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California Appellate Court Reinstates Prisoner’s Mandamus Action Against CDCR

by Derek Gilna

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) prisoner Jared M. Villery filed three administrative grievances in 2014 concerning the failure of prison staff to properly discharge their duties. He alleged that staff failed to respond to his written grievances within the required time period, then petitioned for a writ of mandamus.

The CDCR filed objections to the mandamus action, and the state court sustained its objections and dismissed the case. Villery appealed, arguing that mandamus was the proper remedy to compel prison officials to perform their ministerial duties. The CDCR contended that a habeas corpus action was more appropriate, and that mandamus was inappropriate when another action was available.

The California Court of Appeal began its review of the lower court decision by noting that the “question whether a writ of mandate remains available when there is an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law [has not been] explicitly addressed by the Legislature. In other words, ‘the statute does not expressly forbid the issuance of the writ if another adequate remedy exists.’”

While the state Supreme Court “has addressed the Legislature’s silence on this aspect of mandamus relief by adopting the ‘general rule that the writ will not ... issue[] if another such remedy [is] available to the petitioner,’“ nevertheless, “[g]enerally, a writ of ordinary mandate will lie when (1) there is no plain, speedy and adequate alternative remedy, (2) the public official has a legal and usually ministerial duty to perform and (3) the petitioner has a clear and beneficial right to performance.”

The appellate court ruled that since “a writ of habeas corpus is an extraordinary remedy that usually addresses unlawful imprisonment or restraint of liberty, we conclude that it is not available ‘in the ordinary course of law’ (§ 1086) when the relief sought is an order compelling CDCR personnel to process an inmate grievance in accordance with the Regulations. This interpretation of the ordinary course of law is supported by tradition. The California Supreme Court has stated that a writ of mandate ‘is the traditional remedy for the failure of a public official to perform a legal duty. [Citations.]’ (Common Cause v. Board of Supervisors (1989) 49 Cal.3d 432, 442 [261 Cal. Rptr. 574, 777 P.2d 610].)”

As a result, the Court of Appeals wrote, the dismissal of Villery’s petition was erroneous because he had “alleged sufficient facts to state a claim for a writ of mandate to enforce a ministerial duty set forth in the Regulations.” Further, the trial court could have construed his pleading as a habeas petition and concluded that it stated a claim for relief. Therefore, the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. See: Villery v. CDCR, 246 Cal. App. 4th 407, 200 Cal.Rptr.3d 896 (Cal. App. 5th Dist. 2016).

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Related legal case

Villery v. CDCR