An injunction is a court order requiring a person to do or cease doing a specific action. There are three types of injunctions: Permanent injunctions, Temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions. Temporary restraining orders (TRO) and preliminary injunctions are equitable in nature. They can be issued by the judge early in a lawsuit to stop the defendant from continuing their allegedly harmful actions. Choosing whether to grant temporary injunctive relief is up to the discretion of the court. Permanent injunctions are issued as a final judgment in a case, where monetary damages will not suffice. Failure to comply with an injunction may result in being held in contempt of court, which in turn may result in either criminal or civil liability. See, e.g., Roe v. Wade 410 US 113 (1973).

Injunctions: An Overview

An injunction is a court order requiring an individual to do or omit doing a specific action. It is an extraordinary remedy that courts utilize in special cases to alter or maintain the status quo, depending on the circumstances, particularly where the defendant must stop its course of action to prevent possible injustice and irreparable harm to the plaintiff. Injunctive relief is a discretionary power of the court, in which the court balances the irreparability of harm and inadequacy of damages if an injunction were not granted against the damages that would result if an injunction was granted. An individual who has been given adequate notice of an injunction but fails to follow the court's orders may be punished for contempt of court.

An injunction is an equitable remedy, and is therefore available only in cases of in-personam jurisdiction, and not in in-rem or quasi-in-rem jurisdiction. Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure explains what temporary injunctions TRO are, and establishes the rules regarding them. Rule 65, however, only addresses the collateral requirements of notice, form, and scope of the temporary injunctions, but does not prescribe the standards for issuance of the injunctions. Therefore, the standards have been judicially developed by the courts, and thus the exact standards and balancing test vary across jurisdictions.

Temporary Restraining Order (TRO):

A temporary restraining order is 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 can be issued without notice by a federal court, but cannot exceed ten days without additional court proceedings. Temporary restraining orders may be issued without a court hearing and without informing the opposing party. Temporary restraining orders are often issued by state and local courts to prevent contact between parties, where the defendants’ actions could seriously harm the plaintiffs. For example, in 1981, a federal court, issued a temporary restraining order against the Los Angeles Unified School District in an effort to stop the school district’s plans to dismantle an organized busing plan, fearing that the school district’s plans would harm the students.

Temporary Injunctions:

Unlike TRO, temporary injunctions are slightly more enduring in effect than TRO, and requires a court proceeding and usually requires a notice to the opposing party. In determining whether to grant or deny a preliminary injunctive relief, the courts generally look to several of the factors including: (1) the plaintiff's likelihood of prevailing on the merits;(2) a showing of irreparable injury to plaintiff if relief is not granted; (3) the threatened injury to the movant is demonstrated to outweigh whatever damage the proposed injunction may cause the opposing party; and (4) the balancing of equities.

Other circuits have alternatively looked to a different criteria, consisting of a showing of (1) probable success and the possibility of irreparable injury; or (2) serious questions on the merits and a balance of hardships. See e.g., W.W. Williams Co. v. Google, Inc., 2013 WL 3812079 (S.D. Ohio 2013).

Permanent Injunctions:

There is a balancing test that courts typically employ in determining whether to issue an injunction. To seek a permanent injunction, the plaintiff must pass the four-step test: (1) that the plaintiff has suffered an irreparable injury; (2) that remedies available at law, such as monetary damages, are inadequate to compensate for the injury; (3) that the remedy in equity is warranted upon consideration of the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant; and (4) that the permanent injunction being sought would not hurt public interest. See, e.g., Weinberger v. Romero—Barcelo, 456 U.S. 305, 311–313, 102 S.Ct. 1798, 72 L.Ed.2d 91 (1982)Amoco Production Co. v. Gambell, 480 U.S. 531, 542, 107 S.Ct. 1396, 94 L.Ed.2d 542 (1987). The decision to grant or deny permanent injunctive relief is an act of equitable discretion by the district court, reviewable on appeal for abuse of discretion. See: eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388, 391, 126 S. Ct. 1837, 1839, 164 L. Ed. 2d 641 (2006).

In balancing the damages to the plaintiff and the defendant and the public interest, the courts balance the relative harm and benefit to both the defendant and the plaintiff if the injunction is granted. A leading decision, Boomer v. Atlantic Cement Co., ruled against a permanent injunction against the cement company in a nuisance claim by the homeowners in the neighborhood. In reaching the decision, the court factored in the factory’s apparent inability to develop improved abatement methods, and the defendant’s 45 million dollar capital investment in the factory, both of which are factors by which the defendant would be significantly hurt by the injunction. 

Also, in some jurisdictions, courts take into consideration the good faith of the parties. If it seems that the defendant is acting in good faith, by doing all that it can to abate the nuisance, the court may reflect those efforts in the terms of its order. In contrast, if the court believes the defendant is acting in bad faith, the court will show little sympathy and rule in favor of permanent injunction. See, e.g., Penland v. Redwood Sanitary Sewer Serv. Dist., 965 P.2d 433, 440 (Or. Ct. App.1998)

Federal Material

U.S. Constitution and Federal Statutes
Federal Rules

[Last updated in March of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]