Bom HC | Findings in a suit dismissed for being premature are not binding either on parties or trial judge; law on res judicata explained

Bombay High Court: Sandeep K. Shinde, J. dismissed an appeal filed against the decree of prosecution passed in a civil suit. While dismissing the appeal the Court answered one substantial question of law — In a case of rejection of first suit on the ground that the same was premature, and not on merits; whether the finding rendered in the first suit would be binding on the parties as well as the trial Judge in the second suit on the ground of res judicata?

In the present case, the plaintiff had filed the first suit for possession of the suit property against her brothers-in-law based on the will of her father-in-law. However, the suit was dismissed on the ground that it was premature as the will was being proved in a different proceeding before the court. Subsequently, when the plaintiff filed the second suit, the trial court decreed her suit and granted a decree of possession. The defendants filed the present appeal thereagainst.

The defendants, represented by Rakesh Bhatkar, Advocate, argued that the matter was barred by the principle of res judicata as the first suit filed by the plaintiff had been dismissed. Per contra, V.S. Sawant instructed by P.M. Jadhav, Advocate appearing for the plaintiff submitted that since the earlier matter was not decided on merits, therefore, res judicata did not apply.

Explaining the law on the subject, the High Court observed: “It is not that every matter decided in a former suit, can be pleaded as res judicata in a subsequent suit. To consider a matter ‘res judicata’, one of the conditions is, the matter directly and substantially in issue in the subsequent suit must have been heard and finally decided by the Court in the first suit. To support the plea of res judicata, it is not enough that the same matter shall be in issue. It is also important that the matter was heard and finally decided.

It was explained further: “The expression ‘heard and finally decided’ refers to a matter on which the Court, having exercised its judicial mind, has recorded a finding and arrived at a decision on a contested matter.”

Following the ratio of the Supreme Court decision in Sheodan Singh v. Daryao Kunwar, AIR 1966 SC 1332 and considering the facts of the present case, the High Court held: “since the rejection of the first suit on the ground that the same was premature and not on merits, the findings rendered in the first suit are not binding on the parties, as well as, on the learned trial Judge in the second suit on the ground of res judicata.” The question was answered accordingly and the appeal was dismissed. [Shrikant Waman Pawaskar v. Deepali Dinanath Pawaskar, Second Appeal No. 795 of 2005, decided on 08-03-2019]

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