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Correcting a Clerical Error in a Court Order: Answers to Common Questions

Overview

When your court order contains a specific kind of mistake—a “clerical error”—one way to correct it is by filing a document with the court called a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc. This is the method for asking the judge to issue a new judgment or order that contains the correct information.

Keep in mind that a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc is only available after the court’s “plenary power” expires—that is, after that court no longer has the authority to change its own orders. So yes, a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc can correct a mistake. But it is just one method for correcting an error, and it only applies to clerical errors. So if there is any doubt about whether it applies to your situation, talk to an attorney and do more research.

Be careful filing a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc: if you file it at the wrong time, it could have legal consequences you do not want (such as changing your deadline for filing a motion for new trial, or appeal). If you have any doubts about whether a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc is appropriate, talk to an attorney who practices civil litigation. The easiest way to find an attorney is by calling the State Bar of Texas Lawyer Referral Service, 800-252-9690.

Also, click here for information on types of help available. 

What is meant by a “clerical error”?

You might think that a “clerical error” is a simple mistake like a typographical error. However, that is not always the case. Appeals courts have determined that a “clerical error” occurs when the written document is different from what the judge ordered in court.
 
Some examples of clerical errors:

  • Incorrect dates
  • Differences between the judgment signed and the judgment the court intended to sign.
  • Mathematical errors

What is a “judicial error”?

Ask yourself whether the judge had to apply legal or judicial reasoning when making their decision in court. If they did, and you believe there is a mistake about the outcome, or the law, talk to an appellate (appeals) attorney. A motion for judgment nunc pro tunc is not intended to correct a judicial error.

If I am unhappy about the court’s order, can a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc help me?

No. There are several different options for challenging a judgment you do not agree with. But, being unhappy with the outcome is rarely grounds to support an appeal. For more about appeals ,click here.

A motion for judgment nunc pro tunc is available in limited circumstances only. If you believe that the judge misapplied the law, an appeal might be the way to go. The best option is to talk to your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, try calling the State Bar of Texas Lawyer Referral Service at 800-252-9690.

What kinds of cases would a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc apply to?

Any civil case, including but not limited to a personal injury suit, a divorce, or child custody and support matter. Motions for judgment nunc pro tunc can also be used in criminal cases.

What does “plenary power” mean?

A court loses “plenary power” when it no longer has the authority to change its own orders. A court has plenary power over its judgment until the order is final. And a judgment is final when the court’s order resolves all the claims (issues in dispute) for all involved parties. There is only one final judgment in a lawsuit.

If it’s a small clerical error, is it really a big deal? Should I really file a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc?

For a court order to be enforced and followed, it must be very specific. Any clerical error should be corrected if there is possible ambiguity.

How is a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc different from asking a court to modify its order?

With a motion to modify, you are asking the court to change its order. As with a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc, the subject matter for a motion to modify can include correcting a mistake. Examples of situations where a motion to modify a judgment might apply include where the judgment states the incorrect dollar figure for attorneys’ fees, fails to specify which party pays the court costs, or leaves out a crucial piece of information, like a name. However, a motion to modify typically must be filed within 30 days after the court signed the judgment.  Also, a motion to modify is filed while the court still has “plenary power.”

What does “nunc pro tunc” translate to?

It literally translates to “now for then” from Latin. In legal jargon, think of it as meaning that the judgment is being corrected now to reflect what the court did then, when it rendered the judgment.

The orders don’t match what the judge said in court. Would a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc help me?

Maybe. Deadlines and timing are extremely important in any court case.  Keep in mind that you should probably not use a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc to correct a mistake if the court still has the power to change its own orders—for example, if it has been less than 30 days since the judge made a final decision in court. Having that authority is known as having “plenary power.” If you do not know whether the court still has the power to change its judgment, consult an attorney.