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In the legal context, a decision is a judicial 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 court’s opinion on the case and the accompanying court order. The text of a decision usually includes a summary of the facts, a discussion of relevant laws, the court’s reasoning of how the law applies to the issues at hand, the court’s holding (or determination on the legal issues of the case) and the court’s orders. The order, usually at the end of the decision, tells the parties to a case or cases something that they should do.  Orders can deal with housekeeping matters, such as scheduling, or with something substantive and important, such as whether the case will be dismissed or not.  Decision is often used interchangeably with “judgment”, “ruling”, “opinion” and “order”.    

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

  • “Interlocutory decision”, also called “interlocutory order”, refers to an order settling an intermediate matter while the case is still ongoing. This differs from a final decision which settles all matters of the case. 
  • “Appealable decision” is an order that can be appealed before a reviewing higher court (a court of appeals)
  • “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 September of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]