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Constructive Res Judicata

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Source: Supreme Court

Why in News?

A Division Bench of the Supreme Court (SC) reaffirmed the well-established legal principle of Res Judicata in the matter of Samir Kumar Majumder v. The Union of India.


  • The facts of the case arise from the backdrop that the appellant (Samir Kumar Majumder) was a schoolteacher at the Railway Higher Secondary School (School hereafter), Alipurduar Junction.
    • His initial appointment was made as a Substitute Teacher.
    • He contended that artificial breaks were created in his service by terminating him on the eve of the school vacations and thereafter reappointing him.
      • He was terminated twice on 09th June 1990 and 22nd September 1990 and re engaged on 24th July 1990 and 1st November 1990 respectively.
  • Fearing further creation of artificial breaks, he filed an application before the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Guwahati Bench and prayed for setting aside of the letters of termination and also prayed for regularization of service.
    • CAT, Guwahati passed an interim order after which he continued his services. The application of the appellant was finally dismissed on the ground:
      • The CAT, Guwahati relied upon the case of Smt. Jayasree Deb Roy (Dutta) v. The Union of India & Ors (1989).
      • The tribunal in the present matter stated that substitute teachers cannot claim regularization as a matter of right. CAT also held that selection by the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) is essential for regular appointment.
  • An appeal was made to SC in which it was held that “The appellants are entitled to absorption on a regular basis through the process of screening by the screening committee and they are not required to face selection by the RRB for the purpose of regular absorption.”
  • The appellant underwent the screening process conducted by the Screening Committee and was subsequently appointed to the position of Primary Teacher at the School to fill an existing vacancy.
  • Aggrieved by the same, appellant approached the CAT, Guwahati again on the ground that he should have been absorbed as Assistant Teacher since he worked as a substitute Assistant Teacher and taught Classes XI and XII.
  • CAT dismissed the appellant’s application and the same was upheld by the High Court. Hence, the present case was filed in SC.

Court’s Observations

  • The SC was of the view that the appellant’s claim for absorption as Assistant Teacher in the Higher Secondary Section was not tenable.
    • It was noted that the appellant was initially appointed as a substitute teacher with the salary scale of a primary teacher. During the initial round of proceedings, there was no assertion made that he had served as an Assistant Teacher in the School. The argument before the CAT was also for regularization of services only.
  • The Court also tested appellant’s case from the lens of res judicata and held that the appellant's request for absorption as an assistant teacher in the Higher Secondary Section is evidently precluded by the doctrine of constructive res judicata.

Legal Provisions

Doctrine of Res Judicata and Constructive Res judicata

  • Res Judicata – Res means ‘Thing’ and Judicata means ‘Already Decided’ so Res Judicata simply means ‘A thing which has been decided’.
  • The principle is based upon maxims:
    • Interest Republicae Ut Sit Finis Litium - It is to the interest of the state that there should be a limit to litigation.
    • Nemo Debet Bis Vexari Pro Una Et Eadem Causa - No one shall be vexed twice for the same cause.
    • Res judicata pro veritate accipitur - A judicial decision must be accepted as correct.
  • The Concept is enshrined under Section 11 of Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (CPC) whereas the concept of Constructive Res Judicata is provided by Section 11 Explanation IV of CPC.
    • Section 11 - Res judicata - No Court shall try any suit or issue in which the matter directly and substantially in issue has been directly and substantially in issue in a former suit between the same parties, or between parties under whom they or any of them claim, litigating under the same title, in a Court competent to try such subsequent suit or the suit in which such issue has been subsequently raised, and has been heard and finally decided by such Court.
      • Explanation IV - Any matter which might and ought to have been made ground of defence or attack in such former suit shall be deemed to have been a matter directly and substantially in issue in such suit.
    • A decree passed by a court without jurisdiction over the subject matter is not res judicata.
    • It is a mixed question of law and facts, and the bar does not only apply to the decision itself but also to the facts and circumstance involved in the case.
    • Constructive Res Judicata implies that the matter that might and ought to have been raised in a suit but has not been raised cannot be taken up in a subsequent suit fulfilling conditions prescribed under Section 11.

Case Laws

  • Sulochana Amma v. Narayana Nair (1993): It was held by SC that Res Judicata applies not only to all judicial proceeding before the court but also to all Quasi-Judicial proceedings of tribunals.
  • Sheodan Singh v. Daryao Kunwar (1996): It was held that for determining the question, which is the former suit, it is not the date of filing of suit that matters rather date of decision is to be considered.

Constructive Res Judicata Case Law

State of U.P. V. Nawab Hussain (1977)

  • A sub-inspector of police (SI) faced dismissal from his position by the Deputy Inspector General (D.I.G.).
  • He challenged this dismissal by initiating a writ petition in the High Court, asserting that he was not granted a fair opportunity to present his case before the order of dismissal was issued.
  • However, this argument was dismissed, and his petition was rejected.
  • Subsequently, the SI filed a lawsuit, introducing an additional claim that the D.I.G. lacked the authority to terminate him since his appointment had been made by the Inspector General of Police (I.G.P.).
  • The state argued that this lawsuit was barred by the doctrine of constructive res judicata. The trial court, the appellate court, and the high court all determined that the lawsuit was not barred.
  • The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the lawsuit was barred by constructive res judicata because the plaintiff was aware of this argument and could have raised it in the earlier writ petition.