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Focus on the Law: Injunctions

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

Injunctions are orders made by a court to protect individuals from specific harm.  Under   Tennessee law, the Chancery Court has historically been the court of equity, undertaking to prevent harm rather than punish the wrongdoer.    The statutes enacted by the state legislature and the interpretation of those statutes by the courts provide the basis to punish violators of the law.   For example, the law in our society requires all drivers to maintain proper control over their vehicles so that they do not crash into and damage other people’s vehicles.  If they violate the law and fail to maintain control over their vehicles, they may be sued in a court of law to pay for any damages they caused.  The law did not prevent the harm from occurring.  It just allows for a legal remedy after the damage has been done.  A writ of injunction is intended to prevent the harm, especially where that harm would be irreparable.

Courts other than Chancery Court may also issue injunctions.  In divorce cases the court may issue injunctions prohibiting spouses from incurring new debt or wasting marital assets.   Orders of protection are restraining orders prohibiting an individual from harming or threatening to harm another individual.  “Gag orders” issued by courts are merely restraining orders prohibiting comments to the public and/or the press on certain topics relating to an ongoing litigation case.  Court may issue “stays” of garnishments to stop an employer from withholding wages pending a further court hearing.  Courts may also require the posting of a bond to protect the enjoined party from monetary loss in the event that the application for an injunction was wrongfully brought by the applicant.

Rule 65 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure limits the three ways injunctive relief may be obtained.    These three remedies are a restraining order, a temporary injunction and a permanent injunction in a final judgment.   A restraining order only restricts the doing of an act and does not mandatorily order the doing of an act.  A restraining order may be issued without notice if it is clearly shown by verified complaint or affidavit that the applicant’s rights are being or will be violated by an adverse party and the applicant will suffer immediate and irreparable harm before notice can be served.  If it was issued without notice, the restraining order expires after 15 day unless it is extended by the judge for one more 15 day period.  The judge must place the reason for the extension on the record.

A temporary injunction is used to keep the situation in a lawsuit from getting worse while the case is pending.  If someone starts clear cutting the timber on a piece of old growth forest land and another person asserts that he or she is the true owner of that property, a court will likely approve a temporary injunction to stop the cutting of trees until the ownership can be established.  The court might also order that the trees which have already been cut must not be removed from the property.  If the court did not act, the trees would all be gone, the value of the land would be greatly diminished and winning money from the lawsuit would be insufficient to make the true owner whole again.

For a temporary injunction to issue, the court must require that notice be given to the adverse party.  A temporary injunction may remain in effect for the duration of the litigation.  After the matter has been decided, the judgment may include a permanent injunction as part of the relief awarded by the court.  Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988. Her office number in Knoxville is (865)539-2100.

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