November 19, 2018

Writ of Mandamus

Writ of Mandamus
2018 NY Slip Op 07694, Court of Appeals

In this action the Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division's dismissing the Plaintiffs' petition seeking a writ of mandamus to compel the New York City Police Department and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to enforce certain laws.

The court explained that a writ of mandamus "is an extraordinary remedy 'that is available only in limited circumstances,'" citing Matter of County of Chemung v Shah, 28 NY3d 244. Mandamus, said the Court of Appeals, is available as a remedy "only to enforce a clear legal right where the public official has failed to perform a duty enjoined by law."

Further, although mandamus to compel "is an appropriate remedy to enforce the performance of a ministerial duty, it is well settled that it will not be awarded to compel an act in respect to which [a public] officer may exercise judgment or discretion," as the court held in Matter of Gimprich v Board of Educ. of City of N.Y., 306 NY 401.

As to what constitutes a "discretionary acts" such acts involve the exercise of reasoned judgment which could typically produce different acceptable results in contrast to ministerial acts involving "direct adherence to a governing rule or standard with a compulsory result." Indeed, mandamus may only be used to compel a public officer to execute a legal duty; it may not "direct how [the officer] shall perform that duty," as was noted in People ex rel. Schau v McWilliams, 185 NY 92.

In this action the enforcement of the laws cited by the Plaintiffs would involve some exercise of discretion. Additionally, Plaintiffs did not seek to compel the performance of ministerial duties but, rather, seek to compel a particular outcome. Thus, concluded the Court of Appeals, "mandamus is not the appropriate vehicle for the relief sought."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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