Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In an important ruling on Res Judicata, the 3-judge bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud*, Vikram Nath and Hima Kohli, JJ has held that the issues that arise in a subsequent suit may either be questions of fact or of law or mixed questions of law and fact.

“Issues that arise in a subsequent suit may either be questions of fact or of law or mixed questions of law and fact. An alteration in the circumstances after the decision in the first suit, will require a trial for the determination of the plea of res judicata if there arises a new fact which has to be proved. However, the plea of res judicata may in an appropriate case be determined as a preliminary issue when neither a disputed question of fact nor a mixed question of law or fact has to be adjudicated for resolving it.”

“Best method” to decide the question of res judicata:

The court while undertaking an analysis of the applicability of the plea of res judicata determines first, if the requirements of section 11 CPC are fulfilled; and if this is answered in the affirmative, it will have to be determined if there has been any material alteration in law or facts since the first suit was decreed as a result of which the principle of res judicata would be inapplicable.

In Syed Mohd. Salie Labbai (dead) by L.Rs v. Mohd. Hanifa, (1976) 4 SCC 780, it was enunciated that before a plea of res judicata can be given effect, the following conditions must be proved:

(1) that the litigating parties must be the same;

(2) that the subject-matter of the suit also must be identical;

(3) that the matter must be finally decided between the parties; and

(4) that the suit must be decided by a court of competent jurisdiction.

The verdict in Alka Gupta v. Narender Kumar Gupta, (2010) 10 SCC 141, further made clear that

“The plea must be clearly established, more particularly where the bar sought is on the basis of constructive res judicata. The plaintiff who is sought to be prevented by the bar of constructive res judicata should have notice about the plea and have an opportunity to put forth his contentions against the same.”

Twin test for the identification of whether an issue has been conclusively decided in the previous suit is:

  1. The necessity test: Whether the adjudication of the issue was ‘necessary’ for deciding on the principle issue.
  2. The essentiality test: Whether the judgment in the suit is based upon the decision on that issue.

Res Judicata: Question of fact or law or mixed question of law and fact?

It has earlier been held by the Supreme Court that a determination of whether res judicata is attracted raises a mixed question of law and facts [Madhukar D Shende v. Tarabai Aba Shedage, (2002) 2 SCC 85 ; Ram Harakh v. Hamid Ahmed Khan, (1998) 7 SCC 484].

However, Justice K. Ramaswamy writing for a three-judge bench of this court in Sushil Kumar Mehta v. Gobind Ram Bohra, (1990) 1 SCC 193 held that the principle of res judicata cannot be fit into the pigeonhole of ‘mixed question of law and facts’ in every case. Rather, the plea of res judicata would be a question of law or fact or a mixed question of both depending on the issue that is claimed to have been previously decided.

In Mathura Prasad Bajoo Jaiswal v. Dossibai N.B Jeejeebhoy, (1970) 1 SCC 613, it was held that,

“A decision of a competent Court on a matter in issue may be res judicata in another proceeding between the same parties: the “matter in issue” may be an issue of fact, an issue of law, or one of mixed law and fact. An issue of fact or an issue of mixed law and fact decided by a competent Court is finally determined between the parties and cannot be re-opened between them in another proceeding. The previous decision on a matter in issue alone is res judicata: the reasons for the decision are not res judicata.

(…)

The matter in issue, if it is one purely of fact, decided in the earlier proceeding by a competent Court must in a subsequent litigation between the same parties be regarded as finally decided and cannot be reopened. A mixed question of law and fact determined in the earlier proceeding between the same parties may not, for the same reason, be questioned in a subsequent proceeding between the same parties. But, where the decision is on a question of law i.e. the interpretation of a statute, it will be res judicata in a subsequent proceeding between the same parties where the cause of action is the same, for the expression “the matter in issue” in Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure means the right litigated between the parties i.e. the facts on which the right is claimed or denied and the law applicable to the determination of that issue. Where, however, the question is one purely of law and it relates to the jurisdiction of the Court or a decision of the Court sanctioning something which is illegal, by resort to the rule of res judicata a party affected by the decision will not be precluded from challenging the validity of that order under the rule of res judicata, for a rule of procedure cannot supersede the law of the land.”

Can res judicata be decided as a preliminary issue?

Yes. In certain cases, particularly when a mixed question of law or fact is raised, the issue should await a full-fledged trial after evidence is adduced.

[The Jamia Masjid v. KV Rudrappa,  2021 SCC OnLine SC 792, decided on 23.09.2021]

______________________________________________________________

Appearances before the Court:

For appellant: Senior Advocate V Mohana

For respondents: Senior Advocate Basava Prabhu Patil and Advocate Balaji Srinivasan


*Judgment by: Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud

Know Thy Judge| Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud

Jharkhand High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Jharkhand High Court: Amitav K. Gupta, J. disposed of the writ petition holding that for the purpose of Section 498-A Penal Code, 1860 the strict proof of legal marriage is not required in such circumstances wherein the pleadings and evidence are enough to prove the same.

The facts of the instant case are that the petitioner was found sleeping with the husband of the informant at her husband’s house. It is alleged that the petitioner is the second wife. That on the said allegation cognizance has been taken for the offence under Section 498-A IPC against the petitioner.

The counsel for the petitioner relied on the decision of the Supreme Court in U. Suvetha v. State, (2009) 6 SCC 757 and contented that it has been observed by the Supreme Court that the relative of the husband will not include the girlfriend or concubine for attracting the offence under Section 498-A IPC. It was further argued that the informant has stated that the petitioner is the second wife but there is no proof regarding the solemnization of marriage. Hence, even if the allegation is presumed to be true then at best the petitioner can be termed as a mistress or a girlfriend but cannot be categorized as a wife as there is no legal proof for the same.

The counsel for the State has submitted that factum of marriage can only be established when the evidence is led and that in the decision relied above, it has been held by the Supreme Court that proof of a legal marriage in the rigid sense as required under civil law is unnecessary for establishing an offence under Section 498-A IPC.

The Court perused the facts and without getting into the merits of the case held that the trial court had examined six witnesses out of nine charge-sheeted witnesses and the court below has taken steps for securing the attendance of the rest of the witnesses. In the decision relied on by the counsel for the petitioner the Supreme Court has held that if from the pleadings and evidence the court finds that the woman concerned is regarded as wife and not as a mere mistress, she can be considered to be a wife and consequently as the relative of the husband for the purpose of Section 498-A IPC and strict proof of a legal marriage as required under civil law is unnecessary. [Rupa Devi v. State of Jharkhand, 2019 SCC OnLine Jhar 1200, decided on 28-08-2019]

Patna High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Patna High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of Ahsanuddin Amanullah, J. dismissed a criminal petition filed under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 praying for quashing of lower court’s order whereby a prima facie case under Sections 420 and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was made out against petitioner.

In the present case, respondent 2 had on petitioner’s persuasion, he invested in a company named Panjon Finance and an agreement was executed between the parties where it was stipulated that shares would mature after four years when repayment would be made to the respondent by the company. It is alleged that upon expiry of the term, despite several reminders and request to pay back the amount as per terms of the agreement, the same was not done leading to filing of a complaint under IPC. 

Learned counsels for the petitioner Mr Ajay Kumar Thakur, Mr Nilesh Kumar, Mr Pravin Kumar and Mr Udbhav submitted that the petitioner was merely an employee of the company and since he had only signed as a witness on the agreement, he could not be made criminally liable for non-performance of terms of the agreement. The dispute was purely a money dispute which could be resolved through civil law.

The Court opined that petitioner, in the capacity of the company’s local manager company, persuaded the respondent for investment.  Respondent 2 had relied on him and his trust was belied by the petitioner. As such, a prima facie case was made out against the petitioner. Relying on the dictum in State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal, 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335 it was held that there was no infirmity in lower court’s order and the petition was dismissed.[Dharmendra Kumar v. State of Bihar,2018 SCC OnLine Pat 2218, decided on 13-12-2018]