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Deficient injunction is reviewable

What the court held

Case: Dupuy v. Samuels, No. 06-1027

Issue: Does a district court’s failure to comply with the requirements of FRCP 65(d), when issuing an injunction, deprive the court of appeals of jurisdiction.

Holding: No. The rule is not jurisdictional; if the injunction is clear enough to be enforceable, it is reviewable.

A district court’s injunction is subject to appellate review, even if it violates FRCP 65(d)’s prohibition on the incorporation of ex-traneous materials.

Ten years ago, a group of Illinois parents raised challenges to a variety of practices of the Illi-nois Department of Children and Family Services. The suit sought class-action status, and claimed that the Department infringed parental rights guaranteed by the due process clause. The suit has been working its way through the courts ever since.

The subject of this particular appeal is a preliminary injunction that the Illinois district court issued, enjoining certain practices by the Department. The parents appealed, arguing that the injunction did not go far enough, and the Department did not cross-appeal.

In an opinion by Judge Richard A. Posner, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals not only rejected the parents’ arguments on appeal, but held that the injunction should not have been issued at all. However, because the department did not cross-appeal, the court affirmed, rather than reversing the injunction.

Before addressing the merits, however, the court engaged in a lengthy procedural discussion.

The court found that the injunction violates FRCP 65(d), which provides in relevant part, “Every order granting an injunction and every restraining order shall set forth the reasons for its issuance; shall be specific in terms; shall describe in reasonable detail, and not by reference to the complaint or other document, the act or acts sought to be restrained.”

In this case, the district court’s injunction consisted of a proposal that one of the parties, attached to the injunction itself, which stated that it approves the proposal, subject to various listed modifications. As a result, the court of appeals found Rule 65(d) had been flouted.

Nevertheless, the court determined that it had jurisdiction to review the injunction.

The court concluded, “a violation of the rule does not deprive the appellate court of jurisdiction to review the injunction unless as a result of the violation it is so unclear what the defendant is enjoined from doing that he could not be punished for violating the injunction (cites omitted).”

Where the materials incorporated into the injunction are adequately clear, which the court found to be so in this case, the court concluded that it may review the injunction.

The court acknowledged that its previous precedent has not been entirely consistent.

In Original Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Co. v. River Valley Cookies, Ltd., 970 F.2d 273 (7th Cir. 1992), it held that where the core of the injunction is clear enough to be enforceable, it is subject to appellate review.

However, in D. Patrick, Inc., v. Ford Motor Co., 8 F.3d 455 (7th Cir. 1993), without citing Great American, the court suggested that such an injunction is unenforceable.

Rejecting the implication in D. Patrick, the court wrote, “its flat statement of unenforceability, which is not limited to incorporation by reference but embraces any injunction that violates Rule 65(d), is inconsistent with the decisions holding that a violation of the rule does not affect the jurisdiction of the reviewing court as long as the obligations that the injunction imposes on the defendant are clear enough that he can be punished should he violate them.”

The court continued, looking at the justification for the statement in D. Patrick, and found it in a quote from H.K. Porter Co. v. National Friction Products Corp. 568 F.2d 24, 27 (7th Cir. 1977), that stated as follows: “Rule 65(d) is no mere extract from a manual of procedural practice. It is a page from the book of liberty.” D. Patrick, 8 F.3d at 461.

Rejecting the justification, the court wrote, “Beware decision by metaphor. What the court seems to have meant was that it would be unjust to punish someone for violating an injunction that he could not
understand. It would be. But Rule 65(d) is not needed in order to ward off that injustice; if the injunction is not clear, the defendant cannot be punished for violating it.”

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Case Analysis

The court added that the language from H.K. Porter is “particularly inapt” in the case at bar, because it is the plaintiff that is appealing.

The court explained, “The difference is that where there is an injunction and the plaintiff is seeking additional relief, the need for that relief is likely to depend on what relief the judge has already granted, and to be able to form a precise and concise understanding of that relief may require that the rule have been complied with.”

Turning to the merits, the court concluded that no injunction should have been issued at all, based on the current state of the record.

The plaintiffs alleged that the Depart-ment had abused its authority by offering parents suspected of abusing their children “safety plans” — temporary alternatives to immediate removal of a child for the child’s protection, pending further investigation.

The court acknowledged that, if the Department were offering safety plans when it has no suspicion at all of neglect or abuse, the plaintiffs could show duress.

However, the court found, “On the record complied so far, the plaintiffs are entitled to no relief at all.” Because the Department did not cross-appeal, however, the court affirmed instead of reversing.

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