What Is an Injunction?

Definition & Examples of Injunctions

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An injunction is an order by a court commanding or prohibiting a specific action. If a person or company fails to abide by an injunction issued against them, they can be held in contempt of court and punished with imprisonment or fines.

Learn about the different types of injunctions, which are categorized by the length of time they're in effect and the type of action they require, and the circumstances under which a judge might issue them.

What Is an Injunction?

An injunction is considered to be both an extraordinary and equitable (fair) remedy taken by a court and is intended to prevent irreparable harm that couldn't be adequately addressed at the conclusion of a trial by a monetary judgment.

An injunction is used at the discretion of a court, and the judge should carefully consider the consequences to both legal parties if the injunction is issued and if it is not. Injunctions may be issued by a federal or state court in lawsuits related to intellectual property, employment, civil rights, contracts, and commerce.

  • Synonym: Injunctive relief

How Does an Injunction Work? n

Rules and standards regarding the issuance of injunctions vary somewhat according to state and federal jurisdictions. The conditions under which a federal court may issue an injunction are codified in Rule 65, Injunctions and Restraining Orders, of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

According to Rule 65, a federal court must provide notice to the party to which the injunction applies, except for when issuing a temporary restraining order if 1) the plaintiff's attorney has shown that the plaintiff would suffer immediate and irreparable harm before the defendant could respond to the request and 2) the plaintiff's attorney has certified in writing their efforts to give notice to the defendant and their reasons why notice should not be required.

Either party may immediately appeal a judge's decision regarding an injunction in federal or state court.

In virtually all courts, state or federal, the plaintiff's attorney must demonstrate irreparable harm and the inadequacy of any legal remedy in order for injunctive relief to be given.

In many jurisdictions, including federal circuit and appeals courts, the court also considers the likelihood of the plaintiff's attorney winning their case on its merits, the balance of the harm caused to the requester if the injunction is denied versus the harm caused to the defendant if it is approved, and whether the injunction would run counter to the public interest.

In the U.S. Supreme Court, the plaintiff's attorney must demonstrate irreparable harm and the inadequacy of legal remedies in order to receive a permanent injunction. The justices consider the balance of hardships faced by the plaintiff and defendant and whether public interest would be harmed by the injunction.

In some state courts, certain other factors must be weighed. For example, in Minnesota, the judge must consider the status of the relationship between the two parties prior to the litigation and the administrative burden imposed on the court by supervising and enforcing an injunction.

Types of Injunctions 

There are three types of injunctions that are categorized by the length of time they are in force. 

  • Preliminary or temporary injunctions are typically issued when a case is just beginning, to prevent the defendant from continuing an action that might injure the plaintiff during the time the case is in process. It is generally enforced until the end of the trial.
  • Temporary restraining orders (TROs) are issued for a very short time period—perhaps a maximum of 10 days—and may be issued without notifying the defendant to prevent harm to the plaintiff.

Some state courts don't permit TROs but may issue preliminary injunctions without one party present—referred to as ex parte injunctions—if they are convinced doing so is necessary to prevent severe and immediate harm to the requesting party.

  • Permanent injunctions are typically issued at the end of a trial and have no set duration.

Injunctions are also categorized by the effect they have.

  • Mandatory injunctions require a party to take an action.
  • Prohibitory injunctions prevent a party from taking an action.

Key Takeaways

  • An injunction is an order by a court commanding or prohibiting a specific action.
  • If a defendant fails to abide by an injunction issued against them, they can be held in contempt of court and punished with imprisonment or fines.
  • An injunction is an extraordinary and equitable remedy taken by a court to prevent irreparable harm to the plaintiff.
  • Injunctions differ according to the time period in which they are in place and the type of action—doing something or not doing something—they require.
  • The rules regarding the issuance of injunctions vary somewhat by jurisdiction.

Article Sources

  1. Claims and Litigation Management Alliance. "Injunctive Relief: A Primer," Downloadable PDF, Page 1. Accessed Oct. 4, 2020.

  2. United States Courts. "Rule 65. Injunctions and Restraining Orders," Pages 1-3. Accessed Oct 1. 2020.

  3. United States Courts. "Rule 65. Injunctions and Restraining Orders," Page 1. Accessed Oct 1. 2020.

  4. United States Supreme Court. "eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C," Page 1. Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.

  5. Kirstin Stoll-DeBell, Nancy Dempsey, and Bradford Dempsey. "Injunctive Relief: Temporary Restraining Orders and Preliminary Injunctions," Page 60. American Bar Association, 2009.