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Injunctions Case Analysis

The decision has two major effects: (1) it effectively forces a party seeking injunctive relief to fully litigate its case, even when default judgment is entered against the defendant; and (2) it effectively bars permanent injunctive relief in defamation cases, even though the court expressly declined to decide whether the First Amendment bars such relief.

By defaulting, the defendant effectively admitted the facts alleged in the complaint — it defamed the plaintiff by labeling it a spammer.

On remand, however, if the plaintiff wants injunctive relief, it will still be required to prove the underlying case — it is not a spammer. The district court must accept as true, for purposes of the case, that the plaintiff was not a spammer, and that defendant defamed plaintiff by labeling it as such.

Suppose, however, that, at the ensuing evidentiary hearing, the court finds that, in fact, the plaintiff was and is a spammer, however that is defined. The court could not issue the injunction, because such an order would disserve the public interest, and fail the requirements or injunctive relief.

The only cases in which this will not be the case are those in which there is a presumption that injunctive relief is appropriate, as in fair housing cases, such as U.S. v. DiMucci, 879 F.2d 1488 (7th Cir. 1989). In DiMucci, the court held that, where the court finds a pattern of housing discrimination, there is a presumption that injunctive relief is appropriate. Id., at 1498.

The opinion’s discussion of overbreadth also effectively bars permanent injunctions in defamation cases, even if the court did not explicitly hold to that effect.

In most, if not all, defamation cases, any permanent injunction will have the same overbreadth defects.

Suppose, for example that the defendant defames a plaintiff by saying that the plaintiff employs slave labor, or cheats on his wife.

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A court cannot order the defendant to permanently refrain from calling the plaintiff an employer of slave labor, or accusing the plaintiff of cheating on his wife.

In the case at bar, the court wrote, “That the label was false when originally posted does not mean that … [plaintiff] ought to be given a free pass for all time.”

The court added, “Whether e360 is now a spammer is not a fact determined by the default judgment. The fact determined by the judgment is that e360 was not a spammer when Spamhaus so identified it on the date of the action giving rise to the complaint (emphases added by court).”

These statements will be equally true in most, if not all, defamation cases. The plaintiff may employ slave labor in the future, or start an affair in the future.

Thus, the court’s discussion of overbreadth effectively accomplishes the same result as if the court had held outright that the First Amendment bars permanent injunctions in defamation cases.

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David Ziemer can be reached by email.

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