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Mandamus is a judicial remedy in the form of an order from a superior court, to any government subordinate court, corporation, or public authority—to do (or forbear from doing) some specific act which that body is obliged under law to do (or refrain from doing)—and which is in the nature of public duty, and in certain cases one of a statutory duty. It cannot be issued to compel an authority to do something against statutory provision. For example, it cannot be used to force a lower court to reject or authorize applications that have been made, but if the court refuses to rule one way or the other then a mandamus can be used to order the court to rule on the applications.
Mandamus may be a command to do an administrative action or not to take a particular action, and it is supplemented by legal rights. In the American legal system it must be a judicially enforceable and legally protected right before one suffering a grievance can ask for a mandamus. A person can be said to be aggrieved only when he is denied a legal right by someone who has a legal duty to do something and abstains from doing it.
The applicant pleading for the writ of mandamus to be enforced should be able to show that he or she has a legal right to compel the respondent to do or refrain from doing the specific act. The duty sought to be enforced must have two qualities: It must be a duty of public nature and the duty must be imperative and should not be discretionary. Furthermore, mandamus will typically not be granted if adequate relief can be obtained by some other means, such as appeal.
The purpose of mandamus is to remedy defects of justice. It lies in the cases where there is a specific right but no specific legal remedy for enforcing that right. Generally, it is not available in anticipation of any injury except when the petitioner is likely to be affected by an official act in contravention of a statutory duty or where an illegal or unconstitutional order is made. The grant of mandamus is therefore an equitable remedy; a matter for the discretion of the court, the exercise of which is governed by well-settled principles.
Mandamus, being a discretionary remedy, the application for that must be made in good faith and not for indirect purposes. Acquiescence cannot, however, bar the issue of mandamus. The petitioner must, of course, satisfy the Court that he has the legal right to the performance of the legal duty as distinct from mere discretion of authority. A mandamus is normally issued when an officer or an authority by compulsion of statute is required to perform a duty and that duty, despite demand in writing, has not been performed. In no other case will a writ of mandamus issue unless it be to quash an illegal order.
There are three kinds of mandamus:
This definition is not entirely correct as a "Peremptory Writ" or "Peremptory Mandamus" is also called "Writ on the First Instance." The writ may be issued based on a petition, without a hearing or response from the adversely affected party (often the Respondent). An "Alternative Writ" or "Alternative Mandamus" usually requires a hearing because a Writ on the First Instance was not issued, making the Alternative Writ not the first application of relief in the event of a prejudicial error.
In England and Wales, mandamus was originally known as a writ of mandamus and more recently as an order of mandamus. This procedure was renamed by the Civil Procedure (Modification of Supreme Court Act 1981) Order 2004 to become a mandatory order.
In India, the sine qua non for mandamus is the existence of a statutory public duty incumbent upon the person or body against whom the mandamus is sought. There must equally co-exist a corresponding right in the petitioner entitling him to claim the enforcement of such public duty. These two preconditions form the foundation for the issue of mandamus. The primary scope and function of mandamus is to "command" and "execute" rather than to "enquire" and "adjudicate". It cannot be issued to change the decision of a body so as to suit the petitioner. Obligations which are not of statutory nature cannot be enforced by mandamus. The writ petition is not maintainable when a remedy provided for under the Code of Civil Procedure is available. For example, the High Court cannot entertain writ petitions for mandamus to the Government who fails to deposit and pay in the requisite time an enhanced compensation account as ordered by a lower Court. The petitioners in this case would be directed to approach the executing Court for appropriate relief.
Only the Supreme Court and High Courts are empowered to exercise Writ Jurisdiction, under Art. 32 and 226 of Constitution. No other courts are empowered to issue writ.
In the administrative law context in the United States, the requirement that mandamus can be used only to compel a ministerial act has largely been abandoned. By statute or by judicial expansion of the writ of mandamus in most of the U.S. states, acts of administrative agencies are now subject to judicial review for abuse of discretion. Judicial review of agencies of the United States federal government, for abuse of discretion, is authorized by the U.S. Administrative Procedures Act.
In modern practice, the Court has effectively abolished the issuance of writs of mandamus, although it theoretically retains the power to issue them. The authority of the United States district courts to issue mandamus has been expressly abrogated by Rule 81(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but relief in the nature of mandamus can be had by other remedies provided for in the Rules, where provided by statute, or by use of the District Court's equitable powers.
In the context of mandamus from a United States Court of Appeals to a United States District Court, the Supreme Court has ruled that the appellate courts have discretion to issue mandamus to control an abuse of discretion by the lower court in unusual circumstances, where there is a compelling reason not to wait for an appeal from a final judgment. This discretion is exercised very sparingly. It is exercised with somewhat greater frequency, although still sparingly, in the context of discovery disputes involving privileged materials, since a district court order erroneously forcing the disclosure of privileged material may never be remediable through a later appeal. Recently, in In Re Electronic Privacy Information Center, privacy advocates sought a writ of mandamus directly from the Supreme Court to halt the National Security Agency's bulk phone record collection program. The Supreme Court denied the petition.
In some state court systems, mandamus has evolved into a general procedure for discretionary appeals from non-final trial court decisions. In some U.S. states, such as California, the writ is now called mandate instead of mandamus, and may be issued by any level of the state court system to any lower court or to any government official. It is still common for Californians to bring "taxpayer actions" against public officials for wasting public funds through mismanagement of a government agency, where the relief sought is a writ of mandate compelling the official to stop wasting money and fulfill his duty to protect the public fisc. The writ of mandate is also used in California for interlocutory appeals. In this context, the party seeking the writ is treated on appeal like a plaintiff, the trial court becomes the defendant, and the opponent is designated as the "real party in interest."
Other states, including New York, have replaced mandamus (as well as the other prerogative writs) with statutory procedures. In New York, this is known as an Article 78 review after the civil procedure law provision that created the relevant procedure. In still other states, such as Illinois, the state court of last resort has original jurisdiction in mandamus actions.
In North Carolina State courts, mandamus is authorized as one of the Extraordinary Writs, under Rule 22 of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure. The writ of mandamus may be issued in instances where, for instance, the lower court fails to timely issue a written order after rendition (thus precluding both the possibility of an appeal or enforcement of the rendition and leaving the litigants in limbo). The North Carolina Court of Appeals has spoken on the possible course of action in such situations, and confirmed that petitioning for a writ of mandamus is the only available route. McKyer v. McKyer, 202 N.C.App. 771 at *4 (2010) (unpublished) In McKyer, the lawyer who was unable to persuade the trial court judge to enter an order for about a year, tried to remedy the problem by asking the trial court judge to hold another hearing. Disapproving of the attempted resolution via a new hearing, the Court of Appeals, citing to the Supreme Court case In re T.H.T. 362 N.C. 446, 665 S.E.2d 54 (2008) explained that a party seeking recourse where the trial court has not entered its orders timely should petition for writ of mandamus. Similarly, the writ may issue where the trial court fails or refuses to timely dispose with the litigants' business (for instance, if the judge refuses to hear a case). In North Carolina, as elsewhere, the writ is an action against the official, meaning that the petition must be styled "In RE Public Figure X" or "In RE Judge Y." Thus, the a mandamus petition not only brings the strife of optically making the officer or judge the defendant, but also in theory requires the official / judge to respond "within ten days" "with supporting affidavits." Curiously, Rule 22(c) provides that "any party" may respond to the petition for writ. The North Carolina Court of Appeals has interpreted this to mean that where, for instance, one litigant demands that the judge enter a previously rendered order, the other litigant in the same case is free to respond instead if (or in addition to) the judge that presides over both of the litigants.