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A public record can be corrected or a vehicle titled by petitioning for a writ of mandamus. Mandamus (Latin for "we command") is a writ issued by a court commanding a public official to perform an action. Mandamus is available as a remedy either to review administrative decisions when the legislature has not provided for judicial review or to compel public officials to perform a function they have a duty to perform. Mandamus is often described as an "extraordinary" writ and will not be issued unless there is no other legal remedy available.
The courts have stated that review of administrative decisions is an inherent power of the court and mandamus is available to review agency decisions when no review process has been provided by the legislature, or even when the legislature has tried to eliminate judicial review. Maryland calls this function of mandamus, "administrative mandamus."
Read the Rules: Md. Rules 7-401 to 7-403
The other function of mandamus is known as "conventional mandamus." Conventional mandamus is used to correct public records or to title a vehicle. Conventional writs of mandamus command public officials to perform a ministerial function. Ministerial functions are duties the public official must perform. If the public official has any discretion, or freedom to choose, over whether to act or not, the action is not ministerial, and conventional mandamus is not available. When filing a conventional mandamus action, you assert that all the requirements for an action have been met and the official has no choice but to take the required action. Conventional mandamus is not available if there is any other administrative process that a person may pursue for review.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 15-701
Whether an action should follow the rules of administrative mandamus or conventional mandamus is sometimes confusing because both types most often concern the decisions of administrative agencies. This page describes an action for conventional mandamus, which is appropriate when correcting a public record or getting a license or permit issued.
Filing an action for a writ of conventional mandamus
Circuit courts have jurisdiction in an action for mandamus. To begin an action for a writ of mandamus, a person needs to file a complaint conforming to the form for a pleading described in Md. Rules 2-303 through 2-305. The Circuit Court Clerk will collect a fee at the time of filing. The complaint must be filed within a reasonable time after the public official has failed to do the action the person wants done. The plaintiff, or person suing, should name the public official in his or her official capacity as the defendant, or person being sued.
A complaint seeking a writ of mandamus will look much like any other civil complaint, including numbered paragraphs with a simple statement of facts showing the plaintiff's right to the action sought. The complaint should end with a statement of what the plaintiff wants the court to do. In an action for a writ of mandamus, the plaintiff may ask for specific damages in addition to the court order, but the plaintiff may not make a claim for additional general relief that the court may find the plaintiff is entitled.
Titling a vehicle
As an example, someone who wishes to title a vehicle must file a petition for a writ of mandamus in Circuit Court stating how he or she came into possession of the vehicle and asking the court to issue a writ of mandamus commanding the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) to issue a title. The petition would name the MVA as the defendant.
The Circuit Courts do not provide forms for filing a complaint. (Click here to read more about filing a complaint on this site.) There are a number of books that have sample forms in them showing the format of a civil complaint in general and specific sample complaints in an action for a writ of mandamus. You may wish to contact your local law library for assistance in locating these samples. Note that any potential litigant who is not clear on what to do or how to draft the complaint should consult an attorney. Law librarians and Circuit Court Clerks cannot give legal advice. A Clerk will not review a complaint and acceptance by a Clerk does not mean that the complaint meets all of the requirements of the law.
Like in any other civil proceeding, the defendant then has 30 days to respond with either a preliminary motion or an answer. The answer shall fully and specifically list all defenses that the defendant intends to claim.
If the official fails to respond to the complaint, the Court will, on motion, hear the complaint ex parte, or without the defendant present. On request from either party, an action for a writ of mandamus will be tried before a jury. The rules of discovery and evidence that apply in regular civil proceedings also apply in an action for a writ of mandamus. If your case goes to trial you should understand that representing yourself at trial may be difficult, and you are encouraged to seek the help of an attorney. Peoples Law Library maintains a list of organizations that may provide free and reduced cost legal services.
Rule 15-701(e) describes the requirements of a writ of mandamus. The writ must command the public official to perform the action immediately, unless the court gives the official additional time to complete the action. When the action is complete, the official must file a certificate stating the acts commanded by the writ have been done.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 15-701(e)
What to Do Next
The court order and an application for title must be submitted to the MVA. The Administration will refuse to issue a title if the order does not clearly command the Administration to issue a title, if there is a lien on the vehicle, if the vehicle is not fully identified, a salvage certificate has been previously issued in this State or another state, or a salvage certificate had been previously issued containing the brand "Not Rebuildable-----Parts Only-----Not To Be Retitled."
Read the Regulation: COMAR § 126.96.36.199