In an appeal, a Supreme Court bench comprised of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Bela M Trivedi issued a split verdict. The judges couldn't concur on whether the plaint in this instance was subject to being dismissed as barred by limitation under Order VII Rule 11(d) of the Code of Civil Procedure.
While Justice Khanna upheld the views of the trial court as well as the High Court that the plaint was liable to be rejected, Justice Trivedi disagreed, stating that the issue of limitation in this case was a mixed question of facts and the law, hence required a trial.
Because of the split on the bench, the case has been submitted to the Chief Justice for further action.
"In view of the difference of opinion expressed by two separate judgments, the Registry is directed to place the matter before Hon'ble the Chief Justice of India for appropriate orders/directions", the bench ordered.
The case stemmed from a civil suit filed in 2012, which sought a ruling that a 1969 sale deed was a forged instrument that was illegal, null and void.
During the trial, the question of whether the complaint was time-barred and so liable to be rejected at the threshold under Order VII Rule 11 (d)was raised as a preliminary issue.
The plaintiffs cited Section 17 of the Limitation Act, which stipulates that in the instance of fraud, the statute of limitations begins to run only when the fraudulent act is discovered. Justice Khanna remarked in his assessment of the plaint's averments that the plaintiffs were aware of the 1969 sale deed even before 2008. The judge further pointed out that, under the rules of pleadings, plaintiffs must provide detailed averments claiming fraud, including dates.
Justice Khanna added that "Section 17(1) does not assist a person who merely shuts his eyes in spite of circumstances requiring him to ascertain facts on which he would have discovered the fraud".
Holding that even going by the plaint itself, the suit was time-barred, Justice Khanna upheld the rejection of the plaint.
Justice Trivedi, on the other hand, found that the subject of Section 17's applicability in this case was a mixed question of law and facts. Justice Trivedi stated, citing plenty of precedents stated that. Whether the claim is banned by law or not must be determined from the statements made in the plaint, and the matter cannot be decided based on any other evidence, including the written statement filed in the case.
"From the afore-stated legal position, it is absolutely clear that for invoking Order VII Rule 11 (d), and for the purpose of rejecting the plaint on the ground that the suit is barred by any law, only the averments made in the plaint have to be referred to and that the defence taken by the defendant in the written statement being wholly irrelevant, must not be considered", Justice Trivedi stated in her order.
The judge noted that the High Court had referred to statements in the written statement as well as certain legal notices issued by the plaintiffs to come to its conclusion,
"...the plaintiff had pleaded fraud committed against her and other defendants who were the legal representatives of Smt. Harbans Kaur. The Court at this juncture is not inclined to go into the merits of the issues involved in the suit. Suffice it to say that the Single Bench and the Division Bench have passed the impugned orders de hors the specific provisions of CPC and in utter disregard of the position of law settled by this Court", Justice Trivedi said. It was further found that because the plea of limitation was not a "abstract question of law," it could not have been decided as a preliminary issue.
As a result, Justice Trivedi ordered the suit to be restored after the impugned verdicts were set aside.