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SRI LANKAPPA & ORS. vs KARNATAKA INDUSTRIAL CORPORATION & ORS.
Bench: UDAY UMESH LALIT J and S. RAVINDRA BHAT J
Issue- Whether the judgment in a suit for injunction bars by res judicata a subsequent suit for declaration of title?
The observation of the Supreme Court – It is apparent from the facts that the two suits filed earlier – the 1995 Suit and KIC Suit-I – culminated in a decision favourable to the appellants herein, as KIC’s suit was dismissed. KIC and the other respondents appealed against the decision in the present appellant’s suit; that appeal was also dismissed. The second appeal preferred by the parties was dismissed on 16.06.2005. The High Court pertinently observed and held that the appellants herein were in possession of the Suit Schedule Property and rightly injuncted the respondents from interfering with their peaceful possession and enjoyment of the same, holding further that there was deemed cancellation of the grant of land granted in favour of the respondents herein as due procedure had not been followed. These findings were challenged in a suit filed by the appellants, which claimed that they had absolute title to the property. No doubt, KIC’s suit claimed injunction; its dismissal, if that were the only proceeding, would not have precluded a subsequent suit, claiming title. However, the fact here is that KIC was a respondent in the suit filed by the appellant (i.e., the 1995 Suit) which expressly sought the relief of declaration that the appellant was the absolute owner. It was in such a context that the question of ‘ownership’, which was directly in issue, in a proceeding, i.e., a suit, filed before a competent court, was decided. That decision ruled out KIC’s ownership, holding that there was “deemed cancellation of the grant of land” before the High Court. All these facts were disclosed by KIC in the suit filed after this Court dismissed its civil appeal, thus rendering the judgment in the second appeal final. In these circumstances, the issue which remains is whether the trial court wrongly rejected KIC Suit-II, as found by the impugned judgment.
In Anathula Sudhakar vs P. Buchi Reddy (2008) 4 SCC 594, this Court outlined various situations in which a person claiming possession or injunction can claim relief. They are set out below:
“21. To summarise, the position in regard to suits for prohibitory injunction relating to immovable property, is as under:
- Where a cloud is raised over the plaintiff’s title and he does not have possession, a suit for declaration and possession, with or without a consequential injunction, is the remedy. Where the plaintiff’s title is not in dispute or under a cloud, but he is out of possession, he has to sue for possession with a consequential injunction. Where there is merely an interference with the plaintiff’s lawful possession or threat of dispossession, it is sufficient to sue for an injunction simpliciter.
- As a suit for injunction simpliciter is concerned only with possession, normally the issue of title will not be directly and substantially in issue. The 9 prayer for injunction will be decided with reference to the finding on possession. But in cases where de jure possession has to be established on the basis of title to the property, as in the case of vacant sites, the issue of title may directly and substantially arise for consideration, as without a finding thereon, it will not be possible to decide the issue of possession.
- But a finding on title cannot be recorded in a suit for injunction, unless there are necessary pleadings and appropriate issue regarding title (either specific, or implied as noticed in Annaimuthu Thevar [Annaimuthu Thevar v. Alagammal, (2005) 6 SCC 202]). Where the averments regarding title are absent in a plaint and where there is no issue relating to title, the court will not investigate or examine or render a finding on a question of title, in a suit for injunction. Even where there are necessary pleadings and issue, if the matter involves complicated questions of fact and law relating to title, the court will relegate the parties to the remedy by way of comprehensive suit for declaration of title, instead of deciding the issue in a suit for mere injunction.
- Where there are necessary pleadings regarding title, and appropriate issue relating to title on which parties lead evidence, if the matter involved is simple and straightforward, the court may decide upon the issue regarding title, even in a suit for injunction. But such cases, are the exception to the normal rule that question of title will not be decided in suits for injunction. But persons having clear title and possession suing for injunction, should not be driven to the costlier and more cumbersome remedy of a suit for declaration, merely because some meddler vexatiously or wrongfully makes a claim or tries to encroach upon his property. The court should use its discretion carefully to identify cases where it will enquire into title and cases where it will refer to the plaintiff to a more comprehensive declaratory suit, depending upon the facts of the case.”
In the present case, KIC no doubt sought only a permanent injunction in its first suit. However, it is a fact of equal importance that the appellants-herein consistently agitated KIC’s title. KIC was a party to those proceedings. All the courts concurrently held that the grant, on which KIC based its possession, was deemed to be cancelled. Therefore, KIC could, by no procedure known to law, claim in another suit, that it was the absolute owner by virtue of the self-same grant, which was deemed to have been cancelled. The trial court therefore cannot be faulted with for holding that the question of title was directly in issue in the previous proceedings, and merely because it resulted in findings adverse to KIC, it could not escape being bound by those findings.