Actions Seeking Mandamus Relief in Colorado Under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2)
Mandamus relief is a type of relief sought where an individual or entity, most commonly one with governmental responsibilities, has a legal duty to perform a specific action but refuses to. Some time ago, where mandamus actions were successful a specific type of order called a writ of mandamus would be granted at the end of the lawsuit that commanded the entity or individual to perform the required action.
Presently, the specific writ of mandamus designation has since been abolished in Colorado along with any special pleading forms that used to be required for mandamus actions. Instead, Colorado operates under simplified pleading rules where mandamus relief may still be sought; however, it is sought in the form of a traditional lawsuit. More specifically, mandamus relief is still available in Colorado but is now plead as an action under Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure (“C.R.C.P.”) 106(a)(2).
In particular, C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2) provides that a district court may issue an order granting relief:
Where the relief sought is to compel a lower judicial body, governmental body, corporation, board, officer or person to perform an act which the law specially enjoins as a duty resulting from an office, trust, or station, or to compel the admission of a party to the use and enjoyment of a right or office to which he is entitled, and from which he is unlawfully precluded by such lower judicial body, governmental body, corporation, board, officer, or person. The judgment shall include any damages sustained.
That is, where a judicial body, governmental body, government officer, or other person who has a specific legal duty to perform an act fails to fulfill or perform that act, an aggrieved person may file a lawsuit under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2) to force the noncompliant party to perform it.
Notably, actions seeking mandamus relief under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2) frequently overlap with actions relating to decisions of quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative bodies, such as decisions by city councils and local governing bodies. Because it can be unclear as to what type of review is appropriate when local governments make decisions, review of those decisions are frequently sought under multiple, related theories of relief.
In particular, review of those decisions generally falls into three separate categories. Those three separate categories are:
– Requests for mandamus relief under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2), where a person or entity has a clear legal duty to act but fails to;
– Requests for review of a quasi-judicial decision under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(4), where a governmental body has applied facts to legal requirements and made a decision; and
– Requests for a declaratory judgment under C.R.C.P. 57 regarding a quasi-legislative decision, where a governmental body has passed or implemented broadly applicable laws or regulations.
Often, where a lawsuit is filed challenging a local governmental decision, relief is sought under all three categories with each category being plead as an alternative form of relief. See Peoples Natural Gas Div. v. Pub. Utils. Comm’n, 626 P.2d 159 (Colo. 1981) (indicating mandamus may lie for a quasi-judicial decision when action has been taken arbitrarily or the decision reflects a gross abuse of discretion).
While these three categories relate to one another, a critical distinction for mandamus actions under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2), relative to the other two categories, is that mandamus actions are more appropriate where the governmental body or officer does not have discretion to act but, instead, is required to act and fails to. If there is some amount of discretion involved, an action for review under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(4) or a declaratory judgment action under C.R.C.P. 57 is likely more appropriate.
What Qualifies for Mandamus Relief Under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2)
In order to qualify for mandamus relief under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2), the following three-part test must be satisfied before a court will grant the requested relief:
(1) The plaintiff must have a clear right to the relief sought;
(2) The defendant must have a clear duty to perform the act requested; and
(3) There must be no other available remedy.
See Gramiger v. Crowler, 660 P.2d 1279 (Colo. 1983). Accordingly, mandamus relief is applicable in extraordinary circumstances where it is clear a government official or government body is required to perform some specific act and refuses to do so.
Examples of circumstances where claims for mandamus under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2) have been granted include:
– A scenario where a county building inspector refused to issue an excavation and grading permit where the permit application was complete and complied with all necessary requirements. See Gramiger v. Crowley, 660 P.2d 1279 (Colo. 1983).
– A scenario where a chief of police failed to accept applications for a concealed weapon permit. Notably, because discretion is involved in actually approving an application for a concealed weapon permit, the court could not direct the chief of police which applications to approve. However, the court could command the chief of police to generally accept applications and make a decision on them. See Miller v. Collier, 878 P.2d 141 (Colo. App. 1994) (indicating mandamus may be appropriate where a chief of police failed to accept applications for concealed weapon permits).
– A scenario where a school board did not renew a teacher’s contract where the teacher had disciplined a student. Under state law the school board had a specific duty prohibiting it from refusing to renew a teacher’s contract if the refusal was based on the teacher’s good faith and code-complaint disciplinary actions. See McIntosh v. Bd. of Educ. of Sch. Dist. No. 1 , 999 P.2d 224 (Colo. App. 2000).
– A scenario where a parole board had a statutory duty to consider evidence relating to the period before an inmate’s incarceration but failed to. See Fraser v. Colorado Bd. of Parole, 931 P.2d 560 (Colo. App. 1996).
– A scenario where a school district had a statutory duty to provide evidence of majority approval from school administrators, teachers, and school accountability committees before adopting innovation plans that affected statutory, rule-based, and collective bargaining rights of school employees. See Denver Classroom Teachers Association v. City and County of Denver School District No. 1, 2015 COA 71 (Colo. App. 2015).
Considerations in Litigating a Mandamus Claim Under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2)
Generally, because mandamus actions under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2) must involve a clear duty, whether or not a duty exists will often end up requiring interpretation of any relevant laws or statutes that are alleged to give rise to that duty. Along these same lines, statutory interpretation is a question of law that courts review de novo meaning that no deference is given to a government official’s interpretation. That is, courts will make their own decision about how a statute should be read or construed. See Jefferson County Education Association v. Jefferson County School District R-1, 2016 COA 10, 378 P.3d 835, (Colo. App. 2016)
Additionally, mandamus is not appropriate where other remedies exist or are more appropriate routes for relief, such as quasi-judicial review under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(4) or where there are administrative review procedures in place. See Dept. of Rev. v. District Court, 802 P.2d 473 (Colo. 1990) (indicating mandamus relief was not appropriate where other routes of review for state agency actions were available under the State Administrative Procedures Act).
Further, mandamus relief actions are not appropriate for circumstances that seek to command an individual or organization how to exercise discretion that has otherwise been given to them. That is, a mandamus remedy is improper if the court must give instructions about the manner in which that discretion is to be exercised. However, where an individual or entity refuses to exercise that discretion altogether, such as by refusing to process applications, then a court may command that individual or entity to generally use that discretion. Peoples Natural Gas Div. v. Pub. Utils. Comm’n, 626 P.2d 159 (Colo. 1981).
Lastly, while actions seeking of review of quasi-judicial decisions under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(4) must be filed within 28-days of the decision, actions seeking mandamus relief under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2) do not have to comply with this requirement. See Fraser v. Colorado Bd. of Parole, 931 P.2d 560 (Colo. App. 1996). See also Denver Classroom Teachers Association v. City and County of Denver School District No. 1, 2015 COA 71 (Colo. App. 2015) (granting a mandamus action in relation to school district plan approvals that had taken place over the course of 2 years).
© 2017 J.D. Porter, LLC. Author: Jordan Porter. Denver, Colorado.