Understanding Injunctions

What is an injunction? The word appears frequently in the media but is rarely explained. An injunction is a court order, which requires parties to continue, or cease, particular actions. Failure to comply with an injunction may result in fines, arrest, or even prison time, depending on the situation. It is a flexible, but pow­erful, legal tool that can be applied to a seemingly endless variety of scenarios. Actions taken for everything from sav­ing the California red-legged tree frog to halting the data-gathering program of the National Security Administration may be in response to an injunction.

The injunction connects to English common law, as far back as the four­teenth century. Prior to their appear­ance in English law, injunction-like orders, called interdicts, appeared in Roman law. The Library of Congress holds an Egyptian tablet, upon which is engraved an injunction, dated from AD 1231. Legal scholars have described the injunction as the “quintessential legal remedy” because its purpose is often to restore rights to a party whose rights have been violated.

Injunctions appear frequently in American history, primarily in the nine­teenth and twentieth centuries. They gained prominence in the nineteenth century as courts used them to con­trol the actions of employers and labor unions. The historic Pullman Strike of 1894 began with the violation of an injunction, when labor organizers met in Chicago. In the twentieth cen­tury, injunctions figured prominently in the civil rights movement. They were issued during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts in 1956. When he wrote his famed “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed after disobeying a tempo­rary injunction that prohibited holding a march in the city without a permit. In 1971, the federal government sought an injunction against the New York Times to prevent the paper from publishing excerpts of the Pentagon Papers. In more recent decades, injunc­tions have been used to fight gangs in urban areas.

Here, Teaching Legal Docs hopes to demystify this oft-referenced legal document by providing an overview of injunction types and requirements for their issue. Teaching Legal Docs will also explore example injunction documents.

Types of Injunctions

Injunctions may be issued by courts at the federal, state, and local levels. While federal courts issue certain injunctions, the types of injunctions available at the local level might vary from state to state. Generally, injunctions are orga­nized by how long they are enforceable:

Temporary injunction—Known more commonly as a temporary restraining order (TRO), this is meant to be a short-term measure in effect until the court is able to issue something more enduring, such as a preliminary injunction. For example, a temporary restraining order issued without notice by a federal court can­not exceed ten days without additional court proceedings. Temporary restrain­ing orders may be issued without a court hearing and without informing the opposing party (known as ex par­te). Temporary restraining orders are often issued by state and local courts to prevent contact between parties. In 1981, a federal court issued a temporary restraining order against the Los Ange­les Unified School District in an effort to stop plans to dismantle an organized busing plan out of concern it would harm students.

Preliminary injunction—These types of injunctions are generally meant to preserve a status quo of action or inaction, pending a final decision of a case. Unlike temporary restraining orders, preliminary injunctions cannot be issued without advanced notice to the other party in the case. Preliminary injunctions remain in effect, unless oth­erwise modified or dissolved, during the pending court case. Preliminary injunc­tions are common in court-related media reports. For example, New York Yankees baseball player Alex Rodriguez recently petitioned a federal court for a preliminary injunction to stop his sus­pension from going into effect, pending litigation.

Permanent Injunction—These types of injunctions are meant to pre­serve a status of action or inaction per­manently. They are generally issued as final judgments, or rulings, in a case. In some cases, the conditions estab­lished by the preliminary injunctions are continued as permanent arrange­ments. Permanent injunctions are less commonly mentioned in the media. One example appeared in 2013, when Apple asked a federal court for a permanent injunction against Samsung to prevent the sales of certain Samsung products found to infringe upon Apple’s copy­rights. If granted, Samsung would be permanently prohibited from selling those products.

Issuing Injunctions

Though considerations may vary from state to state, generally courts consider four factors before issuing an injunc­tion:

Irreparable harm—Courts con­sider the significance of threat to the requesting party if the injunction is not granted.

Balance—Next, courts consider the effects of issuing, or not issuing, the injunction on both parties. While the requesting party may be harmed if the court does not issue the injunction, the other party may be harmed if the court grants the injunction.

Likelihood of success—Courts consider whether or not the party requesting the injunction has a poten­tially successful case—that is, one that is likely to “succeed on the merits” at the end of litigation.

Public interest—Finally, courts consider the injunction’s possible effect on the public interest.

After a court issues an injunction, both parties must be made aware of the order if they were not present. If one party was absent from court proceed­ings, as might be the case with a tempo­rary restraining order, the injunction is served by the court on that party. Some­times the parties consist of not only the named plaintiffs and defendants of the case, but also their “officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys,” as well as those persons “in active concert or participation with them who receive actual notice of the order by personal service or otherwise.” The injunction will specify who is bound by the order. Injunctions issued by federal courts, as well as many state courts, are enforce­able across the United States, even if the parties cross state lines.

Injunctions are simple in their defi­nition but complex in their application. Hopefully Teaching Legal Docs has pro­vided more understanding around these legal documents and the stories that they are telling when they are encoun­tered in the media.

Sample Injunction Document

Injunction Document Map