What is a Consent Decree?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

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.

A consent decree is an order issued by a judge that expresses a voluntary agreement by the participants in a lawsuit.
A consent decree is an order issued by a judge that expresses a voluntary agreement by the participants in a lawsuit.

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.

A consent decree may be issued if an agreement is reached in mediation.
A consent decree may be issued if an agreement is reached in mediation.

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.

Out-of-Court Settlement

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.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


With so many horrible experiences that people face in the legal system today, there is no doubt that the best outcome to any legal action is the use of a consent decree. This means that the two parties were able to come to some sort of reconciliation even if sacrifices had to be made. Its a better solution for everyone.


There have been some very important consent decrees signed and agreed to in our recent history. One example is the Florida consent decree that was signed by a United States District Court in Southern Florida and empowered it to enforce the outcome of a civil rights case involving the education of multi-ethnic students in Florida public schools.

This decision has significantly increased the ability for the education system in Florida State to handle and help deal with students that are transition language from their native spoken word.

The outcome of course is a more educated public that everyone can agree will contribute the a more just and happy society.


I think that a major point behind the government desire for the use of consent decrees is that often it is the government that is suing a company or organization that has violated a policy or law of some type. The author mentions this in the article and I think it is important to note that when the government is the plaintiff in these lawsuits, consent decrees are more acceptable to them because monetary repayment is often not the desired result but rather a compliance agreement or other form of conforming to the regulation.


@sammyG you make some excellent observations about the problem with law suits and government bodies that are forced into them. Unfortunately I don't thing that by increasing the amount of times that we come to a settlement and have a judge sign a consent decree will actually solve this legal epidemic in the United States.

What we really need is some kind of legal reform that will allow for a better filter of what kind of law suits can actually be brought against organizations like the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. I have no doubt that there are probably some very legitimate claims that may come forward from time to time but I highly speculate that the vast majority have malicious and greedy intent behind the lawsuit.


I think that agreements and consent decrees should be used more often by government regulatory bodies as to avoid a costly legal process. Our elected officials and bureaucrats already spend unhealthy amounts of money on a variety of unnecessary items and lawsuits and lawyers should not be a part of it.

So many frivolous law suits are brought against our government organizations that often it is much less of an expense to just come to an agreement and avoid the trials that people will endure simply to make money off of a silly issue.

It is sad and unfortunate that we have to pay some of these people off that don't deserve it but at least by obtaining a consent decree from a judge we can effectively reduce the cost of legal expenses incurred by already budget burdened government offices.

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