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.
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.