Bombay High Court: Plaintiff in Commercial Suit Must Justify Late Document Disclosure in Amendment Request
In a recent ruling, the Bombay High Court established that a plaintiff involved in a commercial suit, who intends to modify the initial pleading to include documents as evidence, must provide a valid justification for not presenting these documents when originally submitting the suit, especially if the documents were within their control and possession.
Justice Manish Pitale emphasized that the stipulations outlined in the Commercial Courts Act should be rigorously applied to commercial suits, in order to effectively fulfil its purpose of expeditiously resolving substantial commercial conflicts.
The solitary provision by which the Applicant can introduce a document into evidence, despite its availability during the initial filing of the suit, falls under Order XI Rule 1(5) of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC), as pertinent to commercial courts. This provision expressly demands that the Applicant/Plaintiff substantiate a valid reason for not presenting the document alongside the plaint, as determined by the Court.
The Court dismissed the request to introduce supplementary documents into evidence within a commercial lawsuit, opting instead to permit a partial modification in line with the applicant's suggestion.
The dispute originated within a commercial lawsuit initiated by the plaintiff company, Khanna Rayon Industries Pvt. Ltd. The suit sought the enforcement of specific performance concerning a development agreement, focusing on the plaintiff's rightful claim to specific parking spaces situated within the property — a component integral to the aforementioned agreement.
The plaintiff aimed to modify the complaint in accordance with Order VI Rule 17 of the CPC, intending to incorporate two Exhibits. Within the second Exhibit's suggested alteration, the plaintiff aimed to present two documents as additional evidence.
The defendant raised an objection against the suggested modification, asserting that the inclusion of documents must adhere to the stringent criteria outlined in Order XI of the CPC, as revised by the Commercial Courts Act of 2015. The defendant contended that the rigorous standards delineated in Order XI of the CPC, which pertain to commercial courts, should be extended to the intended amendment. This modification aimed to introduce documents that were already within the plaintiff's authority, possession, control, or custody at the initiation of the lawsuit, according to the defendant's argument.
The plaintiff contended that the intended modification fell within the purview of Order VI Rule 17 of the CPC, urging the court to adopt a lenient stance during the pre-trial phase by permitting amendments essential for determining the substantive issues in contention between the parties. Additionally, the plaintiff emphasised that embracing the defendants' perspective would create a dichotomy in amendments within commercial suits – one being a straightforward amendment and the other involving the introduction of documents as evidence. The plaintiff asserted that while the Commercial Courts Act introduced particular amendments to the CPC, Rule 17 of Order VI remained unaltered.
Order VI Rule 17 of the CPC states that the Court has the authority to permit either party to modify their pleadings at any juncture during the legal proceedings if such amendments are deemed essential for resolving the dispute between the involved parties.
Under the scope of Order XI Rule 1(5), as it pertains to commercial courts, the plaintiff is prohibited from relying on documents that were under their authority, possession, control, or custody but were not initially disclosed alongside the plaint. However, an exception exists wherein the court may grant permission for such reliance if the plaintiff can demonstrate a valid reason for not disclosing the documents alongside the plaint.
The Court underscored that in instances where the plaintiff intends to introduce supplementary documents as evidence in a commercial suit, the stipulations outlined in the modified Order XI of the CPC for commercial suits must be adhered to. This involves substantiating a valid reason for not initially disclosing the document alongside the plaint. The Court firmly emphasised that the application for amendment filed under Order VI Rule 17 of the CPC could not be employed to bypass the stringent provisions of Order XI Rule 1(5) that are relevant to commercial suits.
The Court noted that the stringent provisions introduced by the Commercial Courts Act within procedural law, specifically in the CPC, cannot be disregarded simply because Order VI Rule 17 of the CPC remains unamended concerning commercial suits. If such a viewpoint is embraced, an application that fundamentally pertains to Order XI of the CPC, as it applies to commercial suits, could wrongly present itself as an amendment request under Order VI Rule 17 of the CPC.
The Court outlined that the plaintiff aimed to sidestep the obligatory requirement of presenting a reasonable justification for not disclosing a document alongside the plaint in commercial suits, as mandated by Order XI Rule 1(5) of the CPC. To achieve this, he intended to utilise an application under Order VI Rule 17 of the CPC, effectively bypassing the rigorous provisions of Order XI that are relevant to commercial suits. By doing so, the plaintiff could introduce documents into evidence that were not originally submitted with the plaint, essentially using an indirect approach. The Court highlighted that endorsing this approach would run counter to the objectives of the Commercial Courts Act and the specific revisions made to the CPC.
The Court expressed the view that the plaintiff's application lacked substantial justification for not initially disclosing the documents alongside the plaint, deeming the explanations offered, namely "oversight" and "inadvertence," inadequate. Consequently, the Court declined the request to introduce supplementary documents into evidence. However, the Court did approve the modification as outlined in the first Exhibit, which encountered minimal opposition from the defendants.
The Plaintiff was represented by Senior Advocate Sharan Jagtiani, who was accompanied by Advocates Saurabhi Agrawal, Sheetal Shah, Jeyhaan Carnac, and DD Bitra.
On the other hand, the Defendants were represented by Senior Advocate Ashish Kamat, along with Advocates Mohit Khanna, Paresh Shah, and Leena Mirasee.