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Lat.: by what right or authority. An ancient common law writ that was issued out of chancery on behalf of the king against one who claimed or usurped an office, franchise or liberty, to inquire by what authority he asserted such a right, in order that the legitimacy of the assertion might be determined. Formerly a criminal method of prosecution, it has long since lost its criminal character and is now a civil proceeding, expressly recognized by statute, and usually employed for trying the title to a corporate franchise or to a corporation or public office.

Quo warranto proceedings may be brought against corporations where the company has abused or failed for a long time to exercise its franchise. In the case of an official, it may be brought to cause him or her to forfeit an office for misconduct. If in these cases a quo warranto proceeding determines that a company no longer properly holds a franchise or that an officer no longer properly holds his or her office, it will oust the wrongdoer from enjoying the franchise or office. The purpose of the writ is not to prevent an improper exercise of power lawfully possessed; its purpose is to prevent an official, corporation or person acting as such from usurping a power that they do not have.
Source: Barron's Dictionary of Legal Terms, Steven H. Gifis, 5th Edition; ©
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