SC to HCs: Adhere to Binding Decisions of Coordinate Bench, Do Not Violate Judicial Discipline

The Supreme Court has instructed the High Courts to strictly abide by the “Doctrine of Merger,” which states unequivocally that more than one operative order governing the same subject matter cannot exist at the same time, while emphasizing the significance of judicial discipline.

When a decision from a co-ordinate bench of the same High Court is brought to the attention of the bench, it is to be respected and is binding, subject to the right of the bench of such co-equal quorum to take a different view and refer the matter to a larger bench, the Division Bench of Justices Vikram Nath and Rajesh Bindal noted while adjudicating upon an appeal.

Synopsis of the Case’s Facts

The plaintiff-appellant in this case had filed a civil appeal contesting the validity of the 2009 Madurai Bench of Madras High Court judgment and order, which allowed the defendant-respondent’s Second Appeal and set aside the Sub-Judge’s 2003 judgment and decree while restoring and confirming the Trial Court’s 1997 ruling.

In the Court of District Munsiff-cum-Judicial Magistrate, the plaintiff-appellant had filed a civil suit against the respondents, requesting a declaration of title, possession, and a permanent injunction. The suit was filed because the respondents had previously sued the appellant for ejectment in 1976. In 1990, the High Court dismissed the aforementioned suit, the First Appeal, and the Second Appeal. Since there was no further discussion, the same became definitive. The property in question was still possessed by the appellant. Nevertheless, the appellant filed the lawsuit because the respondents were attempting to impede her possession.

In their written statements, the respondents disputed the lawsuit. They claimed that their defense was that on March 13, 1974, they had bought 8 cents of land through a registered sale deed, which related to an open plot of land devoid of any buildings. Their 1976 lawsuit was not about eight cents of land; rather, it was about the constructions brought up by the appellant. Regarding the suit property, the appellant possessed neither title nor interest. The appellant, who was offended by the suit’s dismissal, filed an appeal.

The Trial Court’s judgment and decree were modified by the SubJudge in a judgement dated October 13, 2003. The appellants were granted the right to the entire suit property, relief from a declaration of title, a permanent injunction, and the establishment of their boundary for the purpose of securing the property. In the previous legal round, the learned Sub-Judge had mostly relied on the High Court’s decision from March 30, 1990.

The respondents, who felt aggrieved by the Sub-Judge’s ruling, filed a second appeal with the High Court in 2004. The High Court granted the appeal, overturned the Sub-Judge’s decision, and reinstated the Trial Court’s decree in the contested ruling dated July 21, 2009. The plaintiff has chosen this particular appeal because they are upset about the same.

Arguments

The principal contention put forth by the appellant was that the High Court had explicitly noted in its first-round judgment dated March 30, 1990, that the dispute pertained to eight cents of land and the construction situated thereon. Therefore, in the current round of litigation, the Trial Court or the High Court could not have limited it to the construction and not the entire portion of land measuring eight cents.

Additionally, it was argued that the First Appeal Court had expressly stated in its decision from October 13, 2003, in the current round, that the Trial Court lacked the authority to challenge the High Court’s ruling. In fact, the High Court violated judicial discipline by adopting a viewpoint that was at odds with the previous ruling in its contested decision.

Observation of the High Court

The Court first noted that the High Court’s judgment from the first round, dated March 30, 1990, stated that the suit property consisted of eight cents of land, which was the land that the respondents had purchased in 1974, and that the counsel for the appellants (respondents in this case), whose submissions are recorded, understood it in the same way.

The appellant had perfected her rights by adverse possession over the suit property, which consisted of eight cents of land, according to the court, so there was no defense left for the respondents to raise.

Even though the appellant’s construction may have been partially on the 8 cent piece of land, she was discovered to be in possession of the full 8 cents.

It was thus concluded that the judgment dated March 30, 1990, became final because the respondents never asked for clarification of the High Court’s findings or its observations, nor did they challenge the same before any higher forum.

The Court made the point that reading the aforementioned decision—which was obvious on its own—anyother way would be an obvious example of judicial misconduct.

“The Sub-Judge in its judgement dated 13.10.2003 had rightly observed that the Trial Court had no business to interpret the judgement of the High Court dated 30.03.1990 in any other way than what was recorded therein” , the judge stated.

In background of above, the court highlighted doctrine of merger which is a common law doctrine that is rooted in the idea of maintenance of the decorum of hierarchy of courts and tribunals.

The Court accordingly cited its judgements describing the said doctrine like Kunhayammed & Ors Vs. State of Kerala & ANR,  State of Punjab & ANR Vs. M/S Devans Modern Brewaries Ltd. & ANR, 2003,   Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community Vs. State of Maharashtra, 2023 .

Remarking that following the principles of judicial discipline, lower or subordinate Courts do not have the authority to contradict the decisions of higher Courts, the court put out that in the present matter however, the Trial Court and the High Court, in the second round of litigation, violated this judicial discipline by adopting a position contrary to the High Court’s final judgment dated 30.03.1990, from the first round of litigation.

The Court while rejecting the argument of the respondents, stressed that suit for possession has to describe the property in question with accuracy and all details of measurement and boundaries.

“A suit for possession with respect to such a property would be liable to be dismissed on the ground of its identifiability. Further, it may be noted that if the construction by the defendant were not made over 8 cents of purchased land, then the plaintiff therein would not have a claim to possession of the same. The argument thus has to be rejected not only on facts but also on legal grounds as discussed above”, the court ruled.

Mary Pushpam Vs. Telvi Curusumary & Ors., 2024

Civil Appeal No.9941 of 2016

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