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In civil court cases, the main focus of the plaintiff is usually some specific remedy like receiving money from the defendant, or the receipt of a court order. However, the plaintiff may also want the court to rule on a point of law because such a ruling might be relevant to an appeal or to a different court case to which the plaintiff is a party.

For example, imagine that a plaintiff sues an auto dealership for installing a part during a repair that the plaintiff claims the dealership knew was defective. Imagine the dealership claims immunity because of a state law that makes dealers immune from claims due to defective parts. In this case the plaintiff might ask the court for two things: (1) monetary damages from the dealership, and (2) an opinion from the court that the state law giving immunity is void because of some reason (incompatible with the state's constitution or whatever).

What is the request for the court's opinion (2) called?

  • The term you are thinking of, as the answer states, is definitely a declaratory judgment (state courts can enter them too under different statutory authority), but the ways that you contemplate using them don't necessarily work. "because such a ruling might be relevant to an appeal or to a different court case to which the plaintiff is a party" is not a way that you can use a declaratory judgment in most cases due to the rules of collateral estoppel (a.k.a. issue preclusion) which govern when a ruling from one case can be used in a different case. – ohwilleke Apr 21 '18 at 1:44
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It sounds like you're talking about declaratory judgment, available in the federal courts under 28 U.S.C. § 2201:

[A]ny court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party .... Any such declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree and shall be reviewable as such.

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