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Preliminary injunction requests – how courts decide them

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently recapped how federal courts decide whether to grant requests for preliminary injunction (many state courts apply the same or very-similar tests):

The conditions of preliminary injunctive relief guide, indeed largely dictate, our decision in this case.

To be entitled to a preliminary injunction, the applicant must show[:]

(1) a substantial likelihood that he will prevail on the merits,

(2) a substantial threat that he will suffer irreparable injury [that is, injury that cannot be adequately compensated by an eventual award of monetary damages — DCT] if the injunction is not granted,

(3) his threatened injury outweighs the threatened harm to the party whom he seeks to enjoin, and

(4) granting the preliminary injunction will not disserve the public interest.

We have cautioned repeatedly that a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy which should not be granted unless the party seeking it has clearly carried the burden of persuasion on all four requirements.

Our review [on appeal] is deferential:

  • A district court’s determination as to each of the elements required for a preliminary injunction are mixed questions of fact and law, the facts of which this [appellate] Court leaves undisturbed unless clearly erroneous.
  • Conclusions of law made with respect to denial of a preliminary injunction are reviewed de novo [that is, starting from scratch, without deference to the district court’s own conclusions of law — DCT].
  • The ultimate decision for or against issuing a preliminary injunction is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard.

Bluefield Water Assn. Inc. v. Starkville, No. 08-60648 (5th Cir. Jul. 21, 2009), slip op. at 4-5 (affirming in part, reversing in part district court’s grant of preliminary injunction) (footnotes and internal quotation marks omitted, extra paragraphing and bullets added).

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