Consent Judgments

A consent judgment is a final judgment in which both parties voluntarily agree to a particular outcome by stipulation.  Such a judgment is used where the issue is settled before a court and to put an end to litigation.  In Nichols v. Town of Petersburg, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29826 (E.D. Tenn. Mar. 29, 2010), the court stated that a consent decree is a voluntary settlement agreement which could be fully effective without judicial intervention and is also a final judicial order placing the power and prestige of the court behind the compromise struck by the parties.

Usually, a consent judgment is not appealable unless one party to the suit can prove that s/he was forced into such consent through fraud.  An instance where a consent judgment may be appealed is where both the parties agree that they misunderstood the terms of the agreement defined by the consent judgment.  In Nichols v. Town of Petersburg, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29826 (E.D. Tenn. Mar. 29, 2010), the Tennessee court states that the district court considers whether the consent decree is fair, adequate and reasonable, as well as consistent with the public interest, before approving and entering such consent decree.

In United States v. Bd. of Educ., 663 F. Supp. 2d 649 (N.D. Ill. 2009), the Illinois court found that consent decrees approved and entered by federal judges are more than bilateral contract provisions affecting only the rights and obligations of the parties.  The termination of a consent decree which affects the rights and obligations of the public at large requires the independent evaluation and judgment of the court in which the decree has been entered after an opportunity to be heard has been afforded by those who shall be affected by its termination.

A district court’s implementation of a settlement agreement via a consent judgment is final and hence appealable.  In Hatten-Gonzales v. Hyde, 579 F.3d 1159 (10th Cir. N.M. 2009), the court stated that the appellate courts review only final decisions of the district courts.  Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.S. § 1291, the courts of appeals shall have jurisdiction of appeals from all final decisions of the district courts of the United States.  Appellate courts have jurisdiction to review interlocutory orders of the district courts of the United States granting, continuing, modifying, refusing or dissolving injunctions, or refusing to dissolve or modify injunctions.

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