Under the Code of the District of Columbia, as on general
principle, the allowance of the writ of mandamus is a matter of
sound judicial discretion, and applications therefor are limited as
to time by the equitable doctrine of laches, and are not within the
general statutes of limitations. P. 249 U. S.
After his removal from office and forcible ejection from a
government office building, relator waited 20 months before
applying for mandamus against his superior, the Secretary of the
Interior, to compel reinstatement. In the absence of a satisfactory
Page 249 U. S. 368
that the delay amounted to laches, it appearing that another
appointee had meantime been filling the office, performing it
duties, and drawing the salary.
47 App.D.C. 336, affirmed.
The case is stated in the opinion.
Page 249 U. S. 369
MR. JUSTICE CLARKE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The relator, on April 30, 1915, filed his petition in the
Supreme Court of the District of Columbia for a writ of mandamus
against Franklin K. Lane, as Secretary of the Interior.
He alleged that, when serving as the duly appointed
superintendent of Crater Lake National Park on June 7, 1913, the
defendant requested him to resign; that, protesting against such
removal from office, he demanded that he be furnished with a
statement in writing of the reasons for his removal and that he be
given a reasonable time in which to answer; that, upon June 28th,
he received a telegram from the defendant notifying him that he had
been removed and directing that he should transfer all government
property to his successor, who was named; that he refused to
relinquish his position or to transfer the property until convinced
that the order for his removal was lawful, and that, upon July 20,
he was forcibly ejected from the government office building and the
records and papers of his office were seized by government
He further averred that, as such superintendent, he was in the
classified civil service of the government, and that he could not
lawfully be removed therefrom "except for such cause as would
promote the efficiency" of the service and for reasons stated in
writing, which he must
Page 249 U. S. 370
be given a reasonable opportunity to answer; that, on July 1,
1913, he notified the defendant that he was able and willing to
perform the duties of his office, that he had so continued to the
time of the filing of his petition, and that he had made every
reasonable effort to be restored to his position, but without
His prayer was that the defendant be required to answer his
petition and that, upon hearing, a writ of mandamus should issue
requiring the defendant to vacate the order for his dismissal and
to restore him to his former office.
In response to a rule to show cause, the defendant filed an
answer containing, among other things, this paragraph:
"10. He denies the allegations of paragraph 10 to the extent
that the same attempt to show that he has made every reasonable
effort to be restored to the office of superintendent as aforesaid,
in this, that if relator were improperly or unlawfully removed from
said office under circumstances such as to justify the interference
of the courts, such condition existed immediately upon relator's
removal from office and upon the Secretary's refusal to continue
him in said office, notwithstanding which and notwithstanding that
since said time, to-wit, July 1, 1913, another person has been
appointed to and has discharged the duties of said office and has
received the salary and allowance therefor appropriated from time
to time by Congress, the relator did not seek recourse to the
courts until the lapse of nearly two years, and therein has by his
gross laches barred any right to the relief sought if any such
right ever existed."
A demurrer to this answer or return was filed stating as a
ground: "Because no case is shown in said return why a writ of
mandamus should not issue as prayed in the relator's petition."
This demurrer was overruled, and, the relator electing to stand
on his demurrer, his petition was dismissed.
Page 249 U. S. 371
It will be seen from this statement that, although the relator
was definitely removed from office as of June 30, 1913, and was
forcibly ejected from the government office building on July 20,
1913, he did not file his petition until more than 20 months later,
April 30, 1915. His only explanation for this delay is the
allegation, which was denied, that he had made every reasonable
effort to have his rights in the premises accorded him and to be
restored to office, but without avail.
Without discussion of the authority of the Secretary of the
Interior to remove the relator without filing charges against him
and giving him an opportunity to answer, the court of appeals
affirmed the judgment of the Supreme Court of the District of
Columbia on the ground of laches, and the case is here on writ of
In this conclusion we fully concur.
This Court has lately said that, while mandamus is classed as a
legal remedy, it is a remedial process which is awarded not as a
matter of right, but in the exercise of a sound judicial discretion
and upon equitable principles. Duncan Townsite Co. v.
Lane, 245 U. S. 308
is an extraordinary remedy which will not be allowed in cases of
doubtful right, Life & Fire Ins. Co. v.
8 Pet. 291, 33 U. S. 302
and it is generally regarded as not embraced within statutes of
limitation applicable to ordinary actions, but as subject to the
equitable doctrine of laches. Chapman v. County of
Douglas, 107 U. S. 348
107 U. S. 355
Duke v. Turner, 204 U. S. 623
204 U. S.
The remedy is provided for in a separate chapter (c. 42) of the
Code for the District of Columbia with detailed requirements which
differ so greatly from the pleading and practice prescribed for
ordinary actions that we cannot doubt that Congress intended to
continue the special character which has been given the proceeding
from our early judicial history, United
States v. Lawrence,
3 Dall. 42; Life & Fire
Insurance Co. v. Wilson, supra,
Page 249 U. S. 372
and we cannot discover any intention to include it within the
general provisions for the limitation of actions (§ 1265).
When a public official is unlawfully removed from office,
whether from disregard of the law by his superior or from mistake
as to the facts of his case, obvious considerations of public
policy make it of first importance that he should promptly take the
action requisite to effectively assert his rights, to the end that,
if his contention be justified, the government service may be
disturbed as little as possible, and that two salaries shall not be
paid for a single service.
Under circumstances which rendered his return to the service
impossible except under the order of a court, the relator did
nothing to effectively assert his claim for reinstatement to office
for almost two years. Such a long delay must necessarily result in
changes in the branch of the service to which he was attached and
in such an accumulation of unearned salary that, when unexplained,
the manifest inequity which would result from reinstating him
renders the application of the doctrine of laches to his case
peculiarly appropriate in the interests of justice and sound public
In this conclusion we are in full agreement with many state
courts in dealing with similar problems. McCabe v. Police
107 La. 162; Stone v. Board of Commissioners,
164 Ky. 640; Connolly v. Board of Education,
1, and cases cited; Clark v. City of Chicago,
We agree with the court of appeals that it is entirely
unnecessary to consider whether the removal of the relator from
office was technically justified or not, since, by his own conduct,
he has forfeited the right to have the action of the Secretary of
the Interior reviewed, and the judgment of that court is