Judgment, in law, a solemn determination of a question, declared by a court of record. The language used in a judgment is, that "it is considered by the court," etc, the theory being that the function of the court is not to give its own decision, but to ascertain and pronounce the decision of the law. To give validity and full force to a judgment, the court which renders it must have competent jurisdiction over the case; that is, it must be authorized by law to entertain and determine the question which it decides, and the parties, or, in case of proceedings in rem, the subject matter of the suit must, by process or some substitute therefor, have been brought within the authority of the court. When these circumstances concur, merely irregular action of the court or its officers will not invalidate its judgments. A judgment may be arrested and avoided, if, within the time prescribed by the rules of the court, it can be shown that there are intrinsic defects appearing of record, which are of sufficient importance. For, the judgment being founded upon the record, it cannot stand if the party against whom it is rendered can show that the record is inconsistent with it or insufficient for it.
The more common instances of this are where there is an irreconcilable contrariety between parts of the record; as, for example, where the judgment is founded upon a verdict which is essentially different from the pleadings at issue. - Judgments are of many kinds, for the reason that they must conform to the pleadings and issue. They are usually classed as judgments upon demurrer, on. a verdict, on confession, on default, or on nonsuit. (See Pleading.) A judgment is also interlocutory or final; and the best definition of an interlocutory judgment is to say that it is any judgment which is not final, or which does not entirely dispose of the whole question. A judgment that is final and valid is the highest assurance known to the law. Such judgments were formerly extensively used in England to operate as conveyances of land; the party to whom the land was to be transferred commencing an action for it against the party who was to transfer it, and this being concluded by a judgment that the land in question belongs to the plaintiff. - From the high and solemn nature of a judgment, the doctrine of merger was applied to it.
If one sues another on his promise, or indebtedness of any kind, or for wrong of any kind, and recovers judgment, it is a technical rule of law that the original cause of action merges or is lost in the judgment. So, too, it was formerly thought to be well established that if one brought an action against another for depriving him unlawfully of his property, and recovered a judgment for damages, this judgment vested in the defendant a right or title to the property, although the damages were never paid nor the judgment satisfied in any way. There are writers who hold, however, that the title does not pass until execution is taken out, and still others of high authority that satisfaction of the judgment is essential; and this, perhaps, is the better doctrine. - There is no doubt whatever that a judgment of a court of record may be made the foundation of a suit. If it be the judgment of a competent court in the same state, it proves itself; and no defence can be made which does not distinctly impeach it for fraud, or for want of jurisdiction.
If it be the judgment of a court of another of the United States, it falls within that clause in the federal constitution which provides that "full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings in every other state," and authorizes congress to provide the manner in which they shall be proved. Congress, by an act passed May 26, 1790, made this provision. Under this it is held that a judgment has the same conclusive nature in another state that it has in the state in which it was rendered. The question how far a foreign judgment, proprio vigore, has force and validity, has been discussed in many cases, with some diversity in the conclusions. On one extreme stand those who would make it a mere prima facie evidence, open to rebutter by any evidence tending to show that it ought not to have been rendered. Where this doctrine is held, it is plain that the whole case may be tried over again in the action on the judgment, with the burden of proof on the party who would set it aside. Against this are those who hold the opposite extreme, that a foreign judgment is as conclusive as a home judgment. The law on this subject both in the United States and in England may now be considered as resting on a medium ground.
First, it is certain that no sovereign state is bound to execute a judgment or decree of any foreign state. Next, a foreign judgment is valid and conclusive, provided: 1, that the court rendering the judgment had full jurisdiction of the case; 2, that the case was properly brought before that court and properly tried; 3, that there is nothing in the unquestionable law of the case which forbids or contradicts the judgment; and 4, that it was not obtained by fraud, deception, or oppression. The civilians of the continent of Europe generally maintain the absolute validity of a foreign judgment. But the courts of France have never yet recognized the validity of a foreign judgment, to the extent to which this is now admitted in England and the United States; although the recent adjudications of that country indicate a much nearer approach than formerly to what may be called the English view of " the comity of nations" in this respect. - Not only may a judgment be made the foundation of a suit, but a former judgment may be relied upon as a defence against a suit which would raise the same question anew. This ancient and important rule is never denied in its general form; and it rests upon the obvious principle that there must be, at some time and by some means, an end of litigation.
Therefore, if a question be once tried by a proper tribunal, and in a proper way, and solemnly decided, it is decided for all time, and cannot again be brought up for consideration. In other words, a judgment rendered is conclusive upon the merits of a question; and this rule is now applied, with the qualifications above stated, to a foreign judgment. - For the lien on the real estate of the judgment debtor created by the judgment, see Lien.