¶ 1 Plaintiffs brought this interlocutory appeal challenging the district court's denial of their motion for a preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs assert that the district court applied an improper standard for determining "irreparable harm." We agree and reverse and remand for application of the correct standard.
¶ 2 The plaintiffs in this case (collectively, "the Hunsakers") own land in Washington County, Utah. Defendants Robert D. and Lucille H. Kersh own property in the same vicinity. There are two ponds on the Kershes' property. Traditionally, the Hunsakers have received water via irrigation canals running from the Kershes' ponds. Recently, a number of disputes have arisen concerning the water rights in the ponds. The Kershes assert that they own the ponds without any restriction, and the Hunsakers claim that the Kershes own only a small percentage of the water that collects in the ponds.
¶ 3 Apparently, the precipitating incident in the current dispute involves a pipe installed on the Kershes' property in 1996 to transport water from the ponds to the Hunsakers' property. The Kershes objected to the manner in which the pipe was installed and also objected to the Hunsakers' practice of occasionally draining the ponds entirely, which killed fish the Kershes had placed in them. In January of 1999, the Kershes cut and capped off the pipe. The Hunsakers filed suit, seeking a declaratory judgment as to asserted easements and rights of access to the ponds on the Kershes' property. The Hunsakers also sought injunctive relief to restrain the Kershes from further interfering with the pipe and the flow of water to the Hunsakers' land. The Hunsakers alleged that ongoing and continuing damage to crops, fruit trees, and shade trees would result if the court did not grant the injunction.
¶ 4 On March 5, 1999, the district court conducted a hearing on the Hunsakers' motion for a preliminary injunction. The court commenced the hearing by announcing the following to the parties:
The Hunsakers asserted that a potential loss of crops and trees—with attendant permanent damage to relations with regular customers who purchased the crops—could result from any ongoing and continuing loss of water. The court replied:
¶ 5 On the basis of this reasoning, the court entered an order denying the preliminary injunction, holding:
The court also refused to hear any evidence regarding the merits of the Hunsakers' application, even though the Hunsakers affirmed that they were prepared to offer evidence and call witnesses. The Hunsakers petitioned for interlocutory appeal, arguing that
¶ 6 A preliminary injunction is an equitable remedy. Where a court's ruling on a motion for an injunction is based on its consideration of the evidence presented in light of relevant legal factors, the grant or denial of injunctive relief rests within the discretion of the trial court. See Kasco Servs. Corp. v. Benson, 831 P.2d 86, 90 (Utah 1992); System Concepts, Inc. v. Dixon, 669 P.2d 421, 425 (Utah 1983). The court's construction of an applicable legal standard, however, is reviewed for correctness; we afford no deference to the court's interpretations of law. See Jensen v. IPA, 977 P.2d 474, 477 (Utah 1999).
¶ 7 Rule 65A(e) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the elements an applicant for preliminary injunction must satisfy in most cases:
Utah R. Civ. P. 65A(e) (1999); see also Water & Energy Sys. Tech. Inc. v. Keil, 974 P.2d 821, 822 (Utah 1999). The district court concluded that damage to crops and trees was not a type of injury constituting "irreparable harm," because a dollar value could eventually be assigned to the loss. On this basis alone, the court rejected the Hunsakers' application. The Hunsakers argue that the district court misconstrued the legal definition of "irreparable harm." We agree.
¶ 8 The reasoning of the court, as expressed in its order and in its comments during the preliminary injunction hearing, assumed, as a matter of law, that any damages quantifiable in money are not the type of damages against which a party can procure a preliminary injunction. This approach, however, misapprehends the purpose and the nature of injunctions. Injunctive relief is not purely limited to cases where no other possible remedy will be available. Its broader purpose is preventive in nature. See 43 C.J.S. Injunctions § 5 (1978); 42 Am. Jur.2d Injunctions §§ 2, 4, 13 (1969). A preliminary injunction is "`an anticipatory remedy purposed to prevent the perpetration of a threatened wrong or to compel the cessation of a continuing one.'" Dixon, 669 P.2d at 428 (quoting Anderson v. Granite Sch. Dist., 17 Utah.2d 405, 407, 413 P.2d 597, 599 (1966)). It further serves to "preserve the status quo pending the outcome of the case." Tri-State Generation & Transmission Ass'n v. Shoshone River Power, Inc., 805 F.2d 351, 355 (10th Cir.1986).
¶ 9 Consequently, the "irreparable harm" justifying a preliminary injunction includes "`[w]rongs of a repeated and continuing character, or which occasion damages that are estimated only by conjecture, and not by any accurate standard.... "Irreparable injury" justifying an injunction is that which cannot be adequately compensated in damages or for which damages cannot be compensable in money.'" Dixon, 669 P.2d at 427-28 (emphasis added) (citing Black's Law Dictionary 707 (rev. 5th ed.1979)). It is evident from a plain reading of this definition that the trial court's analysis failed to recognize the full scope and nature of "irreparable harm." Where Dixon refers to an injury "which cannot be adequately compensated in damages," it does not limit injunctive relief to those harms which could never be assigned a dollar value.
¶ 10 In the few reported Utah cases dealing with the specific subject of interference
¶ 11 While it has not yet been determined if the evidence regarding potential damage to trees or crops will actually satisfy the "irreparable harm" standard as properly applied,
¶ 12 Chief Justice HOWE, Associate Chief Justice DURHAM, Justice ZIMMERMAN, and Judge BENCH concur in Justice RUSSON's opinion.
¶ 13 Having disqualified himself, Justice STEWART does not participate herein; Court of Appeals Judge RUSSELL W. BENCH sat.