Principles for applicability “res judicata among co-defendants” re-iterated: SC

Supreme Court: A Bench comprising of N.V. Ramana and M.M. Shantanagoudar, JJ., dismissed an appeal filed against the judgment of a Division Bench of Madras High Court whereby it allowed a letters patent appeal filed by the plaintiff in a partition suit.

The plaintiff filed a suit in regard to a property dispute wherein he prayed for partition of the subject property. The trial court decreed the suit, which decision was reversed by the first appellate court on an appeal by the defendant. The plaintiff then filed a letters patent appeal thereagainst which was allowed by the said Division Bench. The facts of the matter were that earlier, the defendant and father of the plaintiff were co-defendants in two original suits relating to the same subject property filed against them. In the said suits, the court had decided in favour of the defendant’s title over the subject property. Now, therefore, in the present suit, the defendant claims applicability of the doctrine of res judicata against the plaintiff as the father of the plaintiff was a co-defendant with him in the suits wherein his title was declared over the said property.

The Supreme Court, referring to a plethora of judgments reiterated the principles for the applicability of the doctrine of res judicata. The Court cited Mahboob Sahab v. Syed Ismail, (1995) 3 SCC 693 wherein the Supreme Court considering the applicability o the said doctrine between co-defendants held that the four conditions must be satisfied, namely-

  1. There must be a conflict of interest between defendants concerned;
  2. It must be necessary to decide the conflict in order to give 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.

The Court reiterated that if a plaintiff cannot get his claimed relief without trying and deciding a case between the co-defendants, the court will try and decide the case in its entirety including the conflict of interest between the co-defendants and the co-defendants will be bound by the decree. But if the relief given to the plaintiff does not require or involve a decision of any case between co-defendants, the co-defendants will not be bound between each other.

On the facts of the instant case, the Court found that all the above conditions were not present. Therefore, no res judicata was applicable between the parties. In light of the above and other holdings, the appeal was dismissed. [Govindammal v. Vaidiyanathan,2018 SCC OnLine SC 2117, decided on 23-10-2018]

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