Over the course of the past two months I have randomly come across the phrase quo warranto. The first time was the in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure (Part VII, sec. 7) and the second time was in the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (§§66.001 et seq.). I was further intrigued by the fact that neither of these sources give a meaningful description of the… proceeding… cause of action… whatever quo warranto happens to be. I became curious enough to look into it.
“Quo warranto (Medieval Latin for “by what warrant?”) is a prerogative writ requiring the person to whom it is directed to show what authority they have for exercising some right or power (or “franchise”) they claim to hold.” The Dallas Court of Appeals describes the writ as follows:
Quo warranto is an ancient prerogative writ through which the State acts to protect itself and the good of the public generally through its chosen agents as provided by its constitution and laws, though sometimes it is brought at the instance of and for the benefit of a private individual who may have a special interest. Texas courts have held that mandamus is not a proper remedy when quo warranto is available. In injunction cases, also, quo warranto is held to be the exclusive remedy to challenge the authority of a public officer. The same rule is applied when a declaratory judgment is sought.”
In the case of Lewis v. Drake, Ben Lewis initiated a mandamus proceeding in order to have Jim Jackson removed as county commission of precinct number one of Dallas County. Mr. Lewis believed that Mr. Jackson effectively vacated his office when he declared his candidacy for another public office. The Dallas Court of Appeals dismissed the action on the basis that mandamus is not a proper remedy when quo warranto is available.
In short, quo warranto is the sole means by which the attorney general, or, in some cases, a private citizen, can point the finger at an officer of the state and say, “Hey, you can’t do that!” I bet the attorneys for Mr. Lewis wish they had become curious about quo warranto before they filed a mandamus proceeding against Mr. Jackson. Thanks to my curiosity, you and I can now avoid that problem in the future.
 Lewis v. Drake, 641 S.W.2d 392, 394 (Tex. App. – Dallas 1982, no writ) [Internal citations omitted].
Written by: Jacob Thomas
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