Bombay High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: Expressing that, a firm is not a legal entity, N.J. Jamadar, J., held that a partnership firm is only a collective or compendious name for all the partners.

The present matter was filed to recover the amount which the plaintiffs claimed to have invested in defendant 1 – firm, along with the interest at the rate of 24% p.a. on the basis of the credit notes.

The plaintiffs asserted that defendant 1 was a registered partnership firm and defendants 2 to 4 were its partner and in charge of day-to-day affairs of defendant 1 -firm and otherwise responsible for the conduct of the affairs and business of defendant 1—firm.

Plaintiffs’ case was that upon the representation of defendants 2 to 4 that the plaintiffs would get a handsome return on the investment made with the defendants, the plaintiffs had invested a sum of Rs 1 crore, over a period of time. The said amount was to be repaid on demand along with interest.

Further, the defendant committed default in repayment, hence the suit was filed.

Analysis and Decision

Defendant 1—firm has 8 partners and the names of the partners are reflected in the record maintained by the Registrar of Firms. Hence, it was incumbent upon the plaintiffs to implead all the partners of defendant 1 – firm.

The Bench stated that, there is no qualm over the claim of the plaintiffs that defendant 1 is a registered partnership firm and defendants 2 to 4 are its partners.

Section 25 of the Partnership Act, 1932, provides that every partner is liable, jointly with all the other partners and also severally for all acts of the firm done while he is a partner. 

High Court stated that, a partnership firm does not have any existence apart from its partners. Therefore, a decree in favour of or against the firm in the name of the firm has the same effect like a decree in favour of or against the partners.

Hence, when a firm incurs a liability, it can be assumed that all the partners have incurred that liability and so the partners remain liable jointly and severally for all the acts of the firm.

In view of the above, Court concluded by stating that the plaintiffs are not enjoined to implead all the partners of the firm.

Impleadment of the rest of the partners is not necessary. [Aziz Amirali Ghensani v. Ibrahim Currim & Sons, Interim Application (L) No. 1897 of 2022, decided on 8-4-2022]


Advocates before the Court:

Mr. Rashmin Knandekar, a/w Ms. Karishni Khanna, i/b Amit Tungare, Ms. Jill Rodricks, Mr. Vineet Jain and Mr. Deep Dighe,for the Plaintiffs.

Mr. Siddha Pamesha, a/w Declan Fernandez, i/b Purazar Fouzdar, for Defendant no.4/Applicant in IA.

Mr. Jamsheed Master, i/b Natasha Bhot, for Defendant no.3. Mr. Zain Mookhi, a/w Ms. Janhavi Doshi, i/b Manir  Srivastava Associates, for Defendant no.2.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Amit Bansal, J., expressed that an LLP or any other business entity can carry out business in different parts of the country, but that would not mean that a suit with regard to disputes between the partners, could be filed in any place where the business of the firm/LLP is carried out.

A petition was filed under Article 227 of the Constitution of India which impugned the order passed by the District Judge whereby the application was filed on behalf of the petitioners/defendants under Order VII Rule 10 and 11(d) of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 had been dismissed.

The plaint from which instant petition arose was filed by the respondent/plaintiff, being one of the partners of the petitioner 3/defendant 3 which was a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) and against the respondents 1 and 2/defendants 1 and 2 who were the remaining partners of the said LLP.

Petitioners/Defendants counsel submitted that the registered office of the LLP was in Hyderabad, hence the Courts in Delhi did not have any jurisdiction.

Respondent/Plaintiff submitted that the business of the LLP was duly being carried out in Delhi through the respondent/plaintiff and therefore, the cause of action would arise in Delhi. Hence, the Courts in Delhi would be competent to try and entertain the present suit.

Grievance in the Matter

Respondent/plaintiff was aggrieved that he had been denied access to the business accounts of the respondent 3/defendant 3.

Analysis and Discussion

In the plaint it was nowhere submitted that the business accounts, in respect of which access has been sought were kept in Delhi, in fact, the plaint is conspicuously silent on the aspect of the cause of action for filing of the suit.

The entire basis of the respondent/plaintiff for filing the suit in Delhi was on account of the fact that the LLP carried out business in Delhi and that the products of the LLP were regularly sold in Delhi by means of online sales as well as through physical stores such as Nature’s Soul, which is in Delhi.

High Court opined that the fact that business of the LLP was being carried out in Delhi would not vest the Courts of Delhi with jurisdiction to try and entertain the present suit.

Additionally, the Bench stated that Section 13 of the LLP Act provides that every LLP shall have a registered office, where all communications and notices may be addressed and shall be received. In terms of Section 34(1) of the LLP Act, the books of account in respect of an LLP shall be maintained at the registered office.

Further, in view of the facts and circumstances of the case, Court decided that the jurisdiction to entertain the present suit shall vest with the Courts in Hyderabad.

Since there was no principal or subordinate office of the LLP in Delhi and neither the books of accounts were kept in Delhi, therefore, there was no cause of action in respect of the present suit which was arising within the territorial limits of the Courts in Delhi.

Parties by agreement cannot give jurisdiction to a Court which otherwise does not have such jurisdiction. 

Maintainability in Civil Court

Bench elaborated that, merely because the definition of the “body corporate” under Section 2(1)(d) of the LLP Act includes an LLP, it is not automatically implied that the NCLT would be the competent forum for deciding all disputes inter se the partners of an LLP. Unlike Section 430 of the Companies Act, 2013, there is no bar on the jurisdiction of the Civil Courts under the provisions of the LLP Act. Therefore, in terms of Section 9 of the CPC, the suit shall be maintainable in a Civil Court.

Decision

Courts in Delhi lack the territorial jurisdiction to try and entertain the present suit.

In view of the above discussion, the present suit stood allowed. [Aanchal Mittal v. Ankur Shukla, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 633, decided on 25-2-2022]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioners: K.C. Mittal with Yugansh Mittal and Sanjay Kumar, Advocates

For the Respondent: Vishal Singh, Advocates

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: John Michael Cunha J., while rejecting the present petition, recorded no error or infirmity in the challenged order warranting interference under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India.

 Brief Facts

The Petitioner in the present case has filed this writ petition under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India, seeking to quash proceedings registered for the offences punishable under Section 120B read with Sections 409 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and Section 13(2) read with Section 13(1)(c) and (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. It is pleaded by the petitioner that, he is sought to be prosecuted for the alleged offences in his individual capacity whereas the material produced by the Investigating Agency on the face of it reveals that the entire transaction was entered into by the firm of which the petitioner was a nominal partner.  

Issue

Whether the charges framed against the petitioner are valid and sustainable in the eyes of law?

Observation

The Court, pursuant to its decision, cited relevant cases and made the following observations;

Sham Sunder v. State of Haryana, (1989) 4 SCC 630, “(…)The essential characteristic of a firm is that each partner is a representative of other partners. Each of the partners is an agent as well as a principal.  He is  an agent insofar as he can bind the other partners by his acts within the scope of the partnership agreement. He is a principal to the extent that he  is bound by acts of other partners. In fact, every partner is liable for an act of the firm. Section 2(a) of the Partnership Act defines as “act of a firm” to mean any act or omission by all the partners, or by any partner or agent of the firm which gives rise to a right enforceable by or against the firm.”

Standard Chartered Bank v. Directorate of Enforcement, (2005) 4 SCC 530, “(…) The corporate bodies, such as a firm or company undertake a series of activities that affect the life, liberty and property of the citizens. Large-scale financial irregularities are done by various corporations. The corporate vehicle now occupies such a large portion of the industrial, commercial and sociological sectors that amenability of the corporation to a criminal law is essential to have a peaceful society with stable economy.”

Sunil Bharti Mittal v. CBI, (2015) 4 SCC 609,

“The Penal Code, 1860 save and except in some matters does not contemplate any vicarious liability on the part of a person. Commission of an offence by raising a legal fiction or by creating a vicarious liability in terms of the provisions of a statute must be expressly stated. The Managing Director or the Directors of the Company, thus, cannot be said to have committed an offence only because they are holders of offices. The learned Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, therefore, in our opinion, was not correct in issuing summons without taking into consideration this aspect of the matter. The Managing Director and the Directors of the Company should not have been summoned only because some allegations were made against the Company.”

The Court further observed that, “The argument of learned counsel for petitioner that the contract entered into between Sri Lakshmi Venkateshwara Minerals (accused 2), of which petitioner is one of the partners, and Shree Mallikarjuna Shipping Pvt. Ltd., (accused 4) (Annexure- ‘H’) was concluded much before the seizure of the property is totally misplaced”

Decision

While dismissing the present petition, the Court said, the allegations made in the charge sheet clearly go to show that in addition to the Firm, petitioner 1 is implicated in the alleged offences in his individual capacity as is evident from the allegations found in the charge sheet.” [K. Mahesh Kumar v. State of Karnataka,  2020 SCC OnLine Kar 1637, decided on 16-10-2020]


Sakshi Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: While deciding a petition filed under Article 227 of the Constitution of India, Suresh Kumar Gupta, J., dismissed the same and declined to interfere in the judgment delivered by Sessions Court.

The present petition has been filed by the petitioner to set aside the impugned orders dated 31-10-2018 passed by Additional Court No. 3, Agra in Complaint No. 1500 of 2011 (Nepal Singh v. Dhirendra Singh) under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881(Hereinafter referred as N.I. Act) and the order dated 6-02-2020 passed by Additional Sessions Judge, Agra in Criminal Revision No. 552 of 2018 (Dhirendra v. State of U.P. ) and to quash the summoning order dated 28-3-2012 as well as an entire proceeding of Complaint Case No. 1500 of 2011 pending in the Additional Court No. 3, Agra.

The factual matrix in the instant case is such that the present petitioner borrowed Rs 1,00,000 from respondent 2 and handed over cheques bearing Nos. 850213 & 850214 for repayment of the borrowed amount. However, the cheques were dishonoured by the bank due to insufficient amount in the account subsequent to which respondent 2 served a notice to the petitioner on 18-10-2011. Later, on 08-11-2011, respondent 2 filed a complaint case no. 1500 of 2011 (Nepal Singh v. Dhirendra Singh) under Section 138 of N.I. Act against the petitioner in the trial court. The trial court vide its order dated 28-3-2012 has taken cognizance and summoned the petitioner.

Counsel for the petitioner, Deepak Kumar Kulshrestha has relied on Section 138 of the N.I. Act, submitting that the complainant/respondent is incompetent to lodge the prosecution as the cheques were issued by the firm Rashmi Arosole & Chemicals and the petitioner is the proprietor of this firm but the firm is not arraigned as an accused. He relied on the judgments delivered in the cases of Aneeta Hada v. Godfather Travels & Tours (P) Ltd., (2012) 5 SCC 661 and Devendra Kumar Garg v. State of U.P., 1990 SCC OnLine All 806 and added that until and unless company or firm is arraigned as an accused director or the other officer of the company/firm cannot be prosecuted/punished in the complaint.

Counsel for the respondent, S.B. Maurya attempted to refute these contentions by submitting that the cheques were drawn by the petitioner in his personal capacity and were given by way of security for payment of money. The circumstances do not warrant the arraignment of the aforementioned firm as a party.

The Court perused the cheques closely and concluded that the cheques bear the petitioner’s signature and that there is no dispute with regard to the fact that the petitioner is the sole proprietor of Rashmi Arosole & Chemicals. Also, on perusal of the registration certificate of the firm, it can be established that the petitioner is the sole proprietor of the firm namely Rashmi Arosole & Chemicals.

Upon careful consideration of the facts, circumstances and arguments advances, the Court observed that-

“While a partnership results in the collective identity of a firm coming into existence, a proprietorship is nothing more than a cloak or a trade name acquired by an individual or a person for the purpose of conducting a particular activity. With or without such trade name, it (sole proprietary concern) remains identified to the individual who owns it. It does not bring to life any new or other legal identity or entity. No rights or liabilities arise or are incurred, by any person (whether natural or artificial), except that otherwise attach to the natural person who owns it. Thus it is only a ‘concern’ of the individual who owns it. The trade name remains the shadow of the natural person or a mere projection or an identity that springs from and vanishes with the individual. It has no independent existence or continuity.”

The Court was able to conclude that in a sole proprietary concern, vicarious liability cannot arise because there’s only one person involved. The identity of the sole proprietor and his concern remain one, even if the sole proprietor may adopt a different name for his concern. Hence, there is no defect in the complaint lodged by the respondent. The sole proprietorship firm need not be impleaded for the respondent to realise his claim against the petitioner.

In view of the above, the petition has been dismissed for lack of merit. The Court found no reason to interfere in the orders dated 31-10-2018 passed by Additional Court No. 3, Agra and the order dated 6-2-2020 passed by Additional Sessions Judge against the petitioner. [Dhirendra Singh v. State of U.P., 2020 SCC OnLine All 1130, decided on 13-10-2020]


Yashvardhan Shrivastav, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Op EdsOP. ED.

Partnership

1. Section 4 of the Partnership Act, 1932[1] (“the Act”) defines ‘partnership’ as a relation between persons who have agreed to share the profits of a business carried on by all or any of them acting for all. It further goes on to explain that the persons who have entered into partnership with one another are called individually ‘partners’ and collectively ‘a firm’, and the name under which their business is carried on is called the ‘firm name’.

2. The essence of the above definition is that a partnership is an agreement to share profits of a business, and the business should be carried on by all or any one of them acting for all.

3. The essential features of a partnership are:

  • partnership is the result of an agreement;
  • it is organised to carry on a business;
  • persons concerned agree to share the profits of the business; and
  • business is to be carried on by all or any one of them acting for all.

4. The Supreme Court in Deputy Commissioner of Sales Tax (Law), Board of Revenue (Taxes), Ernakulam v. K. Kelukutty[2], has elucidated the essentials of a partnership as:

“11. The  Partnership Act, 1932 has, by Section 4, defined a “partnership” as “the relation between persons who have agreed to share the profits of a business carried on by all or any of them acting “for all”. The section declares further that the persons who have entered into partnership with one another are called individually “partners” and collectively “a firm”. The components of the definition of “partnership”, and therefore of “a firm” consist of (a) persons, (b) a business carried on by all of them or any of them q acting for all and (c) an agreement between those persons to carry on such business and to share its profits. It is the relationship between those persons which constitutes the partnership. The relation is founded in the agreement between them. The foundation of a partnership and, therefore, of a firm is a partnership agreement. A partnership agreement is the source of a partnership; it also gives expression to the other ingredients defining the partnership, specifying the business agreed to be carried on, the persons who will actually carry on the business, the shares in which the profits will be divided, and the several other considerations which constitute such an organic relationship. It is permissible to say that a partnership agreement creates and defines the relation of partnership and therefore identifies the firm.”

5. Section 6 of the Act states that while determining whether a group of persons is a firm or not, or whether a person is a partner in the firm or not, regard shall be given to the real relation between the parties, as shown by all the relevant facts taken together. In Laxmibai Roshan Lal[3],  the Rajasthan High Court held that a contract merely to take a share of profits, or giving a loan to a person engaged in any trade, upon a contract with such person that the latter shall receive interest along with share of the profits does not necessarily lead to an inference of partnership.

Therefore, as a general principle in determining the existence of a partnership, one must not merely see that the conditions of Section 4 are satisfied, but also whether in substance or in essence a partnership was intended.

Retirement of a Partner

6. Section 32 of the Act deals with the retirement of a partner as under:

“(1) A partner may retire,

  • with the consent of all the other partners,
  • in accordance with an express agreement by the partners, or
  • where the partnership is at will, by giving notice in writing to all the other partners of his intention to retire.

(2) A retiring partner may be discharged from any liability to any third party for acts of the firm done before his retirement by an agreement made by him with such third party and the partners of the reconstituted firm, and such agreement may be implied by a course of dealing between such third party and the reconstituted firm after he had knowledge of the retirement.

(3) Notwithstanding the retirement of a partner from a firm, he and the partners continue to be liable as partners to third parties for any act done by any of them which would have been an act of the firm if done before the retirement, until public notice is given of the retirement:

Provided that a retired partner is not liable to any third party who deals with the firm without knowing that he was a partner.

(4) Notices under sub-section (3) may be given by the retired partner or by any partner of the reconstituted firm.”

The word ‘retire’ in the said section is confined to cases where a partner withdraws from the firm and the remaining partners continue to carry on the business without dissolution as between them. It does not cover a case where a partner withdraws from the firm by dissolution and not by retirement.

Sub-section (2) of the said section states that a partner may be discharged from any liability to any third party for acts of the firm, before his retirement, by an agreement made by him with such third party and partners of reconstituted firm, and such agreement may be implied by course of dealing between such third party and reconstituted firm after he had knowledge of retirement. Further, sub-section (3) lays down that notwithstanding retirement of a partner, he and the other partners continue to be liable to third parties for any acts done by any of them which would have been act of the firm if done before retirement until public notice of the retirement is given. However, the retired partner shall not be liable to third party who deals with the firm without knowledge that he was a partner.

Dissolution of a Firm

7. Section 39 of the Act defines dissolution as the dissolution of partnership between all the partners of a firm. As per the said definition, a firm is said to be dissolved only when all and every one of the members of the firm cease to carry on its business in partnership with each other.

8. The question whether there has been a dissolution of the firm and or upon such dissolution a new firm has succeeded to the business of the old firm, is a question which can be ascertained from the facts and circumstances and documents available. The Supreme Court in Commissioner of Income Tax, West Bengal-III v. Pigot Champan & Company[4], has held that the question whether there has been a dissolution of the firm and upon such dissolution a new firm has succeeded to the business of the old firm is a question which depends upon the intention of the parties to be gathered from the document or documents, if any, executed by and between the partners and other facts and surrounding circumstances of the case.

Retirement and Dissolution

9. Retirement of a partner from a firm is not equivalent to dissolution of the firm, though if one partner retires in a partnership consisting of two partners, it shall amount to dissolution of the firm. But when a partner retires from a partnership consisting of more than two partners, the partnership is not automatically dissolved. It shall depend upon terms of partnership governing the parties.

  • The Supreme Court in Commissioner of Income Tax, West Bengal v. A.W. Figgies & Co.[5] has explained the provisions of retirement of a partner as:

“9. It is true that under the law of partnership a firm has no legal existence apart from its partners and it is merely a compendious name to describe its partners but it is also equally true that under that law there is no dissolution of the firm by the mere incoming or outgoing of partners. A partner can retire with the consent of the other partners and a person can be introduced in the partnership by the consent of the other partners. The reconstituted firm can carry on its business in the same firm’s name till dissolution. The law with respect to retiring partners as enacted in the Partnership Act is to a certain extent a compromise between the strict doctrine of English common law which refuses to see anything in the firm but a collective name for individuals carrying on business in partnership and the mercantile usage which recognises the firm as a distinct person or quasi corporation.”

 So, the retirement of a partner from a firm does not dissolve the firm, but merely severs the partnership between retiring partners and continuing partners, leaving the partnership among continuing partners unaffected.

  • The distinction between retirement and dissolution has also been highlighted by the Calcutta High Court in Sohanlal Pachisia & Co. v. Bilasray Khemani[6] as:

“31. But it is clear from Section 32 of the Partnership Act read with the relevant sections in Chapter VI of the said Act that by mere retirement of a partner, a firm is not dissolved but the retiring partner must give notice of his intention to dissolve the firm in order to bring about a dissolution…”

  •  The above distinction has been further elucidated by the Supreme Court in Pamuru Vishnu Vinodh Reddy v. Chillakuru Chandrasekhara Reddy[7], as under:

“Use of the word ‘retire’ in Section 32 of the Act is confined to cases where a partner withdraws from a firm and the remaining partners continue to carry on the business of the firm without dissolution of partnership as between them. Where a partner withdraws from a firm by dissolving it, it shall be dissolution and not the retirement. Retirement of a partner from a firm does not dissolve it, in other words it does not determine partnership inter se between all the partners. It only severs the partnership between the retiring partner and continuing partners, leaving the partnership amongst latter unaffected and the firm continues with the changed constitution comprising of the continuing partners. Section 32 provides for retirement of a partner but there is no express provision in the Act for the separation of his share and the intention appears to be that it would be determined by agreement between the parties…”

  •  Most recently, the Supreme Court in Guru Nanak Industries, Faridabad Amar Singh[8], also explained the distinction between ‘retirement of partner’ and ‘dissolution of partnership firm’, observing as under:

“13. There is a clear distinction between ‘retirement of a partner’ and ‘dissolution of a partnership firm’. On retirement of the partner, the reconstituted firm continues and the retiring partner is to be paid his dues in terms of Section 37 of the Partnership Act. In case of dissolution, accounts have to be settled and distributed as per the mode prescribed in Section 48 of the Partnership Act. When the partners agree to dissolve a partnership, it is a case of dissolution and not retirement…. In the present case, there being only two partners, the partnership firm could not have continued to carry on business as the firm. A partnership firm must have at least two partners. When there are only two partners and one has agreed to retire, then the retirement amounts to dissolution of the firm.”


*Advocate and a qualified Chartered Accountant.  Author  is currently a Senior Associate in the Dispute Resolution Practice at L&L Partners Law Offices, New Delhi. Author’s views are personal.

[1] Partnership Act, 1932

[2] (1985) 4 SCC 35

[3] 1971 SCC OnLine Raj 38

[4] (1982) 2 SCC 330

[5] 1954 SCR 171 

[6]  1953 SCC OnLine Cal 98

[7] (2003) 3 SCC 445

[8] 2020 SCC OnLine SC 469