CITES BY TOPIC:  mandamus

Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition, p. 961:

Mandamus. Lat. We command.  This is the name of a writ (formerly a high prerogative writ) which issues from a court of superior jurisdiction, and is directed to a private or municipal corporation, or any of its officers, or to an executive, administrative or judicial officer, or to an inferior court, commanding the performance of a particular act therein specified, and belonging to his or their public, official, or ministerial duty, or directing the restoration of the complainant to rights or privileges of which he has been illegally deprived.  A writ issuing from a court of competent jurisdiction, commanding an inferior tribunal, board, corporation, or person to perform a purely ministerial duty imposed by law.  Nebel v. Nebel, 241 N.C. 491, 85 S.E.2d 876, 882.  Extraordinary writ which lies to compel performance of ministerial act or mandatory duty where there is a clear legal right in plaintiff , a corresponding duty in defendant, and a want of any other appropriate and adequate remedy.  Cohen v. Ford, 19 Pa.Cmwlth. 417, 339 A.2d 175, 177.  See also Ministerial act.

The U.S. District Courts have original jurisdiction of any action in the nature of mandamus to compel an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof to perform a duty owed to the plaintiff.  28 U.S.C.A. 1361.

Mandamus has traditionally issued in response to abuses of judicial power.  Thus, where a district judge refused to take some action he is required to take or takes some action he is not empowered to take, mandamus will lie.  Bankers Life & Cas. Co. v. Holland, 346 U.S. 379, 384, 74 S.Ct. 145, 98 L.Ed. 106.  The Supreme Court may issue a writ of mandamus in aid of the appellate jurisdiction that might otherwise be defeated by the unauthorized action of the court below.  McClellan v. Carland, 217 U.S> 268, 30 S.Ct. 501, 503, 54 L.ed. 762.

The remedy of mandamus is a drastic one, to be invoked only in extraordinary situations.  Banker's Life & Cas. Co. v. Holland, 346 U.S. 379, 382-385, 74 S.Ct. 145, 147-149, 98 L.Ed. 106; Ex party Fahey, 332 U.S. 258, 259, 67 S.Ct. 1558, 1559, 91 L.Ed. 2041.  The writ has traditionally been used in the federal courts only "to confine an inferior court to a lawful exercise of its prescribed jurisdiction or to compel it to exercise its authority when it is its duty to do so."  Will v. United States, 389 U.S., at 95, 88 S.Ct., at 273, quoting Roche v. Evaporated Milk Assn., 319 U.S. 21, 26, 63 S.Ct. 938, 941, 87 L.Ed. 1185.

Pleading.  Like most of the extraordinary writs, the writ of mandamus had been abolished under rules of practice in favor of a complaint or motion in the name of mandamus which accomplishes the same object; e.g. Federal or Mass.R.Civ.P. 81(b).

[Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition, p. 961]


U.S. Attorney Manual, Title 4, Civil Resource Manual: 215 Mandamus

Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, which should only be used in exceptional circumstances of peculiar emergency or public importance. LaBuy v. Howes Leather Co., 352 U.S. 249 (1957); United States v. McGarr, 461 F.2d 1 (7th Cir. 1972). The All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. 1651(a), confers the power of mandamus on federal appellate courts. LaBuy v. Howes Leather Co., supra. Mandamus may be appropriately issued to confine an inferior court to a lawful exercise of prescribed jurisdiction, or when there is an usurpation of judicial power. See Schlagenhauf v. Holder, 379 U.S. 104 (1964). Mandamus may be employed to require a lower court to enforce the judgment of an appellate court, or to keep such a court from interposing unauthorized obstructions to the enforcement of the judgment of a higher court. See United States v. District Court, 334 U.S. 258, 263 (1948) (to enforce obedience to court of appeals mandate). Where the right was clear and indisputable, mandamus issued to compel a lower court to release a boat under an assertion of the immunity of a foreign sovereign. Spacil v. Crowe, 489 F.2d 614 (5th Cir. 1974). It has been utilized to compel the issuance of a bench warrant. Ex parte United States, 287 U.S. 241, 248 (1932).

The district courts have no jurisdiction of a suit seeking mandamus against the United States. United States v. Jones, 131 U.S. 1 (1889); Minnesota v. United States, 305 U.S. 382 (1939); McCune v. United States, 374 F. Supp. 946 (S.D.N.Y. 1974). 28 U.S.C. 1361, giving the United States district court jurisdiction of "an action in the nature of mandamus to compel an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof to perform a duty owed to the plaintiff," speaks only of compelling an officer or employee. The committee reports accompanying this enactment make clear that the legislation did not create new liabilities or new causes of action against the United States. See S.Rep. No. 1992, 87th Cong., 2d Sess. 2; H.Rep. No. 536, 87th Cong., 2d Sess. 1.

Courts have no authority to grant relief in the nature of mandamus if the plaintiff has an adequate legal remedy aside from mandamus, such as a suit for monetary judgment or the opportunity to raise the legal issues involved in a suit brought by the government. United States ex rel. Girard Trust Co. v. Helvering, 301 U.S. 540, 544 (1937); Spielman Motor Co. v. Dodge, 295 U.S. 89 (1935); Whittier v. Emmet, 281 F.2d 24, 28-29 (D.C. Cir. 1960); Nixon v. Sirica, 487 F.2d 700 (D.C. Cir. 1973); Lovallo v. Froehlke, 468 F.2d 340 (2d Cir. 1972), cert. denied, 411 U.S. 918 (1973). Mandamus is not available, if a statutory method of review is authorized. Wellens v. Dillon, 302 F.2d 442 (9th Cir.), app. dism., 371 U.S. 90 (1962). Mandamus does not supersede other remedies; it only comes into play when there is a want of such remedies. See Carter v. Seamans, 411 F.2d 767 (5th Cir. 1969), cert. denied, 397 U.S. 941 (1970).

The power of a district court to compel official action by mandatory order is limited to the enforcement of nondiscretionary, plainly defined, and purely ministerial duties. See Decatur v. Paulding, 39 U.S. (1 Pet.) 496, 514-17 (1840); Work v. Rives, 267 U.S. 175, 177 (1925); Wilbur v. United States, 281 U.S. 206, 218 (1930). An official action is not ministerial unless "the duty in a particular situation is so plainly prescribed as to be free from doubt and equivalent to a positive command." Wilbur v. United States, supra; See United States ex rel. McLennan v. Wilbur, 283 U.S. 414, 420 (1931); ICC v. New York, N.H. & H.R. Co., 287 U.S. 178, 204 (1932); United States ex rel. Girard Trust Co. v. Helvering, supra; Will v. United States, 389 U.S. 90 (1967); Donnelly v. Parker, 486 F.2d 402 (D.C. Cir. 1973). "But where there is discretion . . . even though its conclusion be disputable, it is impregnable to mandamus." United States ex rel. Alaska Smokeless Coal Co. v. Lane, 250 U.S. 549, 555 (1919).

[U.S. Attorney Manual, Title 4, Civil Resource Manual: 215 Mandamus]