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What Is an Injunction? When Can You Get One?

In addition to or in lieu of money damages, civil courts may also order an equitable remedy such as an injunction.

An injunction is a court order compelling a party to do or not do a specific act or acts. Injunctions are typically used to prevent future harmful action, rather than to compensate to an injury that has already occurred. Injunctions can be temporary -- such as a preliminary injunction issued before a trial to prevent a defendant from harming the plaintiff's ability to enforce his or her rights-- or permanent.

What are some of the most common types of injunctions, and when are they issued?

Restraining Orders

One common form of injunction is a restraining order. Restraining orders are typically issued in cases involving harassment, domestic violence, or stalking. They typically include provisions requiring that the person against whom the order is issued refrain from making contact with another person, stay a certain distance away from that person, move out of a home shared with another person, attend counseling, or surrender firearms.

In many states, a person who is the victim of violence or threats may be able to receive a temporary restraining order without the legal requirements of a permanent injunction. A TRO is typically issued "ex parte" by a judge, meaning that the defendant need not be present for the order to be issued. TROs typically last until a hearing can be held. If cause for a more permanent injunction can be shown, a TRO may be extended to a permanent restraining order.

Other Types of Permanent Injunctive Relief

Injunctions may also be issued in any number of other situations in which money damages are insufficient. These situations include:

  • Copyright infringement. In suits for copyright infringement, in addition to profits earned from the infringement, plaintiffs will typically ask for an injunction against further use of the copyrighted material by the alleged infringer. Singer Katy Perry was recently hit with a lawsuit alleging that her song "Dark Horse" was an infringement of a song by gospel rapper Flame. Along with damages and costs, Flame and three co-writers demanded an injunction against the sale, performance, and distribution of Perry's song.
  • Invasion of privacy. Injunctions may also be used to prevent invasions of privacy (as opposed to awarding damages to punish a person for invasions of privacy that have already occurred). For example, actress Jennifer Lopez was able to obtain an injunction barring her former husband and his manager from distributing video footage of Lopez naked.
  • Overturning laws. If a law passed by a state or other government entity is found to be unconstitutional, a court may issue an injunction against enforcing that law. This was the case when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently enjoined California's enforcement of the state's foie gras ban after finding it was pre-empted by federal law.

If you have questions about obtaining injunctive relief for an issue affecting your rights, a lawyer who specializes in civil litigation can explain your legal options.

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