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In reference to law, a decision is a determination of parties’ rights and obligations reached by a court based on facts and law. A decision can mean either the act of delivering a court’s order or the text of the order itself. The text of a decision usually includes a brief summary of the facts, a discussion of relevant laws, the court’s reasoning and orders. Decision is often used interchangeably with “judgment”, “ruling”, and “order”.  

Some common uses of the term “decision” in a legal sense include:

  • “Solitary Decision” is an isolated decision that has never been followed by a later court.
  • “Interlocutory decision”, also called “interlocutory order”, refers to an order settling an intermediate matter while the case is still ongoing. Except in certain circumstances by rule or statutes (preliminary injunction, for example), an interlocutory decision cannot be appealed until all other the issues in the case are resolved.
  • “Appealable decision” is an order that can receive an appellate review.
  • “Final decision” or “final judgment” refers to a court’s decision that settles all of the parties’ legal issues in controversy in the court.
  • “Decision on the merits” or “judgment on the merits” is a judgment made based on facts and relevant substantive law of the case, rather than on technical or procedural grounds.

[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]