Mandamus Jurisdiction for Review of Administrative Decisions

Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, available only in extraordinary circumstances.[i] Mandamus is granted only if there is:[ii]

  • presence of a novel and significant question of law,
  • inadequacy of other available remedies,
  • presence of a legal issue whose resolution will aid in the administration of justice.

Pursuant to federal jurisdictional statute, the 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.[iii]

However, in Honicker v. Hendrie, 465 F. Supp. 414 (M.D. Tenn. 1979), the court held that nonstatutory review is available only in the absence of a specific statute authorizing review in a particular court.  If Congress has provided an adequate procedure to obtain judicial review of agency action, that statutory provision is the exclusive means of obtaining judicial review in those situations to which it applies.

In Williamson-Edwards v. Babbitt, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9241 (W.D. Mich. May 22, 1998), the court held that the existence of jurisdiction under a mandamus statute is inextricably bound with the merits of whether a writ of mandamus should issue.  For establishing either jurisdiction or entitlement to the writ, the courts find whether a duty is owed to the plaintiff.  For there to be a duty owed to the plaintiff, there should be a mandatory or ministerial obligation.  If the alleged duty is discretionary or directory, the duty is not owed.

A writ of mandamus is not an absolute right and is not favored except in extraordinary situations.  A Plaintiff has the burden of demonstrating that the right to the issuance of the writ is clear and indisputable.[iv] In Lloyd v. Agents for the IRS, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12814 (M.D.N.C. 1999), the court held that specifically, a petition for writ of mandamus may be invoked only where three elements co-exist:

  • the petitioner has shown a clear right to the relief sought,
  • the respondent has a clear duty to do the particular act requested by the petitioner, and
  • no other adequate remedy is available.

The judiciary cannot compel through a writ of mandamus a federal official to perform any function unless the official is clearly directed by law to perform such a duty.[v] Mandamus jurisdiction is present only when a clear, plainly defined, and peremptory duty on the federal defendant is shown and there is a lack of an adequate remedy other than mandamus.  Further, the peremptory duty should be either a ministerial one or an obligation to act within a specified range of discretion.[vi]

[i] Williamson-Edwards v. Babbitt, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9241 (W.D. Mich. May 22, 1998)

[ii] Aref v. United States, 452 F.3d 202 (2d Cir. N.Y. 2006)

[iii] 28 USCS § 1361

[iv] Lloyd v. Agents for the IRS, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12814 (M.D.N.C. 1999)

[v] Save the Dunes Council v. Alexander, 584 F.2d 158 (7th Cir. Ind. 1978)

[vi] id


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