Topics on this page:
- Background information
- Types of Mandamus Actions
- Filing a Petition for Writ of Conventional Mandamus
- Court Ordered Vehicle Titling
Maryland’s Circuit Courts can order a state or local government agency to take certain actions. Mandamus (Latin for "we command") is a writ issued by a court commanding a public official to perform an action. There are two types of mandamus court actions: conventional mandamus and administrative mandamus.
Choosing between administrative mandamus or conventional mandamus is sometimes confusing. Both types most often concern the decisions of administrative agencies (for example, the Motor Vehicle Administration). Before filing a mandamus petition, you must exhaust any legal options for review of the government agency decision. A Petition for a Writ of Mandamus is complicated. You should consider hiring an attorney.
Mandamus is often described as an "extraordinary" writ and will not be issued unless there is no other legal remedy available. This page describes an action for conventional mandamus, which is appropriate when correcting a public record or getting a license or permit issued.
An Administrative Writ of Mandamus asks the court to review an administrative agency’s decision when there is no other process for review of that decision. Most administrative agency decisions provide for some type of appeal or judicial review. Do not file to request a mandamus if there is another way to appeal the agency decision. Learn more about Appealing an Administrative Agency Decision.
Read the Rules: Md. Rules 7-401 to 7-403
A Conventional Writ of Mandamus orders an agency to correct a public record. Public officials duties are ministerial or discretionary. A discretionary task allows the public official to choose whether to act or not. Conventional mandamus is not a remedy if the public official has discretion over a task. A ministerial task is proscribed by law and directs the public official to act. The court can only order an action that the agency official is required to do as part of their job.
Before filing a conventional mandamus action make sure:
- You have exhausted all of your administrative remedies and appeals
- The relief you are seeking is a ministerial task (such as correcting a public record)
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 15-701
Filing an Petition for Writ of Conventional Mandamus
Once you have determined that a conventional mandamus action is appropriate, you can begin your action by filing a Petition for Writ of Mandamus with the Circuit Court.
The Maryland Rules describe the procedure for filing a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus. An action for mandamus proceeds much like other civil cases, and other Circuit Court Rules of Procedure may apply.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 15-701
What to File?
There is not a form for filing a Petition for Writ of Mandamus. A petition seeking a writ of mandamus will look much like any other civil complaint, including numbered paragraphs with a simple statement of facts showing your right to the action sought. The petition should end with a statement of what you want the court to do.
Contents of the petition, the timeframe for filing, and the form of the petition are described in the Maryland Rules. You should consult the Rules when drafting your petition. You may want to visit a law library to locate a sample of a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus.
What Happens After You File?
The court may hold a hearing in front of a judge. If the agency official fails to respond to the complaint, the court will, on motion, hear the complaint ex parte (meaning without the defendant present). Be prepared to present evidence and explain why the court should agree with you. You are responsible for presenting the evidence necessary to prove your case. The rules of discovery and evidence that apply in regular civil proceedings also apply in an action for a writ of mandamus. Learn more about evidence.
You, or the other party, may request that the case be heard by a jury. 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. Learn more about preparing for court.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-8B-02
If the court does agree with you, the court will issue an order for the state or local agency to take a certain action. This order is the Writ of Mandamus. 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)
The main purpose of the court-ordered title is to establish ownership rights in a vehicle that is missing a title, or one that does not have a clear chain of ownership. Because you do not have an alternate legal option, and the action you are asking for is an action that a Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) official is required to do as part of their job, you can submit the request to the court through a Petition for Writ of Conventional Mandamus. Your petition would name the MVA as the defendant.
Through your petition, and evidence presented at your hearing or trial, you ask the court to rule that you are the rightful owner of the vehicle. To do so, you would need to provide evidence showing how you legally came into possession of the vehicle. Your petition should request that the court issue a writ of mandamus ordering the MVA to issue you a title.
If the court rules in your favor, the court’s order and an application for title must be submitted to the MVA. The MVA will refuse to issue a title if:
- the order does not clearly command that the MVA issue a title;
- there is a lien on the vehicle;
- 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 § 220.127.116.11