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Writs of Mandamus: Introduction

Introduction

How would you …  

   require a town to schedule a special election?

   compel a county attorney to turn over records?

   direct an administrative agency to enforce statutes?

   order the Governor and Council to immediately appoint a Commissioner?

   require a planning board to vote on a warrant article?

   compel the commissioners of a village district to adjust owners' water rates?

   order a District Court to provide court-appointed counsel to a defendant?

   require a Superior Court to turn over information and evidence?

   require the Secretary of State to place a question on a state election ballot?

   require the President of the NH Senate to act as Governor during the Governor's illness?

The defendants are from different levels and branches of government. The plaintiffs are private citizens or government entities or corporations. The actions being requested are different. But all these cases have at least one thing in common:  somewhere along the line a plaintiff filed a petition for a writ of mandamus and asked a New Hampshire court to require/compel/direct/order the defendants to do something. Very few of those petitions succeeded, but this ancient common law writ that came to us from England, now written into statutes, is still alive and well in New Hampshire. 

“Mandamus” is a Latin word which means “we command.”  The writ of mandamus is one of four "extraordinary" writs used in New Hampshire. The writs are called "extraordinary" because the courts only issue them when exercising "unusual or discretionary" power to grant special, or extraordinary, remedies or relief. A writ of mandamus is filed in court to compel action which is required by law and there are no other adequate alternatives for relief.  (It's more complicated than that, of course, so we suggest that you read Chapter 38, Part C of Wiebusch on Civil Practice and Procedure which gives excellent, detailed information about the writ of mandamus in New Hampshire and includes references to many New Hampshire cases.)  The N.H Supreme Court and the N.H. Superior Courts have statutory authority (RSA 490:4 and RSA 491:7) to issue writs of mandamus when appropriate and there are court rules that prescribe how the writs are brought.  

Disclaimer

Please remember that this guide is for information purposes only and is not comprehensive. It is intended as a starting point for research, to illustrate the various sources of the law, and to provide guidance in their use. NH Law About ...  is not a substitute for the services of an attorney.