The Supreme Court explained the conditions for applying the principle of res judicata between co-defendants.

The Court reaffirmed the general policy behind the principle of res judicata as enshrined under Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC).

The Court was deciding a civil appeal preferred against the judgment of the High Court by which it dismissed the appeal of the plaintiff.

The two-Judge Bench of Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Pankaj Mithal observed, “The general policy behind the principle of res judicata as enshrined under Section 11 CPC is to avoid parties to litigate on the same issue which has already been adjudicated upon and settled. This is in consonance with the public policy so as to bring to an end the conflict of interest on the same issue between the same parties. One of the basic essential ingredients for applying the principle of res judicata, as stated earlier also, is that the matter which is directly and substantially in issue in the previous litigation ought not to be permitted to be raised and adjudicated upon in the subsequent suit. It is a settled law that the principle of res judicata is applicable not only between the plaintiff and the defendants but also between the co-defendants.”

The Bench reiterated the following three conditions in applying the principle of res judicata –

(i) there must be a conflict of interest between the co-defendants;

(ii) there is necessity to decide the said conflict in order to give relief to plaintiff; and

(iii) there is final decision adjudicating the said conflict.

“Once all these conditions are satisfied, the principle of res judicata can be applied inter se the co defendants”, it said.

Senior Advocate Manoj Goel appeared for the appellants while Senior Advocate Manoj Swarup appeared for the respondents.

In this case, a title suit of the plaintiff/appellant was decreed in 2000 by the court of first instance. In an appeal by the Cantonment Board, Ramgarh, the said decree was reversed by the First Appellate Court, basically on the ground that the suit was hit by principle of res judicata in view of the decision in the earlier title suit wherein the plaintiff/appellant was the defendant no. 32 and the Cantonment Board was the main contesting defendant. The second appeal preferred by the plaintiff was dismissed in 2009 simply stating that it did not raise any substantial question of law.

Being aggrieved by the judgment and order of the High Court dismissing the appeal, the plaintiff preferred the appeal before the Apex Court and also assailed the judgment of the First Appellate Court alleging that his suit was not barred by res judicata and that he had validly acquired title and possession over the disputed land. As the plaintiff died, he was represented by his legal heirs in the appeal.

The Supreme Court in view of the above facts noted, “… though reference can be made to several decisions starting from that of Privy Council, but we consider it appropriate to refer to only one of the latest decisions on the point rendered by this Court in the case of Govindammal (Dead) by Legal Representatives and Ors. vs. Vaidiyanathan and Ors., wherein after considering all previous decisions regarding application of principle of res judicata between co-defendants, this Court culled out the above three conditions for applying the same.”

The Court said that there was no conflict of interest between the co-defendants in the earlier suit inasmuch as the plaintiff-appellant was independently claiming rights over 0.30 acres of suit land whereas the Cantonment Board, Ramgarh was claiming rights over 2.55 acres of the land which formed part of the Estate of Raja without asserting that the land settled in its favour is the same as claimed by plaintiff-appellant or that there was any encroachment upon the land settled in its favour.

“Even assuming that there was some inter se conflicts between the co defendants with regard to the suit land, the adjudication of the said conflict was not necessary for granting any relief to Maharani who was the plaintiff in the suit. … In view of the aforesaid facts and circumstances, we are of the opinion that the principle of res judicata would not be attracted as the issue in the present suit was neither directly or indirectly in issue in the previous suit and there was no conflict of interest between the co-defendants in the said previous suit which if any never came to be adjudicated upon”, it added.

The Court observed that the suit as filed by the plaintiff-appellant claiming title over the suit land against the Cantonment Board, Ramgarh is not barred under Section 11 CPC. It further said that any observation of the Trial Court regarding adverse possession of the Cantonment Board would be deemed to be in respect of the claim as set up by the Cantonment Board and would not be construed to be in connection with the entire 5.38 acres of land so as to include the land of the plaintiff-appellant.

“The land settled in favour of the plaintiff-appellant and that in favour of the Cantonment Board by the Raja were distinct and as such there was no apparent conflict between them. … The plaintiff-appellant by sufficient evidence has proved the settlement of the suit land by the Raja in his favour”, it concluded.

Accordingly, the Apex Court allowed the appeal and set aside the judgment of the High Court.

Cause Title- Har Narayan Tewari (D) Thr. LRs. v. Cantonment Board, Ramgarh Cantonment & Ors. (Neutral Citation: 2024 INSC 467)


Appellants: Senior Advocate Manoj Goel and AOR Shuvodeep Roy.

Respondents: Senior Advocate Manoj Swarup and AOR Madhurima Tatia.

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