The authority of res judicata and the notion of rejection of a complaint – Civil law

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Article by Vijay Pal Dalmia, Advocate, Supreme Court of India and High Court of Delhi, Partner and Head of Intellectual Property Law Division, Vaish Associates Advocates, India
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The concept of “Res Judicata” evolved from English common law and since then has been defined and interpreted by various judicial decisions. Before moving forward, it is important to understand the concept of Res Judicata which is explained in Article 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure of 1908. According to Article 11 of the CPC, no court may try a action or matter in which the matter is directly and substantially at issue. was directly and substantially involved in a prior action between the same parties, or between parties claimed by them or one of them, pleading under the same title, before a court having jurisdiction to hear that subsequent action or the action in which such issue was subsequently raised, and was heard and finally decided by this Court.

Recently, the Supreme Court in the case of Srihari HanumandasTotala v. Hemant Vithal Kamat & Ors1 (https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2021/4370/4370_2021_35_1501_29116_Judgement_09-Aug-2021.pdf) interpreted the concept of “Res Judicata” in relation to Ordinance VII Rule 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure of 1908 (“CPC”). To analyze the concept of Rule 11 of Order VII, it is further imperative to understand prima facie that Rule 11 of Order VII sets out the instances in which a “complaint” must be dismissed. This means that the cases discussed therein must be considered prima facie at the time of the presentation of the complaint filed by the plaintiff and not other pleadings.

In the above case, the Supreme Court considered Order 7, Rule 11(d) of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (CPC). Order 7 CPC Rule 11 sets out when a complaint must be dismissed. This includes the dismissal of the complaint:-

  1. when he fails to disclose a cause of action,

  2. when the complaint is insufficient postage, or

  3. the remedy sought is undervalued, and

  4. it further provides that the motion shall be dismissed”where the prosecution appears, from the statement in the complaint, to be prohibited by any law“.

The court emphasized that the allegations in the complaint should form the basis on which to consider whether the complaint is prohibited by law or not.

It was also observed that reference to other documents such as written statements cannot be made to decide the issue.

In addition, the court clarified the definition of the authority of res judicata given in article 11 of the CPC. It was stipulated by the court that in deciding a question concerning res judicata, the same issue (which is raised in the lawsuit) was decided in the first lawsuit. The court referred to the judgment of V. Rajeshwariv. TC Saravanabava2 and emphasized the following lines:

The basic method of deciding the question of res judicata is first to determine the case of the parties as presented in their respective memoranda of their previous action, and then to find out what was decided by the judgment which exercises the authority of res judicata. Not only must the plea be taken, but it must be supported by the production of copies of the pleadings, the questions and the judgment in the preceding case“.

The Court referred to the decision of Kamala and others v. KT Eshwara Sa3 which deal in particular with the question of the authority of res judicata as a ground for dismissal of the application. Judge S.B. Sinha considered the scope of CPC Order 7 Rule 11(d) the court, at this stage, would not consider any evidence or address a disputed question of fact or law. In the event that the jurisdiction of the court is excluded by a law, which means, therefore, the object of the latter, the request for the rejection of the complaint must be granted.

The Court, from the above analysis and judgments, has established 4 guiding principles for deciding an application under Order 7, Rule 119(d). These principles are

  1. To dismiss a complaint on the grounds that the lawsuit is prohibited by law, only the arguments of the complaint need be mentioned;

  2. The defense presented by the defendant in the lawsuit should not be taken into account when deciding on the merits of the claim;

  3. To determine whether an action is statute-barred, it is necessary that


    1. the “previous costume” is decided,

    2. the issues raised in the subsequent lawsuit were directly and substantially in issue in the previous lawsuit;

    3. the first trial was between the same parties or the parties by which they claim, pleading under the same title; and

    4. that these issues were decided and ultimately decided by a court with jurisdiction to hear the subsequent action; and

    5. Since a decision on the plea of ​​res judicata requires consideration of the pleadings, issues and decision in the “previous proceeding”, such a plea will fall outside the scope of Order 7 Rule 11 (d), where only the statements in the Complaint will need to be browsed.

Footnotes

1. Civil Appeal No. 4665 2021

2.(2004) 1 SCC 551

3.(2008) 12 SCC 661.

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