Understanding Injunction Under The Law

understanding Injunction

By Takim Etta 

Introduction:

When an individual unlawfully enters your land, asserting ownership and commencing construction on it, an injunction from the court becomes the most effective instrument to prevent the person from continuing such actions until the matter is brought before the court to determine ownership and rights. This article will critically discuss the concept of injunction under Nigerian Law.

What is Injunction?

An injunction is a court order directing a party to perform or refrain from a specific act. It is granted when monetary compensation is deemed an inadequate remedy, as demonstrated in the case of Martin v. Nutkin (1725) 2 P. Wms. 266. In this instance, a breach occurred in an agreement to cease a 5 o’clock bell if a Cupola clock was provided, leading the court to restrain the act through an injunction. Other notable cases supporting the use of injunctions include John Holts Nig Ltd. v. Holts African Workers Union of Nigeria and Cameroun (1963) 9 WACA 76, as well as Idam v. Duke (1927) 8 NLR 88.

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Types of Injunction

1. Perpetual or Interlocutory Injunction

A perpetual injunction is granted after the claimant has established two essential elements:

(1) The existence of a justiciable right.
(2) The defendant’s infringement of that right (or a real threat of future infringement).

Perpetual injunction is primarily awarded to enforce rights and can only be granted after the court has adjudicated on the matter. It is termed “perpetual” not because it operates indefinitely, but because it is issued after the final determination of the parties’ rights. For example, it may be granted to last throughout the pendency of a lease. (Reference: Moore v. Ullcoats Mining Co. Ltd, 1908 1 CH. 575; Jones v. Chappel (1875) LR 20)

Interlocutory Injunction, on the other hand, is granted before the trial of an action to maintain the status quo until the question at issue between the parties can be determined. Perpetual injunction can be granted as an aid for the proper determination of the case or for its proper enforcement. It is issued to preserve the subject matter (res) when the plaintiff would suffer irreparable damage if not granted.

2. Prohibitory and Mandatory Injunction

A prohibitory injunction serves to prevent the defendant from engaging in a wrongful act, acting as a restraint against such actions. On the other hand, a mandatory injunction issues specific orders to the defendant, which may involve refraining from a wrongful omission or undoing the consequences of a wrongful act.

Typically, a mandatory injunction is granted to rectify actions that have already taken place, such as demolishing a house constructed to obstruct legal proceedings. This type of injunction is reserved for exceptional situations and is primarily employed to reverse completed acts, as exemplified in the case of Kwankwaso v. Governor of Kano State (2006) 14 NWLR (PT. 1000) Page 444.

Ex parte injunction is a legal remedy granted when the plaintiff urgently requires immediate temporary relief that cannot be deferred until the next motion day. This type of injunction is granted without notifying the opposing party, with notice being presumed to be served on the defendant on or before the subsequent motion day. To obtain an ex parte injunction, the plaintiff must demonstrate a serious issue to be tried during the hearing, as seen in Preston v. Luck (1884) 27 Ch.D 497.

Qui Timet injunction is deployed to prevent an anticipated infringement on the plaintiff’s rights, which is under threat but has not yet occurred. The plaintiff is required to demonstrate a strong probability of future infringement, as mere speculation, suspicion, or anticipation of harm is insufficient. An illustrative case is Ojo Wey v. LEDB (1957) LLR 20.

PRIMA FACIE CASE

In the legal context, as articulated by Coker J. in J.T Stratford & Sons Limited v. Lindley (1965) AC 269 at 338, the granting of an interim injunction hinges on the plaintiff’s ability to demonstrate a prima facie case. Prima facie case refers to facts presumed to be true unless proven otherwise. In legal proceedings, it signifies presenting sufficient evidence by a civil claimant to substantiate the legal claim, thereby shifting the burden of producing rebuttal evidence onto the defendant.

Historically, the requirement for a prima facie case was the standard until the decision in Globe Fishing Industries Limited v. Coker (1990) 7 WNLR (Pt 162) 265. The Supreme Court clarified that the modern approach necessitates the plaintiff in an interlocutory injunction to show the existence of a serious question to be tried, the inadequacy of compensation for temporary inconvenience, and the balance of convenience favoring the plaintiff. The applicant is not obliged to establish facts determining the case’s judgment but to convince the court that a substantial issue exists.

However, a party seeking an injunction must come with clean hands. In Litinov v. Kent (1832) 34 TLR 298, the court denied an injunction request to restrain a landlord from re-entry. Despite the landlord’s reserved right of re-entry for rent breaches, the court ruled against the tenant as the landlord did not strictly rely on the rent covenant, having other breaches, including using the property for illegal purposes. The court asserted that the tenant did not approach the case with clean hands.

Specific injunctions such as the Mareva Injunction aim to freeze assets related to a suit to prevent tampering before judgment. The Anton Piller injunction, typically applicable in patent and copyright cases, secures documents and materials establishing the plaintiff’s case before notifying the defendant. Most interim applications are heard ex parte and are often granted if delaying the interlocutory application’s hearing would result in greater harm, as seen in Kotoye v. CBN (1989) 1 NWLR (PT. 98) 419.

RIGHTS IF INFRINGED WARRANTING PERPETUAL INJUNCTION

To warrant the issuance of a perpetual injunction, the claimant must possess a justiciable right, including statutory rights. This occurs under the following circumstances:

a. The claimant holds a present cause of action against the defendant.
b. The claimant would have such a cause of action if the defendant were to act as threatened.
c. The defendant behaves (or threatens to behave) in an unconscionable manner.

For an injunction to be granted, the plaintiff must demonstrate a property right or interest in the subject matter of the complaint, as established in Day v. Brownrigg (1878) 10 Ch. D 294 and Street v. Union Bank of Spain and England (1885) 30 Ch. D 156.

In Day v. Brown Riggs, the court declined to grant an injunction restraining a similar name in the defendant’s adjacent house, citing the absence of a legal or equitable right to the exclusive use of the name by the claimant.

If a man erects a wall obstructing the view of the neighboring house and causing its devaluation, the plaintiff lacks a cause of action if the man has the right to erect such a wall, as seen in Ingram v. Morecraft (1863) Beav. 49.

In cases where special damage is a crucial element of a cause of action, as in the tort of slander, an injunction will not be granted unless there is proof that special damage has been suffered or would be suffered if the injunction were not granted against the defendant. This principle is illustrated in White v. Mellin (1897) AC 954, where an application to restrain the defendant from affixing a label showing the superiority of his goods while retailing the claimant’s goods was denied.

However, if the cause of action is complete without the need for proof of special damage, and the claimant’s right is established with infringement, an injunction may be obtained even without the occurrence of special damage, as demonstrated in James v. Llanrwst UDC (1911) 1 Ch. 393.]

DEVELOPMENT OF INJUNCTIONS IN NIGERIA

According to the Judicature Act of 1873-1925, an injunction by an interlocutory order may be granted in all cases where the court deems such an order necessary, either unconditionally or with terms and conditions deemed just by the court. Similar provisions exist in the high court rules across Nigeria. For instance, Order 25 Rule 1 of the High Court Civil Procedure Rules 2004 states that the court may issue an injunction by interlocutory order whenever it deems it just or convenient to do so, either unconditionally or with appropriate terms and conditions. This provision is mirrored in Order 38 of the High Court Civil Procedure Rules of Enugu State 2006 and Order 42 of the Lagos State Civil Procedure Rules 2019.

The phrase “just or convenient” within these rules confers discretion upon the court. However, this discretion must align with legal principles to safeguard rights and prevent harm. In the case of Idam v. Duke (supra), where the plaintiff sought a declaration and an injunction against a traditional title holder, the court declined, citing the absence of a violation of rights. Injunctions are not granted when the injury is trivial.

In Savage v. Akinrinade (1964) LLR 238, an application for an injunction to remove a building obstructing the plaintiff’s rights was denied due to the greater hardship such an order would cause. The injunctive remedy is not available to a volunteer, as evidenced in Akenzua v. Benin Divisional Council (1998) WRNLR 430, where the court held that the Oba of Benin, seeking an injunction against the council, was a mere volunteer.

Injunctions are considered remedies in personam. For instance, in Re Liddel’s Settlement Trust (1936) 1 Ch 365, the court granted an injunction against a person within its jurisdiction restraining them from an act outside the jurisdiction, reasoning that it is an order against the person (Nwakobi v. Nzekwu (1961) NLR 445).

Injunctions cannot be obtained against individuals under disability, such as infants or those with mental disabilities, unless the latter understood that their actions were wrong, as established in Imperial Loan Company v. Stone (1892) 1 QB 599.

INJUNCTION IN SPECIFIC CASES

1. Breach of Contract

In cases where a contract has a negative character, injunctive relief can be sought to address breaches. However, if the contract imposes positive obligations, the more fitting equitable remedy is often Specific Performance.

2. Personal Service

Not every obligation arising from personal service, such as employer-employee relations, is remedied through injunctions.

Similar to ordinary contractual relationships, if a contract of service is purely affirmative—where, for example, the employee agrees to dedicate their entire time to the company—specific performance becomes a more appropriate remedy should the employee act otherwise.

Injunctions are not granted to enforce negative stipulations preventing the defendant from entering into alternative employment during a specified period. This is because doing so would either compel the defendant to fulfill the contract or remain inactive, as illustrated in Rely-a-Bell Burglar and Fire Alarm Co Limited v. Eisler (1926) Ch. 609.

If the terms of the service contract specify that the claimant’s own obligations cannot be enforced against them, an injunction may not be granted against the defendant. This holds true in cases where the contract includes clauses such as “…the claimant will give assurance of his intention to perform his own obligations,” as seen in Chappel v. Times Newspapers Ltd. (1975) 1 WLR 482. The same principle applies when the contract involves obligations of mutual trust and confidence, and trust has eroded in the claimant.

In cases where the claimant attempts to impede a footballer from playing for a rival club purely to boost their own ego, an injunction was refused, as demonstrated in Radford v. Campbell (1990) 6 TLR 488 (Nottingham Forest v. Blackburn Rovers).

3. Covenants Concerning Land

The burden or benefit of covenants established between a landlord and tenant may extend to the land and the reversion. Consequently, the assignee of the lease or reversion has the right to sue or be sued based on the covenant.

4. Partnership

In the context of partnerships, the court can employ injunctions to ensure the proper adherence to partnership terms. For instance, an injunction may be granted to prevent a partner from excluding another partner’s participation in the partnership. However, it may be denied to a partner convicted of dishonesty, as illustrated in Hall v. Hall (1850) 12 Beav. 414. An injunction can also be issued to prevent a partner from engaging in another business contrary to a clause in the partnership agreement or, in the absence of such a clause, if the business is a direct rival.

5. Trespass

Trespass is viewed as an infringement on possession rather than ownership. To merit an injunction, the applicant must be in possession or have an immediate right to possession. In the case of Chief Ibibi Obu Dokubo and Ors. v. Chief J. Omoni (1999) 6 SCNJ 168, it was established that a trespasser in possession can maintain an action against a subsequent trespasser unless the latter can demonstrate a superior title or right to possession. In Amakor v. Obiefuna (1974) 3 SC 67, it was affirmed that an original trespasser in exclusive possession can pursue legal action against a later trespasser, whose possession, whether obtained by force or not, is clearly adverse.

6. Nuisance

Nuisance is categorized into public and private nuisances. An injunction is typically granted to an individual seeking to restrain a public nuisance unless they can demonstrate specific damages beyond the general harm experienced by the public. For private nuisances, an injunction is available if the injury caused cannot be adequately compensated in damages. Legal action to restrain a nuisance is usually initiated by the occupier of the affected property, while a reversion can seek damages or an injunction if the nuisance causes permanent harm to the reversion.

7. Breach of Trust

In cases of breach of trust, injunctions can be employed to enforce the obligations under the trust. For instance, in Williams v. Cole (1957) 1 WACA 129, an executor of a will was restrained from improperly dealing with trust property.

8. Restrictive Covenant

Breach of a restrictive covenant can be restrained by injunction, as per the principles laid down in Tulk v. Moxhay (1848) 2 Ch. 774. The covenant must be negative in substance, concern the land, and the person entitled to its benefit must retain the land for which the covenant exists, demonstrating that the benefit of the covenant has passed to them. In LEDB v. Raji (1939) 5 (WACA) 137, the court restrained the use of land meant for residential purposes, as specified in a covenant in the lease agreement, when it was subsequently used for prayers.

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