The Supreme Court in a recent judgment in Dahiben v Arvindbhai Kalyanji Bhanusali & Ors1 has clarified that power to terminate a civil action under Order VII Rule 11 (“O7R11”), of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (“CPC”) though a drastic one, should be strictly followed, provided the conditions laid down under O7R11 are met.
The Supreme Court was hearing an appeal filed against the order of a Division Bench of the Gujarat High Court which had confirmed the order of the Trial Court allowing an O7R11 application, holding that the suit filed by the Appellants was barred by limitation.
The subject matter of the suit pertained to a plot of agricultural land that was sold by the Appellant. Full consideration of the sale deed was apparently not paid by the Respondent and a Suit was filed by the Appellant for cancellation of the sale deed.
The Respondent filed an Application for Rejection of the Plaint under O7R11 (“Application for Rejection”), on grounds that the Suit was barred by limitation and that no cause of action had been disclosed in the plaint.
The Trial Court held that the period of limitation for filing the suit was 3 years from the date of execution of the sale deed dated 2 July 2009. The Trial Court further noted that the suit was filed on 15 December 2014 and was therefore barred by limitation. On this basis, the Trial Court dismissed the suit and allowed the Application for Rejection.
Aggrieved by the Trial Court's order, the Appellants filed an appeal before the Gujarat High Court which was dismissed. The Appellants thereafter filed a Civil Appeal before the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court's Analysis and Findings
In deciding the appeal, the Supreme Court carefully analyzed the law applicable in deciding an application under O7R11. The Court held that the remedy under O7R11 is an independent and special remedy which empowers a Court to summarily dismiss a suit at the very threshold without recording evidence and conducting a trial, if it is satisfied that the Suit is barred by law. The Court relied upon its decision in Azhar Hussain v Rajiv Gandhi2 and ruled that the objective of O7R11 is to act as a deterrent to unnecessary and sham litigations in order to save precious judicial time.
With regard to the test for exercising power under O7R11 it was held that in an application under O7R11, the plaint has to be construed as it stands without the addition or subtraction of words and if the allegations in the plaint prima facie show a cause of action, no further enquiry has to be conducted. If on a meaningful reading of the plaint, it is found that a suit does not disclose a right to sue, the suit can be dismissed. The Court also re-affirmed its decision in Saleem Bhai v State of Maharashtra3, that the power under O7R11 can be exercised by the Court at any stage of the suit before the conclusion of trial.
After reiterating the principles that govern adjudication of an O7R11 Application, the Court turned its attention to the facts of the case and noted that the suit was filed on 15 December 2014, even though the alleged cause of action had arisen in 2009. The period of limitation provided under Article 59 of the Limitation Act 1963, for instituting a suit “to cancel or set aside an instrument tor decree or for the rescission of a contract” was three years from the date on which the right to first sue accrues. The Court noted that no explanation was provided to justify the 5 and a half years delay and accordingly held that the suit filed by the Appellant was barred by limitation and dismissed the appeal with costs.
This decision of the Court reiterates that the plaintiff is the dominus litis and should be proactive in protecting its legal rights and ensuring that legal proceedings are filed within the period of limitation. The Plaintiff should also ensure that the plaint is appropriately drafted to convey genuine issues. In case the plaint is filed beyond time or the averments do not disclose a genuine cause of action, the Courts will not hesitate in putting an end to the litigation.
Given that over-burdening of Courts and resultant delays have been a constant feature of the Indian Judicial System, the Supreme Court's approach to put an end to unnecessary civil proceedings is quite welcome and a step in the right direction.
1 Civil Appeal No. 9519 Of 2019
2 1986 Supp. SCC 315
3 (2003) 1 SCC 557
Originally published 21 July, 2020
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