At common law, courts of equity were without authority or jurisdiction to enjoin criminal acts. The exercise of equity jurisprudence in nuisance cases is an exception to the very general rule. Two types of remedies are provided under common law for a nuisance. They are damages and injunction to restrain the continuance of the wrong. The fact that the legislature has made a specific conduct a crime does not affect equity jurisdiction.
Equity jurisdiction has expanded to allow the issuance of an injunction where there are other appropriate circumstances besides injury to a specific property right. In such situations, equity acts will not enforce the criminal law, but provides protection from irreparable harm, by way of injunction[i].
The jurisdiction in courts of equity to restrain public nuisances is limited to restrain:
- wrongful encroachment of public highways or navigation;
- threatened nuisances dangerous to the health of a community; or
- ultra vires acts of corporations injurious to public right[ii].
The court in a particular case issued an injunction against respondent’s railroad strike activities when the activities interfered with interstate commerce and obstructed the mail. The court issued an injunction against those activities without declaring that the act amounted to nuisance. The court discussed that “if the actual or threatened tortious acts complained of interfere with property or rights of a pecuniary nature, equity will intervene, even though the tortious acts also constitute criminal offenses. Equity will intervene to enjoin the actual or threatened interference with property rights or rights of a pecuniary nature where the tortious acts complained of, though not criminal in their nature, constitute a legal wrong”[iii].
However, the power of equity to grant injunctive relief must be exercised only under demanding circumstances[iv]. Restraining the action of an individual or a corporation by injunction is an extraordinary power. The power is to be exercised with caution. The power should be exercised with the most satisfactory reasons[v].
For example, the mere depreciation of land values by the subjective apprehensions of neighboring property owners and their potential buyers, cannot sustain an injunction sought on the ground of a nuisance[vi].
Injunctions can be issued on behalf of the federal government when the conduct in question is creating a widespread public nuisance. An injunction can be issued to prohibit illegal gambling businesses[vii]. The enforcement of this power is an exercise of federal rather than state authority. The laws of states can be adopted for areas within federal jurisdiction. “Persons guilty of acts which are not punishable under federal law, but which would be punishable under the jurisdiction of the state in which certain federal sites are located, are guilty of the offenses described in the state law”[viii].
Injury is a prerequisite to the issuance of injunctive relief. A suit will not lie at the instance of the state to restrain a public nuisance unless the nuisance sought to be abated is one touching civil property rights, privileges of the public, or affecting the public health. A court of equity will restrain a nuisance when it appears that the complainant will sustain irreparable injury or be compelled to resort to a multiplicity of actions to recover damages for a continued existence thereof[ix].
Additionally, to be entitled to equitable relief against a nuisance, the plaintiff must have no other adequate remedy at law. The mere existence of a remedy at law does not preclude resort to equity to abate a nuisance. The legal remedy must be adequate to redress the particular injury complained of. A court of equity will not exercise its extraordinary powers of injunction when the remedy at law is adequate[x].
A mandatory injunction is a proper remedy for an adjoining landowner to seek for the purpose of compelling the removal of an encroachment. The extraordinary nature of the remedy by injunction calls for a particular application of equity. It is the duty of the court to consider and weigh the relative conveniences and comparative injuries to the parties which would result from the granting or refusal of injunctive relief. An injunction is not granted in a case where it will necessarily operate contrary to justice[xi].
In a proper nuisance case, the court must compare the injury with the result of interference by injunction. The measure of loss to one party and the advantage to the other from granting or refusing injunctive relief will be considered in determining the equitable relief that will be granted. The “comparative injury doctrine” is applied for balancing equity principles.
The doctrine is as follows:
“Injunctions are never granted when they are against good conscience, or productive of hardship, oppression, injustice, or public or private mischief, and it may be said to be the duty of the court whose jurisdiction is invoked to secure injunctive relief, when considering the application, to consider and weigh the relative convenience and inconvenience and the comparative injuries to the parties and to the public which would result from the granting or refusal of the injunction sought.”
A court of equity has jurisdiction to grant relief against public or private nuisances by compelling their abatement or preventing their creation. It is within the discretion of the court to determine the form and extent of the relief to abate nuisance.
A decree abating or enjoining a nuisance can have no effect on the owner of the property on which the nuisance was maintained, where the owner was not served with process or was not made a party to the proceedings. A decree for an injunction to prevent a nuisance obtained by one citizen of a county is a bar to a suit for the same purpose brought by another citizen of the same county against the same defendant, in the absence of a ground showing why such a first decree remains unenforced. However, when the circumstances change, a denial of injunctive relief will not operate as res judicata.
[i] Kleinjans v. Lombardi, 52 Haw. 427, 430 (Haw. 1970).
[ii] State v. Vaughan, 81 Ark. 117, 124 (Ark. 1906).
[iii] Auto Rental Co. v. Lee, 35 Haw. 77, 93 (Haw. 1939).
[iv] Leo Foundation v. Cabelus, 151 Conn. 655, 657 (Conn. 1964).
[v] Goodwin v. New York, N. H. & H. R. Co., 43 Conn. 494, 500 (Conn. 1876).
[vi] Cawley v. Housing Authority of New Haven, 146 Conn. 543, 547 (Conn. 1959).
[vii] 18 USCS § 1955.
[viii] 18 USCS § 13.
[ix] Esson v. Wattier, 25 Ore. 7, 10 (Or. 1893).
[x] Olpp v. Hocking V. Ry., 31 Ohio Dec. 453, 459 (Ohio C.P. 1920).
[xi] Koseris v. J. R. Simplot Co., 82 Idaho 263, 269 (Idaho 1960).