Res judicata & co-defendants By Adv. R.S. Agrawal

A Supreme Court division bench consisting of Justice N.V. Ramana and Justice Mohan M. Shantana gender, while affirming the judgment of the Madras High Court, on October 23, 2018, re-iterated in the verdict of the case – Govindammal (Dead) By LRs. and Others v. Vaidiyanatyhan and Others, the factors for applying the principles of res judicata between co-defendants. For that, these 4 conditions must be satisfied namely;

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

(2) it must be necessary to decide the conflict in order to give the reliefs which the plaintiff claims;

(3) the question between the defendants must have been finally decided; and

(4) the co-defendants were necessary or proper parties in the former suit.

To reach the conclusion, the Supreme Court relied upon its earlier judgments of the cases – Syed Mohd. Saadat Ali Khan v. Mirza Wiquar Ali Beg- AIR 1943 PC 115; Shashibhushan Prasad Mishra v. Babuji Rai, AIR 1970 SC 809 and Iftikhar Ahmed v. Syed Meharban Ali, (1974) 2 SCC 151.

The suit, in this case, was filed by the respondents herein, seeking a declaration that ‘A schedule property ( as described in the plaint) belongs to them or in the alternative for partition of half share in ‘B schedule’ property ( as described in the plaint) of which ‘A’ schedule is a part.

According to the plaintiffs (respondents herein), the properties originally belonged to two brothers Pazanivelu and Chokalingam. Pazanivelu had two sons Narayanaswamy and Manickam. Narayanaswamy had a son named Gnanasambandam. The plaintiffs are the grandsons of Narayanaswamy being the sons of Gnanasambandam.

On July 21, 1912, partition took place between the branches of Pazanivelu and Chokalingam, and the same was signed by Narayanaswamy  (since Pazanivelu had expired by then)  and Chokalingam.

In the said partition, ‘A schedule’ property was allotted to Narayanaswamy and Manickam  (who was a minor then), while the remaining half of the property left in ‘B schedule’ was allotted to Chokalingam.

It has been relevant to note here that the suit property totally measured 3.18 acres at the time of partition in 1912, which subsequently got reduced to 2.72 acres in view of natural calamities, sale of certain portions and resettlement etc. Thus, the share of each branch was reduced to 1.36 acres each. After the death of Narayanaswamy Mudaliar in the year 1965, the plaintiffs being the grandsons of Narayanaswamy inherited the whole ‘A schedule’ property.

In the meanwhile, Chokalingam’s half share was sold in a court auction on December 21, 1933, and was purchased by the original defendant’s father. There are no records to show that there was the delivery of possession. At any rate, the court sale could not confer more than the right, title and interest of the judgment-debtor. Since the defendant attempted to trespass into the southwestern portion of the suit property (under ‘A schedule’)and prevented the plaintiffs from enjoying the same, the suit came to be filed.

Training its attention to the question of estoppel as argued by the defendant’s counsel based on the admission of the father of the plaintiffs in the pleadings and in his deposition regarding the title of the father of the defendant in the earlier litigations. It is no doubt true that admission is the piece of evidence.

However, an admission can always be explained, unless such an admission gives rise to the principle of estoppel. This principle could have arisen if the father of the defendant had acted to his detriment on the basis of the representation made by the plaintiff’s father as the basic requirement for attracting the principle of estoppel, is that the person to whom the representation was made must have acted on the basis of such representation, and particularly to his own detriment.

In this case, the father of the defendant knew about the correct position on facts and he very well knew that he was the owner to the extent of 50 pc of the property only, and as he did not act to his detriment, the question of estoppel does not arise.

As mentioned earlier, it is well settled that in an auction purchase, the auction purchaser does not acquire any right over the property higher than that of the judgment debtor.

Since the principles of res judicata between co-defendants are not applicable in this case, and since a mere admission does not operate as an estoppel, such admission does not create or pass any title in favour of the defendant’s father and consequently to the defendant. On the other hand, it is apparent that the defendant’s father had right over only half of the property in question, which he had purchased.

In the opinion of the Apex-Court, the HC division bench had rightly negated the contention of the defendant relating to adverse possession. From the evidence on record, the trial court and the division bench of the HC have come to the conclusion that the defendant has failed to prove that he and his predecessor-in-interest had possession over the entire property to the exclusion of the plaintiffs and their predecessor.

No material is found on record which emphatically discloses that the physical delivery of the possession of the property was given to the auction purchaser by evicting or in exclusion of all the persons including the plaintiffs’ father and the plaintiffs. In the absence of such material, the trial court and the HC division bench had rightly concluded that there was symbolic delivery of possession in favour of the auction purchaser.

However, the subsequent documents show joint possession of the plaintiffs and the defendant. Even now the names of both parties are found in the revenue records. The documents do not show exclusive possession of either of the parties but would indicate that they are in joint possession. Three ‘pattas’ disclose names of both the parties in the revenue records. Even the house tax receipts are in the name of the plaintiffs’ predecessor.

‘A schedule‘ property has already been subjected to partition inter se among the plaintiffs after the death of Narayanswamy Mudaliar and the allotment of property in question, that is, ‘A Schedule’ has been made in favour of the second plaintiff as per Exh. A-40.Those records and certain other material on record would negatively the contention of the defendant relating to adverse possession.

The plaintiffs have proved satisfactorily that they are the owners of half of the property partitioned in 1912, which had ultimately fallen in the share of Narayanswamy (grandfather of plaintiffs).In view of this, the Court did not find any reason to interfere with the impugned judgment of the Madras HC division bench in LPA 70/2002 of January 29. 2007. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal.

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