An injunction is a court order that compels an individual or entity to do, refrain from doing, or to stop doing, a specified thing. When filing a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff must specify what relief he is seeking from the court. Many civil lawsuits in the United States seek monetary compensation, or money damages.

In some cases, however, money will not make the plaintiff’s situation right. In this case, he may request that the court issue an injunction, also referred to as “injunctive relief,” against the defendant. It is possible for the court to order injunctive relief under its own authority, whether the plaintiff has asked for it or not. To explore this concept, consider the following injunction definition.

Definition of Injunction

  1. noun. A court order compelling an individual or entity to do, or to refrain from doing, a specified act.

Origin   1520-30            Late Latin injunction


What is an Injunction

An injunction, ordered by a court of law, requiring that a party to a legal action take a specific action, or stop engaging in an act, provides a way for individuals and entities to obtain a legal remedy other than money damages. The order to do or not do something subjects the party against whom the civil injunction is ordered to both civil and criminal charges should they fail to comply. In many jurisdictions, failure to comply with an injunction results in a charge of contempt of court.

Types of Civil Injunction

Injunctions requested as part of a civil lawsuit, or simply in an attempt to stop an action that would cause some type of damages, are commonly used to prevent some type of property damage or financial loss. Other commonly used types of civil injunction include restraining orders. A restraining order prohibits the person against whom the order is filed from contacting the person requesting the injunction. Restraining orders seek to protect the requester from acts of violence, threats, and harassment. Violating a restraining order subjects the restrained person to immediate arrest in most jurisdictions, and usually results in criminal charges.

Purpose of a Preliminary Injunction

While civil damages offer monetary payment for harm that has already occurred, the primary purpose of an injunction is to prevent the harm to begin with. Courts often issue preliminary injunctions for the purpose of stopping action until such time as a hearing can be held to determine what the course of action should be.

For example:

Mary and Tom have lived in their home for more than 40 years, and have cultivated a lovely property, filled with mature shade trees. When a new neighbor moves in, he begins making plans to put in a newer, wider driveway, which will necessitate the removal of a fence, and removal of, or damage to a very large oak tree that has grown up partially on both properties. Mary and Tom do not want the tree removed, and file a civil lawsuit seeking a civil injunction preventing the neighbor from doing so.

In this situation, if the couple was to wait until a trial could be held, the damage would be done, and the court would be hard pressed to order compensation that would truly make things right. This is the purpose of an injunction. The court will likely order a preliminary injunction requiring the neighbor stop the construction of the driveway as planned until the matter can be heard and decided by the court.

Permanent Injunction

A permanent Injunction differs from a temporary injunction in that it is generally ordered by a court only after the court proceedings conclude. A permanent injunction may also be ordered if the party against whom the injunction is sought defaults, or fails to appear at the hearing. A permanent injunction requires a person or entity to stop acting in a certain manner indefinitely, but it can also compel them to act or perform in a certain way.

For example:

After Nick is fired from his job, he threatens to disclose corporate secrets to the public. The corporation files for an injunction to keep Nick from talking. Because disclosure of sensitive company information could cause serious damage, the judge is likely to issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting Nick from disclosing the information.

Only after a hearing has been held, in which the corporation will need to show that disclosure of corporate secrets of which Nick may be aware would cause harm, will a permanent injunction be ordered. If the judge issues the permanent injunction, Nick will be permanently prohibited from discussing this information. If he does not abide by the injunction, Nick may face both criminal charges and civil liability.

How to Get an Injunction

The first step to get an injunction is to petition the court for injunctive relief. In most cases, this is done at the beginning of a civil lawsuit, in which a filing fee must be paid to the court. Because they involve personal safety, injunctions in the form of restraining orders do not require a filing fee be paid.

Once the petition has been filed, a temporary injunction or restraining order will be issued. Whether this is done automatically on filing, or after a judge had reviewed the documents, varies by jurisdiction. In either case, a hearing date will be scheduled, and the documents must be personally served on the opposing party. At the hearing, both parties must appear and present evidence and witness testimony supporting their side. The judge will consider all of the information presented during the hearing in making his decision as to whether to grant a permanent injunction.

Legal Terms and Issues

  • Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Damages – A monetary award in compensation for a financial loss, loss of or damage to personal or real property, or an injury.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Hearing – A proceeding before the court at which an issue of fact or law is heard, evidence presented, and a decision made.
  • Legal Entity – An individual, company, association, trust, or other organization that is legally recognized in the eyes of the law. A legal entity is able to enter into contracts, take on obligations, pay debts, be sued, and be held responsible for its actions.
  • Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
  • Restraining Order – A court order prohibiting an individual from carrying out a specified action, or from approaching or having contact with a specified person.
  • Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a civil matter.
  • Victim – A person who is injured, killed, or otherwise harmed as a result of a criminal act, accident, or other event.