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What is a Writ of Mandate?

Charity Delich
Charity Delich

A writ of mandate is a court order handed down by a higher court for the purpose of compelling a lower court, a public authority, or a government agency to do something. Alternatively, the writ may require the court, authority, or agency to refrain from doing something. Essentially, the party requesting the writ is arguing that the other party has a legal duty to perform in a certain way but is not doing it. As a result, the requesting party has been denied a legal right. A writ of mandate is also called a petition for a writ of mandamus.

The party requesting a writ of mandate is typically referred to as the applicant, and the other party is the respondent. As a general rule, the applicant needs to demonstrate that he or she has a legal right to order the respondent to do – or to abstain from – a certain action. This usually requires a showing that the duty is public. In addition, the applicant commonly needs to prove that the duty is mandatory, as opposed to discretionary.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

For example, suppose that a respondent files a writ of mandate asking a court to require the Anywhere Board of Public Education to adhere to a law that specifically details how the Board must allocate funds provided to the school by the city of Anywhere. The respondent would probably have a valid case because the duty at stake, the allocation of city funds, is a public duty. Additionally, the duty is mandatory because the law specifies exactly how city funds must be applied by the Board.

Suppose, however, that the law at issue in this case states that the Anywhere Board of Public Education can use city funds "as it sees fit." In this scenario, the respondent’s claim would likely be rejected. Since the law does not specify how the funds must be used, it is discretionary. Writs of mandate are not issued in discretionary cases.

A writ of mandate can be classified as an alternative, peremptory, or continuing mandamus. An alternative mandamus gives the respondent two options. He can either perform the act complained of, or he can appear in court to defend himself.

A peremptory mandamus, on the other hand, is handed down when the respondent fails to comply with an alternative mandamus. Peremptory writs can also be issued if a respondent is unable to show sufficient cause for not performing the demanded action. A continuing writ of mandate demands a lower public authority to carry out an act in an efficient manner and for an unspecified time period in order to prevent the miscarriage of justice.

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