Q.: Is it ever possible to start a case in the court of appeals or the Supreme Court of Ohio?
A.: Yes. Although the court of appeals and the Supreme Court typically hear only appeals from cases that were decided by another court, the Ohio Constitution makes some exceptions to this general rule. It authorizes certain cases, referred to as “extraordinary writs,” to be heard as “original actions” in a higher court (either the appropriate district of the court of appeals or the Supreme Court of Ohio).
Q.: What are these “writs”?
A.: A “writ” is simply a court order directing a person or entity to act or refrain from acting in a particular way. An “extraordinary” writ is a special type of lawsuit that qualifies to originate in a higher court. There are five of these “extraordinary writs”: habeas corpus; mandamus; procedendo; prohibition; and quo warranto.
• Habeas corpus is a challenge to the custody of a person. Usually, prisoners bring habeas corpus actions but, in some circumstances, habeas corpus may be available to challenge the propriety of custody regarding others, such as children.
• Mandamus is a request to compel a public office or official to carry out a duty imposed by law. For example, you would file a mandamus action to compel a public office to make public records available if a request for public records has been denied.
• Procedendo seeks to compel a tribunal (usually, a court) to decide a pending matter. This might be necessary when a court has unreasonably delayed deciding a particular case. For example, a procedendo action may be brought to compel a judge to retry a case that was not resolved because the jury could not reach a verdict.
• Prohibition is an attempt to stop a court or quasi-judicial tribunal from deciding a matter. Prohibition essentially challenges the authority of the tribunal to hear the matter.
• Quo warranto is most commonly used to test a person’s right to hold public or corporate office.
Q.: That’s a lot of Latin. Is there some way I can keep it all straight?
A.: Here’s a shorthand way to think of these original actions:
Habeas corpus - “Let her go!” That is, habeas corpus challenges the propriety of one person having custody of another.
Mandamus - “Do what you’re required to do!” That is, a mandamus action tries to get someone to perform a duty the law requires.
Procedendo - “Decide it, already!” That is, a procedendo action tries to get a court to rule on a case or some aspect of a case which, presumably, has been pending for a while.
Prohibition - “Stop, already!” That is, a prohibition action tries to prevent a tribunal from going forward with a matter it lacks the authority to decide.
Quo warranto - “Who do you think you are, you impostor!” That is, a quo warranto action most commonly challenges someone’s right to hold public or corporate office.
Q.: How do I start an original action in a court of appeals court or the Supreme Court of Ohio?
A.: The Rules of Practice of the Supreme Court of Ohio and the local rules of several of the districts of the court of appeals contain rules specifically governing original actions.
Q.: May I appeal a decision in an original action?
A.: If the court of appeals decides an original action, you may bring an “appeal of right” to the Supreme Court of Ohio without first asking that court to accept jurisdiction. If the case started in the Supreme Court of Ohio, you would have to ask the Supreme Court of the United States to accept jurisdiction.
Q.: How can I learn more about the different kinds of extraordinary writs?
A.: Three of the original actions are governed by specific chapters in the Ohio Revised Code: habeas corpus, R.C. Chapter 2725; mandamus, R.C. Chapter 2731; and quo warranto, R.C. Chapter 2733. You can access the Ohio Revised Code through http://codes.ohio.gov/orc. To learn more about procedendo and prohibition, however, you would need to look up case decisions and possibly legal treatises.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by John G. Cooney, senior staff attorney for the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth Appellate District.