Issue estoppel and Res Judicata

An erroneous determination of a pure question of law in a previous judgment will not operate as res judicata in the subsequent proceeding for different property, though between the same parties, is clearly in accord with Section 11 of the CPC. Strictly speaking, when the cause of action as well as the subject matter i.e, the property in issue in the subsequent suit are entirely different, res judicata is not attracted and the competent Court is therefore not debarred from trying the subsequent suit which may arise between the same parties in respect of other properties and upon a different cause of action.

In such a situation, since the Court is not debarred, all issues including those of facts remain open for adjudication by the competent Court and the principle which is attracted against the party which has lost on an important issue of fact in the earlier suit is the principle of estoppel, more particularly “issue estoppel” which flows from principles of evidence such as from Sections 115, 116 and 117 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and from principles of equity. As a principle of evidence, estoppel is treated to be an admission or in the eyes of law something equivalent to an admission of such quality and nature that the maker is not allowed to contradict it.

In other words it works as an impediment or bar to a right of action due to affected person’s conduct or action. “Estoppel by judgment” finds reference in the case of Ahsan Hussain Abdul Ali Bohari, Proprietor Abidi Shop v. Maina W/o Nathu Telanga AIR 1938 Nag 129.

It is taken as a bar which precludes the parties after final judgment to reagitate and relitigate the same cause of action or ground of defence or any fact determined by the judgment. If the determination was by a Court of competent jurisdiction, the bar will remain operative even if the judgment is perceived to be erroneous. If the parties fail to get rid of an erroneous judgment, they as well as persons claiming through them must remain bound by it. However, as explained and held by this Court in the case of Mathura Prasad Sarjoo Jaiswal (supra), where the decision is on a pure question of law then a Court cannot be precluded from deciding such question of law differently. Such bar cannot be invoked either on principle of equity or estoppel.

No equitable principle or estoppel can impede powers of the Court to determine an issue of law correctly in a subsequent suit which relates to another property founded upon a different cause of action though parties may be same. As explained earlier, in such a situation the principle of res judicata is, strictly speaking, not applicable at all. So far as principle of estoppel is concerned, it operates against the party and not the Court and hence nothing comes in the way of a competent court in such a situation to decide a pure question of law differently if it is so warranted [Satyendra Kumar & Ors. Vs. Raj Nath Dubey & Ors-06/05/2016]