Legal Blog: "Sufficient Cause" for Setting Aside Ex-Parte Decree : The Law

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Sufficient Cause" for Setting Aside Ex-Parte Decree : The Law

P. Sathasivam
The Supreme Court in its Judgment Parimal v. Veena @ Bharti has examined the provisions of Order IX Rule 13 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. Order IX Rule 13 of the CPC speaks of conditions under which an Ex-Parte Decree can be set aside. While examining the various judicial precedents on the provision, the Court held as under;

7. Order IX, R.13 CPC:

The aforesaid provisions read as under:

"Setting aside decree ex-parte against defendant In any case in which a decree is passed ex-parte against a defendant, he may apply to the Court by which the de- cree was passed for an order to set it aside; and if he sat- isfies the Court that the summons was not duly served, or that he was prevented by any sufficient cause from appearing when the suit was called on for hearing, the Court shall make an order setting aside the decree as against him upon such terms as to costs, payment into Court or otherwise as it thinks fit, and shall appoint a day for proceeding with the suit; xx xx xx Provided further that no Court shall set aside a decree passed ex-parte merely on the ground that there has been an irregularity in the service of summons, if it is satisfied that the defendant had notice of the date of hearing and had sufficient time to appear and answer the plaintiff's claim.

xx xx xx" (Emphasis added)

8. It is evident from the above that an ex-parte decree against a defendant has to be set aside if the party satisfies the Court that summons had not been duly served or he was prevented by sufficient cause from appearing when the suit was called on for hearing. However, the court shall not set aside the said decree on mere irregularity in the service of summons or in a case where the defendant had notice of the date and sufficient time to appear in the court.

The legislature in its wisdom, made the second proviso, mandatory in nature. Thus, it is not permissible for the court to allow the application in utter disregard of the terms and conditions incorporated in the second proviso herein.

9. "Sufficient Cause" is an expression which has been used in large number of Statutes. The meaning of the word "sufficient" is "adequate" or "enough", in as much as may be necessary to answer the purpose intended. Therefore, word "sufficient" embraces no more than that which provides a platitude which when the act done suffices to accomplish the purpose intended in the facts and circumstances existing in a case and duly examined from the view point of a reasonable standard of a cautious man. In this context, "sufficient cause" means that party had not acted in a negligent manner or there was a want of bona fide on its part in view of the facts and circumstances of a case or the party cannot be alleged to have been "not acting diligently" or "remaining inactive". However, the facts and circumstances of each case must afford sufficient ground to enable the Court concerned to exercise discretion for the reason that whenever the court exercises discretion, it has to be exercised judiciously. (Vide: Ramlal & Ors. v. Rewa Coalfields Ltd., AIR 1962 SC 361; Sarpanch, Lonand Grampanchayat v. Ramgiri Gosavi & Anr., AIR 1968 SC 222; Surinder Singh Sibia v. Vijay Kumar Sood, AIR 1992 SC 1540; and Oriental Aroma Chemical Industries Limited v. Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation & Another, (2010) 5 SCC 459)

10. In Arjun Singh v. Mohindra Kumar & Ors., AIR 1964 SC 993, this Court observed that every good cause is a sufficient cause and must offer an explanation for non-appearance. The only difference between a "good cause" and "sufficient cause" is that the requirement of a good cause is complied with on a lesser degree of proof than that of a "sufficient cause". (See also: Brij Indar Singh v. Lala Kanshi Ram & Ors., AIR 1917 P.C. 156; Manindra Land and Building Corporation Ltd. v. Bhutnath Banerjee & Ors., AIR 1964 SC 1336; and Mata Din v. A. Narayanan, AIR 1970 SC 1953).

11. While deciding whether there is a sufficient case or not, the court must bear in mind the object of doing substantial justice to all the parties concerned and that the technicalities of the law should not prevent the court from doing substantial justice and doing away the illegality perpetuated on the basis of the judgment impugned before it. (Vide: State of Bihar & Ors. v. Kameshwar Prasad Singh & Anr., AIR 2000 SC 2306; Madanlal v. Shyamlal, AIR 2002 SC 100; Davinder Pal Sehgal & Anr. v. M/s. Partap Steel Rolling Mills (P) Ltd. & Ors., AIR 2002 SC 451; Ram Nath Sao alias Ram Nath Sao & Ors. v. Gobardhan Sao & Ors., AIR 2002 SC 1201; Kaushalya Devi v. Prem Chand & Anr. (2005) 10 SCC 127; Srei International Finance Ltd., v. Fair growth Financial Services Ltd. & Anr., (2005) 13 SCC 95; and Reena Sadh v. Anjana Enterprises, AIR 2008 SC 2054).

12. In order to determine the application under Order IX, Rule 13 CPC, the test has to be applied is whether the defendant honestly and sincerely intended to remain present when the suit was called on for hearing and did his best to do so. Sufficient cause is thus the cause for which the defendant could not be blamed for his absence. Therefore, the applicant must approach the court with a reasonable defence. Sufficient cause is a question of fact and the court has to exercise its discretion in the varied and special circumstances in the case at hand. There cannot be a strait-jacket formula of universal application. 

The Judgment further goes on to examine the Presumption of Service by Registered Post, and observes as under;

PRESUMPTION OF SERVICE BY REGISTERED POST & BURDEN OF PROOF:

13. This Court after considering large number of its earlier judgments in Greater Mohali Area Development Authority & Ors. v. Manju Jain & Ors., AIR 2010 SC 3817, held that in view of the provisions of Section 114 Illustration (f) of the Evidence Act, 1872 and Section 27 of the General Clauses Act, 1897 there is a presumption that the addressee has received the letter sent by registered post. However, the presumption is rebuttable on a consideration of evidence of impeccable character. A similar view has been reiterated by this Court in Dr. Sunil Kumar Sambhudayal Gupta & Ors. v. State of Maharashtra, JT 2010 (12) SC 287.

14. In Gujarat Electricity Board & Anr. v. Atmaram Sungomal Poshani, AIR 1989 SC 1433, this Court held as under: "There is presumption of service of a letter sent under registered cover, if the same is returned back with a postal endorsement that the addressee refused to accept the same. No doubt the presumption is rebuttable and it is open to the party concerned to place evidence before the Court to rebut the presumption by showing that the address mentioned on the cover was incorrect or that the postal authorities never tendered the registered letter to him or that there was no occasion for him to refuse the same. The burden to rebut the presumption lies on the party, challenging the factum of service."

(Emphasis added)

15. The provisions of Section 101 of the Evidence Act provide that the burden of proof of the facts rests on the party who substantially asserts it and not on the party who denies it. In fact, burden of proof means that a party has to prove an allegation before he is entitled to a judgment in his favour. Section 103 provides that burden of proof as to any particular fact lies on that person who wishes the court to believe in its existence, unless it is provided by any special law that the proof of that fact shall lie on any particular person. The provision of Section 103 amplifies the general rule of Section 101 that the burden of proof lies on the person who asserts the affirmative of the facts in issue.

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