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What is an Injunction?

Updated on August 28, 2010

An injunction, in law, is an order or command of a court prohibiting or requiring the doing of certain acts. Although the issuance of injunctions is within the inherent power of equity courts, statutes sometimes define or restrict the remedy and specify the procedural steps necessary to obtain, modify, or dissolve an injunction.


Injunctions may be classified, according to their effect, as prohibitory or mandatory. A prohibitory injunction restrains the commission or the continuance of an act. A mandatory injunction, on the other hand, requires die taking of affirmative action. Such injunctions are used to compel the abatement of nuisances, the removal of buildings and obstructions, the transfer of title or possession, and for similar purposes.

Injunctions may also be classified as preliminary or final. The primary purpose of the former type, which is also sometimes called temporary or interlocutory, is to prevent threatened wrongs and to preserve the status quo until the holding of a final hearing. Notice to die respondent and a preliminary hearing are usually required before a preliminary injunction will be granted. The question of granting or refusing such an injunction is left to the sound discretion of the court and depends upon whether the complainant can show an urgent necessity for relief prior to die thorough investigation of die case. A bond or other security is frequently required in connection widi obtaining such an injunction. The issuance or the withholding of a preliminary injunction, not being a final order, is ordinarily not reviewable by a higher court, but such nonfinal (or interlocutory) orders of federal district courts are appealable under the provisions of 28 United States Code ยง 1292 (a). Closely related to a preliminary injunction is a temporary restraining order, the purpose of which is also to preserve the status quo. This type of order requires the respondent to appear on a certain day and to show cause why a temporary injunction should not be issued. A final or permanent injunction may be issued after the hearing of a case on the merits, and the granting or refusal of such an injunction is a reviewable order.

Issuance, Injunctions are ordinarily issued by courts of equity rather than by tribunals possessing strictly common law jurisdiction. In most cases the court must be satisfied that a suit for damages or any other ordinary legal action would be inadequate. This does not mean that there must be a total lack of legal remedy in order for a complainant to invoke equity jurisdiction. In an appropriate case, an injunction may be granted where a remedy at law exists but is not sufficiently complete or prompt to effect substantial justice.

The remedy at law is considered to be inadequate, so as to justify the grant of an injunction, where the injury is irreparable or where a multiplicity of suits would be necessary in order to redress the wrong. On the other hand, if the injured party can obtain full relief through a single action at law for damages or through some other single lawsuit, an injunction will be refused on the ground that the remedy at law is adequate. "Irreparable injury" is a technical term that is not construed in its literal sense. It may mean that complete compensation for the wrong in question cannot be made by the payment of damages or, alternatively, that the amount of damages is difficult or impossible to measure. The term may also have reference to the fact that the injury is continuous or repeated or that the wrongdoer is unable to pay damages because of insolvency.

The term "multiplicity of suits" may refer either to the number of actions that the injured party would have to bring in order to obtain complete redress by way of damages or to the possibility that the person seeking the injunction might himself be repeatedly harassed by lawsuits. Examples of circumstances under which courts of equity will grant injunctions because the complainant would have to bring a succession of lawsuits to obtain sufficient relief are cases of nuisance, waste, trespass to land, and disputed boundaries, in which the wrong complained of is by nature continuous or repeated. An example of vexatious actions against a complainant in an injunction suit is the situation where he has been subjected to a series of actions of ejectment to recover the same tract of land. In such a case, equity will interfere and grant an injunction prohibiting further lawsuits, provided that the complainant's legal tide to the land has been clearly established. Similarly, a court may issue an injunction to prevent repeated attempts to enforce the collection of invalid taxes.

Property Rights

Traditionally, the rights that equity will protect by injunction are property rights. The protection afforded extends to property both real and personal, both tangible and intangible. The remedy is frequently resorted to for the prevention of such torts as recurring trespasses, nuisances, and injuries resulting from the pollution, obstruction, or diversion of waters. Injunctions will not usually be granted for recovery of possession of real or personal property, inasmuch as conventional legal remedies, such as ejectment or replevin, are adequate. The tendency of modern courts is to extend the definition of property rights to include all rights of a pecuniary nature. Similarly, some statutes expressly authorizing the injunctive protection of personal . rights have been enacted. Political rights will not, as a rule, be protected by injunction, and the courts will not enjoin acts that are solely criminal and do not affect property rights.


Injunctions are often granted to prevent breaches of contract. For example, a person may be restrained from accepting a new employment where the services that ne has contracted to perform for his present employer are unique or extraordinary, as in the case of writers, entertainers, and professional athletes. Contractual restrictions on entrance into a competing business or professional practice are also enforceable by injunction.


The grant or denial of an injunction is governed by general equitable principles and is largely dependent upon the sound discretion of the court. As in the case of other remedies, a court will not issue an injunction that it lacks the power to enforce. No jury trial is provided, and in most cases there is no absolute right to an injunction. It will not be issued if the complainant has been guilty of misconduct, fraud, or unfairness in connection with the subject matter of the injunction suit, nor will it be granted at the request of a person guilty of unreasonable delay operating to the disadvantage of the other party. For example, if a complainant seeking an injunction to compel the removal of buildings encroaching upon his land had allowed a long period of time to pass and had allowed the respondent to make large expenditures for the erection of the buildings without attempting to stop him, a court would probably refuse his request for an injunction. This sort of defense to an injunction suit is known as laches, or acquiescence. Lapse of time alone does not constitute the defense, since it must be shown that the complainant had actual knowledge or adequate means of knowledge in order for the delay to be held unreasonable. Similarly, if the delay is excusable, such as might be caused by the respondent's promises to remedy the wrong, the doctrine of laches does not apply.

In order to obtain an injunction a complainant must show a clear right or title that he seeks to protect, since the question of title and other rights in property will not ordinarily be tried in an injunction proceeding. The complainant must demonstrate the existence or the real threat of substantial injury to his rights, as a court of equity will not interfere, if the suit is based upon a mere possibility or apprehension of harm or if the injury threatened is trivial. Injunctions will not be granted to prevent the doing of lawful acts, such as conducting a legitimate business, disposing of one's property as one chooses, or enforcing a debt, though others may be incidentally harmed.


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