Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: In a civil revision petition challenging the order of the Trial Court, that had allowed an application under Order XXII Rule 3 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (‘CPC’) for permitting the respondent to be impleaded as the plaintiff in place of his deceased father, Dharmesh Sharma, J., held that personal right of action extinguished upon death of plaintiff and is not heritable or transferable.


The respondent’s father, Reverend John H. Caleb, was initially appointed to the Green Park Free Church by the petitioner on 12-05-1997, to serve as its priest. As part of his appointment, he was granted accommodation in the Church Parsonage at the Green Park Free Church. Although he officially retired from his services with the petitioner in March 2001, this retirement was marked by the letter dated 21-10-2000. Nonetheless, his services were extended on an ad-hoc basis from 2001 to 2005, allowing him to continue residing in the suit premises during this period.

On 16-11-2007, respondent’s father was reappointed as the Resident Pastor, and he remained in the suit premises until 14-05-2018, on which date, he received communication that his services were no longer required and that a new Presbyter-in-Charge had been appointed to replace him. Shortly after, on 18-06-2018, the Bishop of the Diocese of Delhi-CNI, requested respondent’s father to vacate the premises. Despite his request for alternate accommodation, this request was denied, and he was asked to vacate by January 2019.

Respondent’s father initiated legal action on 27-10-2018. He filed a suit seeking a permanent injunction to prevent his forceful eviction from the church premises. In addition to the injunction, he sought a declaration asserting that the Green Park Free Church should be recognized as an independent entity, free from the control of the Diocese of Delhi-CNI.

The petitioner responded to the suit by denying his allegations. They asserted that his status was that of a licensee whose right to occupy the premises ended on 05-11-2018, making his continued occupation unauthorized and illegal. They further contended that the civil court did not have the jurisdiction to declare the church independent from the Diocese’s control.

As the suit was progressing, respondent’s father’s health began to decline, prompting his son, the respondent, to file an application under Order I Rule 10 of the CPC. The application sought to implead the respondent as the plaintiff due to his father’s ill health. Subsequently, after his father’s death on 30-08-2021, the respondent filed another application under Order XXII Rule 3 of CPC, seeking to be substituted as the plaintiff in place of his deceased father. This substitution was contested by the petitioner, who argued that the suit had abated with the respondent’s father’s death, as the action was personal and did not survive him. The Trial Court allowed the substitution, stating that the respondent, being in possession of the suit property, had a right against forcible dispossession without due process of law. The petitioners thereafter filed the instant suit challenging the order of the Trial Court.

However, the petitioner contended that the license to occupy the suit premises was contingent upon respondent’s father’s position as the Resident Pastor, which expired with his service termination and subsequent death. They further argued that legal principles and precedents establish that personal actions, including those seeking injunctions based on personal rights, do not survive the plaintiff’s death.


The Court noted that the primary issue was whether the right to sue survived the deceased plaintiff. The Court referred to Order XXII Rule 3 of the CPC and noted that a legal representative can continue a suit if the right to sue survives. However, this principle is inapplicable for purely personal actions that do not extend beyond the individual’s life.

The Court also referred to Puran Singh v. State of Punjab, (1996) 2 SCC 205, wherein it was held that suits involving personal injunctions do not survive the plaintiff’s death as they are intrinsically linked to the personal status or position of the individual.

The Court observed that the original plaintiff’s right to the suit premises was personal, linked to his role as Resident Pastor and his death terminated this right, and thus, it could not be transferred to his son, the respondent. The respondent, not being a successor in the specific role but merely a legal heir, had no independent cause of action to pursue the same reliefs.

The Court referred State of U.P. v. Maharaja Dharmander Prasad Singh, (1989) 2 SCC 505 and noted that protection of possession applies to lawful tenants or occupiers pending legal proceedings. In this case, the right was personal to the deceased and did not extend to his legal heirs.

The Court said “..the son of the deceased has neither any right nor entitled to become religious priest of the church and he cannot challenge the authority of the petitioner/defendant no. 1&2 to manage the affairs of the Church. Merely, because he had been performing services at the Church for long did not create any vested right in him to continue to perform such services either.”

The Court, therefore, allowed the revision petition, setting aside the Trial Court’s order as being patently illegal and further declared that the suit stood abated with the death of respondent’s father, as the cause of action was personal and did not survive to his legal heirs.

[Diocese Of Delhi-CNI v. Deepak Martin, 2024 SCC OnLine Del 3696, decided on 21-05-2024]

Advocates who appeared in this case:

Advocates for the petitioner: Veronica Francis, Arun Francis, George Francis

Advocates for the respondent: Raghav Awasthi, Mukesh Sharma

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