writ of mandamus – issued to compel performance of a particular act by a lower court or a governmental officer or body, usually to correct a prior action or failure to act

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writ of mandamus:
n. [Latin “we command”] (16c)

1. A writ issued by a court to compel performance of a particular act by a lower court or a governmental officer or body, usually to correct a prior action or failure to act. — aka mandamusmandate; order.  Pl. mandamuses. – mandamus, vb. [1]

1. The process or writ which issues in a proceeding in mandamus where the plaintiff or petitioner is granted relief by way of mandamus. 35 Am J1st Mand § 380.
     See alternative writ of mandamus; peremptory writ of mandamus. [2]

1. See mandamus.

mandamus – Means “we command.”  A writ issuing from a court of competent jurisdiction, directed to an inferior court, board, or corporation, or to an officer of a branch of government (judicial, executive, or legislative), requiring the performance of some ministerial act.  A writ fo mandamus is an extraordinary remedy. [3]

    Excerpt from James L. High’s A Treatise on Extraordinary Legal Remedies:

     “The modern writ of mandamus may be defined as a command issuing from a common-law court of competent jurisdiction, in the name of the state or sovereign, directed to some corporation, officer, or inferior court, requiring the performance of a particular duty therein specified, which duty results from the official station of the party to whom the writ is directed, or from operation of law. in the specific relief which it affords, a mandamus operates much in the nature of a bill in Chancery for specific performance, the principal difference being that the latter remedy is resorted to for the redress of purely private wrongs, or the enforcement of contract rights, while the former generally has for its object the performance of obligations arising out of official station, or Specially imposed by law upon the respondent. The object of a mandamus is to prevent disorder from a failure of justice and a defect of police, and it should be granted in all cases where the law has established no specific remedy and where in justice there should be one. And the value of the matter in issue, or the degree of its importance to the public, should not be too scrupulously weighed… The writ of mandamus is of very ancient origin, so ancient indeed that its early history is involved in obscurity, and has been the cause of much curious research and of many conflicting opinions. it seems, originally, to have been one of that large class of writs or mandates, by which the sovereign of England directed the performance of any desired act by his subjects, the word ‘mandamus’ in such writs or letters missive having doubtless given rise to the present name of the writ.  These letters missive or mandates, to which the generic name mandamus was applied, were in no sense judicial writs, being merely commands issuing directly from the sovereign to the subject, without the intervention of the courts, and they have now become entirely obsolete. The term mandamus, derived from these letters missive, seems gradually to have been confined in its application to the judicial writ issued by the kings bench, which has by a steady growth developed into the present writ of mandamus. [4]

alternative mandamus(1809) A writ issued upon the first application for relief, commanding the defendant either to perform the act demanded or to appear before the court at a specified time to show cause for not performing it. [1]

(alternative writ of mandamus) – A writ, issued by the court in the beginning of a mandamus proceeding under older practice, which corresponds to a common-law declaration or to a complaint or petition in an ordinary action and usually deemed to be the first pleading in the case.

In it all the material facts on which the relator relies must be distinctly set forth, so that they may be admitted or traversed, and by the writ of defendant is called on to perform the particular act sought to be enforced, or, by a return, to deny the faccts alleged therein, or to state other matters sufficient to defeat the relator’s application. 35 Am J1st Mand § 348.

The more modern practice makes use of an order to show cause, permitting this to be in the alternative of performing the act sought to be commanded or showing cause why it should not be commanded. 35 Am J1st Mand § 347. [2]

alternative writ – A writ, issued by a court, that gives the party against whom it is directed the choice between performing a certain act or demonstrating why he should not have to perform it.  This writ has been replaced in modern practice by the order to show cause. [3]

peremptory mandamus (17c) An absolute and unqualified command to the defendant to do the act in question.  *  It is issued when the defendant defaults on, or fails to show sufficient cause in answer to, an alternative mandamus. [1]

1. Same as peremptory writ of mandamus.

peremptory writ of mandamus – A writ of mandamus requiring the party to do the thing absolutely, as distinguished from an alternative writ which requires him to do the thing, or show cause why he should not in his answer. 35 Am J1st Mand § 380. [2]

peremptory – 1. Allowing no opportunity for challenge or contradiction; absolute.  2. Imperious; autocratic. [3]


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[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black, Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-61300-4

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations Third Edition by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: James L. High, A Treatise on Extraordinary Legal Remedies § 2, at 5-6 (1884).


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