Applicability of Res Judicata as between co-defendants

Why in the news?

In the Supreme Court of India in CIVIL APPEAL NO. 2049 OF 2013 with CIVIL APPEAL NO. 13 OF 2012.

It was argued that in the first suit, the decree is in respect of the entire property purchased by the predecessor of the applicants, though the claim of the plaintiff was limited to the land purchased by him. Therefore, such a decree would serve as a res judicata.

Reliance was placed on the verdict reported as K. Ethirajan (Dead) by LRs. v. Lakshmi & Ors.5 wherein it has been held that where the issues directly and substantially involved between the same parties in the previous and subsequent suit are same, although in the previous suit, only part of the property was involved whereas in the latter suit, the entire property was the subject matter, the principle of res judicata would apply.

What is Res judicata?

Res judicata is the Latin term for “a matter adjudged”. In case of a Res judicata, the matter cannot be taken up again in the same court or in any other court.

The doctrine of Res Judicata is defined in Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure.



Res judicata. —No Court shall try any suit or issue in which the matter directly and substantially in issue has been directly and substantially in issue in a former suit between the same parties, or between parties under whom they or any of them claim, litigating under the same title, in a Court competent to try such subsequent suit or the suit in which such issue has been subsequently raised, and has been heard and finally decided by such Court.
Explanation I.—The expression “former suit” shall denote a suit which has been decided prior to a suit in question whether or not it was instituted prior thereto. 
Explanation II. —For the purposes of this section, the competence of a Court shall be determined irrespective of any provisions as to a right of appeal from the decision of such Court. 
Explanation III. —The matter above referred to must in the former suit have been alleged by one party and either denied or admitted, expressly or impliedly, by the other. 
Explanation IV. —Any matter which might and ought to have been made ground of defence or attack in such former suit shall be deemed to have been a matter directly and substantially in issue in such suit. 
Explanation V.—Any relief claimed in the plaint, which is not expressly granted by the decree, shall for the purposes of this section, be deemed to have been refused. 
Explanation VI. —Where persons litigate bona fide in respect of a public right or of a private right claimed in common for themselves and others, all persons interested in such right shall, for the purposes of this section, be deemed to claim under the persons so litigating. 
Explanation VII. —The provisions of this section shall apply to a proceeding for the execution of a decree and references in this section to any suit, issue or former suit shall be construed as references, respectively, to a proceeding for the execution of the decree, question arising in such proceeding and a former proceeding for the execution of that decree. 
Explanation VIII. —An issue heard and finally decided by a Court of limited jurisdiction, competent to decide such issue, shall operate as res judicata in a subsequent suit, notwithstanding that such Court of limited jurisdiction was not competent to try such subsequent suit or the suit in which such issue has been subsequently raised.]


The rule of res judicata is founded on considerations of public policy that the finality should be attached to the binding decisions pronounced by the Courts of competent jurisdiction.


Alka Gupta v. Narender Kumar Gupta


“20. Plea of res judicata is a restraint on the right of a plaintiff to have an adjudication of his claim. 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. In this case, there was no plea of constructive res judicata, nor had the appellant-plaintiff an opportunity to meet the case based on such plea.

21. Res judicata means “a thing adjudicated”, that is, an issue that is finally settled by judicial decision. The Code deals with res judicata in Section 11, relevant portion of which is extracted below (excluding Explanations I to VIII):

“11. Res judicata. — xxxx xxxx

22. Section 11 of the Code, on an analysis requires the following essential requirements to be fulfilled, to apply the bar of res judicata to any suit or issue:

(i) The matter must be directly and substantially in issue in the former suit and in the later suit.

(ii) The prior suit should be between the same parties or persons claiming under them.

(iii) Parties should have litigated under the same title in the earlier suit.

(iv) The matter in issue in the subsequent suit must have been heard and finally decided in the first suit.

(v) The court trying the former suit must have been competent to try the particular issue in question.”


Daryao & Ors. v. State of U.P. & Ors.


“9. …Now, the rule of res judicata as indicated in Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure has no doubt some technical aspects, for instance the rule of constructive res judicata may be said to be technical; but the basis on which the said rule rests is founded on considerations of public policy. It is in the interest of the public at large that a finality should attach to the binding decisions pronounced by Courts of competent jurisdiction, and it is also in the public interest that individuals should not be

vexed twice over with the same kind of litigation. If these two principles form the foundation of the general rule of res judicata they cannot be treated as irrelevant or inadmissible even in dealing with fundamental rights in petitions filed under Article 32.”


State of Karnataka & Anr. v. All India Manufacturers Organisation & Ors.


“32. Res judicata is a doctrine based on the larger public interest and is founded on two grounds: one being the maxim nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa (no one ought to be twice vexed for one and the same cause [ P. Ramanatha Aiyer: Advanced Law Lexicon, (Vol. 3, 3rd Edn., 2005) at p. 3170]) and second, public policy that there ought to be an end to the same litigation [Mulla: Code of Civil Procedure, (Vol. 1, 15th Edn., 1995) at p. 94] . It is well settled that Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 (hereinafter “CPC”) is not the foundation of the principle of res judicata, but merely statutory recognition thereof and hence, the section is not to be considered exhaustive of the general principle of law [See Kalipada De v. Dwijapada Das, (1929-1930) 57 IA 24 : AIR 1930 PC 22 at p. 23] . The main purpose of the doctrine is that once a matter has been determined in a former proceeding, it should not be open to parties to reagitate the matter again and again. Section 11 CPC recognises this principle and forbids a court from trying any suit or issue, which is res judicata, recognising both “cause of action estoppel” and “issue estoppel”. There are

two issues that we need to consider, one, whether the doctrine of res judicata, as a matter of principle, can be applied to public interest litigations and second, whether the issues and findings in Somashekar Reddy [(1999) 1 KLD 500: (2000) 1 Kant LJ 224 (DB)] constitute res judicata for the present litigation. xx xx xx

36. We will presently consider whether the issues and findings in Somashekar Reddy [(1999) 1 KLD 500: (2000) 1 Kant LJ 224 (DB)] actually constitute res judicata for the present litigation. Section 11 CPC undoubtedly provides that only those matters that were “directly and substantially in issue” in the previous proceeding will constitute res judicata in the subsequent proceeding. Explanation III to Section 11 provides that for an issue to be res judicata it should have been raised by one party and expressly denied by the other: xx xx xx

41. With these legal principles in mind, the question, therefore, arises as to what exactly was sought in Somashekar Reddy [(1999) 1 KLD 500: (2000) 1 Kant LJ 224 (DB)] , how it was decided by the High Court in the first round of litigation, and what has been sought in the present litigation arising at the instance of Mr J.C. Madhuswamy and others. In order to show that the issue of excess land was “directly and substantially in issue” in Somashekar Reddy [(1999) 1 KLD 500: (2000) 1 Kant LJ 224 (DB)] we will first examine the prayers of the parties, the cause of action, the averments of parties and the findings of the High Court in Somashekar Reddy [(1999) 1 KLD 500: (2000) 1 Kant LJ 224 (DB)] .”


Govindammal (Dead) by LRs & Ors. v. Vaidiyanathan & Ors.


“14. However, there exist certain situations in which the principles of res judicata may apply as between co-defendants. This has been recognised by the English courts as well as our courts for more than a century. The requisite conditions to apply the principle of res judicata as between co-defendants are that (a) there must be conflict of interest between the defendants concerned, (b) it must be necessary to decide this conflict in order to give the plaintiff the relief he claims, and (c) the question between the defendants must have been finally decided. All the three requisite conditions are absent in the matter on hand. Firstly, there was no conflict of interest between the defendants in the suits filed by the temple and the school. Secondly, since there was no conflict, it was not necessary to decide any conflict between the defendants in those suits in order to give relief to the temple or the school, which were the plaintiffs. On the other hand, the father of the plaintiffs and the father of the defendant were colluding in those suits filed by temple and school. Both of them unitedly opposed those suits. In view of the same, the principles of res judicata would not apply.”


Conclusion

The requisite conditions to apply the principle of res judicata as between co-defendants are that

(a) there must be conflict of interest between the defendants concerned,

(b) it must be necessary to decide this conflict in order to give the plaintiff the relief he claims, and

(c) the question between the defendants must have been finally decided.

Principle of Res Judicata will not apply if the subject matter of the suit is not same as that of earlier suit.

For res judicata to apply, the matter in the former suit must have been alleged by one party

and either denied or admitted, expressly or impliedly by the other.

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