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Understand The Difference Between Writs And Appeals

Writ proceedings and appeals are both ways to challenge the wrongful decision of a tribunal. In general, you use a writ proceeding to challenge the order of an agency such as DMV and an appeal to challenge the final judgment of a court. In many ways, a writ is the way you appeal a decision that doesn’t offer a traditional appellate process.

Will a writ let you appeal and win your DMV case? Ask an attorney at Beat DMV, a division of the Law Office of Rodney Gould in Sherman Oaks. Reach us at 818-570-6989 or complete our inquiry form to request a consultation.

The Fine Print

Writs and appeals are the two methods for overturning adverse decisions by state agencies and superior courts. Both are considered appellate remedies, but they operate differently, depending on the nature of the adverse decision itself.

Code of Civil Procedure Section 904.1 provides an exclusive list of the judgments and orders from which an appeal may be taken to the Court of Appeals. If a type of decision is not listed in Section 904.1, then you cannot appeal it in the traditional sense. The most commonly appealed decision is the judgment at the end of a superior court case. Section 904.1(a)(1) expressly includes judgments in the list of appealable decisions. The Code of Civil Procedure defines judgment as the final determination of the rights of the parties in an action or proceeding. (CCP Section 577.) A superior court action for a writ of mandate ends in a court judgment either granting or denying the writ. That judgment is appealable under CCP Section 904.1(a)(1), so the losing party has a right to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals.

What if a particular type of decision isn’t a final court judgment? What if it’s not even listed in CCP Section 904.1? In general, the way to challenge an adverse decision that is not listed in CCP Section 904.1 is to file an action for a writ of mandamus, now usually called simply a writ of mandate. (CCP Section 1084.) Writs of mandate have traditionally been the method to challenge decisions that are not final court judgments, and CCP Section 1085 is the statute that authorizes them.

“A writ of mandate may be issued by any court to any inferior tribunal, corporation, board or person, to compel the performance of an act which the law specially enjoins … ” (CCP Section 1085(a).) CCP Section 1085 writs are often called common law writs to distinguish them from specialty writs created by later statutes.

One such specialty writ is the administrative writ of mandate authorized by CCP 1094.5. “Where the writ is issued for the purpose of inquiring into the validity of any final administrative order or decision made as the result of a proceeding in which by law a hearing is required to be given, evidence is required to be taken, and discretion in the determination of facts is vested in the inferior tribunal, the determination of facts is vested in the inferior tribunal, corporation, board or officer, the case shall be heard by the court sitting without a jury.” (CCP 1094.5(a).)

A decision by DMV following a hearing is subject to the “administrative writ of mandate” procedure of CCP Section 1094.5. A decision by DMV’s Mandatory Actions Unit without a hearing is subject to the “common law writ” procedure of CCP Section 1085.


CCP 577, CCP 904.1