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Will a Declaratory Judgment Clear Up your Contractual Ambiguity?

Written with every intention to avoid ambiguity, most contracts are carefully drafted using tried and tested wording so that their interpretation is clear and indisputable. However, circumstances change, and no practitioner is ever able to draft clauses covering every eventuality.

In some cases, declaratory judgments in West Virginia ― a ruling declared by a judge concerning the respective rights of the parties ― should be considered as a solution to a contractual ambiguity so that parties can proceed with transactions set forth under a contract in dispute without litigation.   In West Virginia, the courts’ discretion in cases where a declaratory judgment is sought is set out in the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act.

In general, a declaratory judgment is a judgment as a matter of law. For the court to consider providing a declaratory judgment, it must first determine that there are no arguable facts. All that remains in the dispute is a question of law that can be answered by a judge.

Under West Virginia contract law, each declaratory judgment can only be used by a party to determine a single identifiable issue following failure to agree an ambiguity. The courts do not have authority to provide advisory opinions on the declaratory judgment case presented to them, or the wider issue to which the ambiguity applies.

Fundamentally, a question for the court in a declaratory judgment is whether its decision will provide an outcome for the litigants that allow them to proceed with the core matter, which could be the continuation of a transaction or the further conduct of litigation.

Like all litigation, declaratory judgments can be expensive and time consuming, and advice should be sought from attorneys familiar with their local practice and procedures. The attorneys at Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe have advised clients in all types of declaratory judgments in Ohio and West Virginia, as well as other types of dispute resolution, such as mediation and arbitration.

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