In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court of India has reaffirmed the principle that the doctrine of res judicata cannot be invoked as a ground for the rejection of a plaint under Order VII Rule 11(d) of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC). This decision, delivered by a bench comprising Justices Abhay S. Oka and Justice Pankaj Mithal, sheds light on the scope and application of Rule 11(d) of CPC and its relationship with the doctrine of res judicata.

Understanding Order VII Rule 11(d) of CPC and Res Judicata

Order VII Rule 11(d) of CPC empowers the court to reject a plaint when “the suit appears from the statement in the plaint to be barred by any law.” On the other hand, Section 11 of the CPC enunciates the rule of res judicata, which dictates that a court shall not try any suit or issue that has already been heard and decided in a previous suit, directly or indirectly.

Key Observations by the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court made several crucial observations in this case:

1. Res Judicata Cannot Be Decided on Order VII Rule 11 Application: The Court highlighted that determining res judicata requires more than just examining the pleadings in the earlier suit. It necessitates a comprehensive assessment of various elements, including the pleadings in the previous suit, the Trial Court’s judgment, and the Appellate Courts’ decisions. Therefore, the Court concluded that the plea of res judicata raised by the appellant could not be decided on its merits at this stage.

2. Scope of Rule 11 of Order VII of CPC: The Court reiterated that Rule 11 of Order VII of CPC limits the court’s consideration to the averments made in the plaint and, at most, the documents attached to the plaint. It expressly excludes the defense presented by a defendant and the documents they rely upon from being considered when deciding such an application.

Echoes of Previous Decisions

This recent pronouncement by the Supreme Court echoes previous findings made by Justice DY Chandrachud in the 2021 case of Srihari Hanumandas Totala v. Hemant Vithal Kamat. In that case, it was firmly established that res judicata cannot serve as grounds for rejecting a plaint under Order VII Rule 11(d) of CPC.

Established Framework for Res Judicata

The Supreme Court referred to established frameworks in past cases, emphasizing that invoking Order VII Rule 11(d) of the CPC does not permit the examination of evidence. Issues related to the merits of the matter, which may arise between the parties, are beyond the court’s purview at this stage. This principle was highlighted in V. Rajeshwari v. T.C. Saravanabava (2004) 1 SCC 551 and Kamala v. KT Eshwara Sa (2008) 12 SCC 661.

In addition, the Supreme Court reiterated in Shakti Bhog Food Industries Ltd. V. Central Bank of India (2020 SCC OnLine SC 482) that only the averments in the plaint should be considered when deciding such an application, and the defendant’s pleas in the written statement are irrelevant to this process.

The Case in Question

In the present case Keshav Sood Vs. Kirti Pradeep Sood, the dispute centered around the appellant’s application for the rejection of the plaintiff’s plaint under Rule 11 of Order VII of CPC. The plaintiffs had filed a suit against the appellant, who responded by invoking the contention of res judicata—a doctrine preventing the re-litigation of matters already adjudicated in previous legal proceedings.

Initially, the learned Single Judge accepted the appellant’s application and rejected the plaintiffs’ plaint under Order VII Rule 11 of the CPC. Subsequently, the plaintiffs appealed this decision to the High Court, asserting that the Single Judge had erred in accepting the appellant’s plea of res judicata. Ultimately, the case found its way to the Supreme Court for resolution.

This recent Supreme Court ruling serves as a significant clarification of the interplay between Order VII Rule 11(d) of CPC and the doctrine of res judicata. It underscores that the rejection of a plaint under Rule 11(d) cannot be based on res judicata and affirms the limited scope of such applications, focusing solely on the plaint’s averments. As such, this decision is set to have a lasting impact on the application of these legal principles in future cases. 

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