Rejection of the application under Order VII Rule 11 of the CPC was the bone of the contention in theSrihari Hanumandas Totala v. Hemant Vithal Kamat & Ors case. The question of law which flows from the present case is whether res judicata can be the basis or ground for rejection of the plaint? The apex court gave finality to the issue after examining the orders passed by the subordinate courts. This article incorporates the journey of the present query from the Trial Court to the Supreme Court.
The aforementioned case pertained to a property dispute. The property at first belonged to the respondent and his brother. Later, it got mortgaged to Karnataka State Finance Corporation (“KSFC”) as security against a loan. But the respondent failed to repay the loan, and KSFC auctioned the suit property which ultimately got purchased by the appellant. The respondent and his brother failed to deliver possession of the suit property. Thereupon, the appellant filed a suit (“2007 Suit”) for possession. During the pendency of the 2007 Suit, the respondent also initiated a suit (“2008 Suit”) defying the sale deed executed by KSFC in the appellant’s favour, mainly on the ground that KSFC had no authority to put the suit property for sale.
The appellant contended that the grounds in the 2008 Suit relating to the validity of the sale deed and the issue of title were already raised in the previous 2007 Suit. The appellant urged that after the judgment in the 2007 Suit settling the issues in favour of the appellant, the rights of the parties cannot be further adjudicated and re-litigated. But the application under Order VII Rule 11 CPC filed by the appellant got rejected by the trial court and, the revision petition filed before the High Court also was dismissed. Displeased, the appellant turned to the Supreme Court.
Findings Of The Subordinate Courts
Order VII Rule 11(d), CPC gives the court power to reject a plaint “where the suit appears from the statement in the plaint to be barred by any law”. The Court while deciding such an application must have due regard only to the statements in the plaint.
Section 11, CPC deals with ‘res judicata’ and provides that a court shall not try any suit or issue in which the matter that is directly in issue has been directly or indirectly heard and decided in a ‘former suit’.
The ground taken by both Trial and High Court was that to reject a plaint for the suit being barred by any law under Order VII Rule 11(d), the court needs to be guided by the averments in the plaint and not the defence taken. On the ground of res judicata, the High Court placed reliance on the decision of this Court in Soumitra Kumar Sen v. Shyamal Kumar Sen (2018) 5 SCC 644 , and observed that the learned Trial Judge correctly came to the conclusion that the application filed under Order VII Rule 11(d) on the ground of res judicata could not be decided merely by looking into the averments in the plaint.
While adjudicating on res judicata, the court referred to V. Rajeshwari v. T.C. Saravanabava (2004) 1 SCC 551 where the plea of res judicata and the particulars that would be required to prove the plea was discussed. It was held that not only the plea has to be taken; it has to be substantiated by producing the copies of the pleadings, issues and judgment in the previous case. Further, the question of res judicata as a ground for rejection of plaint was better understood by referring to Kamala & others v. KT Eshwara Sa (2008) 12 SCC 661 wherein it was contended that Order VII Rule 11(d) of the CPC has limited application. It must be shown that the suit is barred under any law. Such a conclusion must be drawn from the averments made in the plaint. In other words, what needs to be looked into while deciding such an application are the averments in the plaint. At that stage, the pleas taken by the defendant in the written statement are wholly irrelevant and the matter is to be decided only on the plaint averment.
Apex Court’s Viewpoint
In the present case, the first respondent has not made an attempt to conceal the fact that a suit regarding the property was pending before the civil court at the time. It is also relevant to note that at the time of institution of the 2008 suit by the first respondent, no decree had been passed by the civil court in the 2007 suit. Therefore, the plaint, on the face of it, did not disclose any fact that may lead Court to the conclusion that it deserves to be rejected on the ground that it is barred by principles of res judicata.
To decide on the arguments raised by the appellant, the court would have to go beyond the averments in the plaint, and peruse the pleadings, and judgment and decree and an application under Order VII Rule 11 must be decided within the four corners of the plaint.
For the above reasons, the apex court held that the plaint was not liable to be rejected under Order VII Rule 11(d) and affirm the findings of the Trial Court and the High Court. However, The Bench clarified, that it has no opinion on whether the subsequent suit is barred by the principles of res judicata.