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Applicability Of Res Judicata Between Co-Defendants: Supreme Court Explains

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
1 Sep 2021 4:44 AM GMT
Applicability Of Res Judicata Between Co-Defendants: Supreme Court Explains
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The Supreme Court, in a judgment passed last week, examined the applicability of res judicata between co-defendants.The court observed that 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...

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The Supreme Court, in a judgment passed last week, examined the applicability of res judicata between co-defendants.

The court observed that 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.

It also observed that the 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, the bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta reiterated.


Background facts

Legal heirs of Late S.V. Srinivasulu Naidu filed an application before the Special Court, Hyderabad (Tribunal) under Section 8 of the Andhra Pradesh Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act,1982, alleging that their land grabbed by the Union of India. The applicants alleged that their father had purchased the said land from one Shaik Ahmed. That, their father sold it to some persons, who later filed a suit against their father, Union of India, State of Andhra Pradesh. In the said suit, the Plaintiff claimed that his vendor Shaik Ahmed and then the father of the applicants was the owner in possession of the property since purchase of the property on 20.3.1964, but the contractors of the Union of India, trespassed into the schedule property. That their father filed written statement in which he asserted that he had no objection to the Plaintiff suit being decreed. This suit was thus decreed on 13.8.1970 declaring the plaintiffs as title holders of the suit property. An appeal filed by the Union of India before the High Court of Andhra Pradesh was dismissed on 31.3.1975. Later, before the Tribunal, the applicants contended that they are original owners of the land in question and the Government had no right or title over the property. The Tribunal allowed the application and the High Court affirmed the order of tribunal.

Before the Apex Court, the Union of India contended that the subject matter of the first suit was only 4971.5 sq. yards which was purchased by the plaintiffs. Thus the issue was in respect of title of the plaintiffs over the said land alone and not the entire land which was handed over to the Union by the State of Andhra Pradesh. On the other hand, the applicants contended that the decree in the first suit is in respect of entire property purchased by predecessor of the applicants, though the claim of plaintiffs was restricted to the land purchased by him. Relying on K. Ethirajan (Dead) by LRs. v. Lakshmi & Ors., the contended that the principle of res judicata would be applicable where the issues directly and substantially involved between the same parties in the previous and subsequent suit are same, though in the previous suit, only part of the property was involved while in the subsequent suit, the whole of the property was the subject matter.

Thus the issue considered by the Court was whether the order passed in the first suit operates as res judicata? 

The court referred to some earlier decisions on the issue whether the plea of res judicata can be raised by the applicants against their co-defendant in the first suit. Referring to judgment in Govindammal (Dead) by LRs & Ors. v. Vaidiyanathan, the court noted that 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.

"Though the first suit is between the same parties, but the subject matter is not the same. 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. Since the issue in the suit was restricted to 4971.5 sq. 36 yards, the decree would be binding qua to that extent only. The issue cannot be said to be barred by constructive res judicata as per Explanation IV as it applies to the plaintiff in a later suit. The appellants have denied the claim of the plaintiffs in the first suit to the extent that it was the subject matter of that suit alone. Therefore, the decree in the first suit will not operate as res judicata in the subsequent matters", the court observed.

The court further held that the judgment in K. Ethirajan is clearly not applicable in the present case as the title over the land in question before the Tribunal is distinct from the land which was the subject matter in the first suit. The first suit was only in respect of the land purchased by the Plaintiff and not the entire land, though his claim was based on sale by the father of the applicant, it said.

Taking note of other evidence on record, the bench observed that the applicants have not proved the title of their vendor so as to claim a rightful title over the land in question. It found that the Union of India are owners and in possession of the suit land. Allowing the appeal, the bench dismissed the application filed before the Tribunal.


Case: Union of India vs. S. Narasimhulu Naidu (Dead) ; CA 2049 OF 2013
Citation: LL 2021 SC 408
Coram: Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta

Click here to Read/Download Judgment




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