The purpose of a writ of mandamus is to enforce the performance of a duty clearly defined by law, to compel the action of those with a positive duty to act. Because of this grand purpose, mandamus is consistently characterized throughout case law as an extraordinary remedy that is only granted to correct clear abuses of discretion when there is no other adequate legal remedy.
With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that mandamus relief is generally not available for most discovery disputes. However, mandamus may be appropriate where the ordinary appellate remedy is inadequate or where the appellate court would not be able to cure the error of the trial court. Appeal may prove to be an inadequate remedy for example, when the trial court’s discovery order severely compromises a party’s ability to present a case or imposes a trial burden on one party far out of proportion to any benefit to the other. Mandamus relief may also be appropriate when an order improperly requires the production of confidential information, trade secrets, or privileged documents or information.
Overall, the two elements required to obtain mandamus relief are:
1) a clear abuse of discretion by the lower court, and
2) an inadequate remedy on appeal.
In re Soc'y of Our Lady of Most Holy Trinity
, 622 S.W.3d 1, 10 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi–Edinburg 2019, orig. proceeding), is an interesting case and great example. In that case the plaintiff sued The Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (Society) alleging that she was raped and sexually assaulted by a priest when she was a child. The trial court ordered the plaintiff to undergo a psychological examination and granted her request to have the examination recorded by video even though she had already been examined by her own expert without any recording. Society subsequently filed a petition for writ of mandamus.
In granting mandamus relief for Society, the appellate court found that the lower court abused its discretion in allowing recording of the examination, as plaintiff did not show that there was good cause for the recording as required by established precedent. Further, the appellate court found that appeal would not be an adequate remedy for Society. In making this determination, the court relied on the fact that Society’s defense hinged on the nature, extent, and cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, and the court ultimately wanted to allow Society’s expert the same opportunity as the plaintiff’s to develop an accurate opinion, ensuring a fair trial. Essentially “Society's ability to present a viable defense at trial [was] vitiated or severely compromised by the trial court's discovery error.”
In the realm of summary judgments, mandamus relief is equally, if not more, inaccessible. While mandamus may be available to order a trial court to rule on a motion for summary judgment within a reasonable time after it is filed and heard, as stated by the Texas Supreme Court, in In re United Services Auto Association
“mandamus is generally unavailable when a trial court denies summary judgment, no matter how meritorious the motion.” This rule is based on the fact that parties are not “entitled” to summary judgment. Even if a case could be decided only one way, jury trials may still be important for justice and the appearance of doing justice. Also, trying a case where summary judgment may have been appropriate does not mean that the case would have to be tried twice.
However, In re United Services Auto Association, 307 S.W.3d 299, 314 (Tex. 2010) (orig. proceeding) the Texas Supreme Court granted mandamus relief on a denial of summary judgment due to “extraordinary circumstances.” These circumstances included: 1) a prior trial by a trial court without jurisdiction, 2) an appeal to an appellate court and again to the Texas Supreme Court to correct this problem, and 3) if mandamus relief were not granted, a second trial on a claim barred by limitations. The Court understandably concluded that “[t]wo wasted trials are not the most efficient use of the state’s judicial resources.”
In sum, as an extraordinary remedy, a writ of mandamus requires extraordinary circumstances.
When courts are deciding whether the benefits of mandamus outweigh the detriments, they must weigh the public and private interests and recognize that instead of categorical determinations, the adequacy of an appellate remedy depends on the circumstances of each case.